Text by CLOT Magazine
South-east Turkey-born DJ, sound artist and producer Banu is bringing the sounds for our next mixtape. The artist uses music as a political tool. For Banu, the strong message carried through sound is a vehicle to express emotions as well as a means of fighting against oppression.
Coming from a conservative family, making music has been her lifelong dream. It was the moment she had the opportunity to work with the iconic Arp 2600 synthesiser (a younger sibling to Eliane Radigue’s infamous 2500 machine) that all her interests came into place to create an empowering soundscape with the aid of analogue drum machines. In her artistic practice, Banu uses participation, social design, ecology, and feminist and queer theory to create multimedia installations with sound as the main element, making her practice closer to contemporary art and activist spaces than the club realm.
Banu has also been exploring her approach to sound and composition through her PhD research, focusing on including sound in the Urban Design process. As Urban Design and Architecture concentrate mainly on the visual aspect of the urban space, other senses have never thought of or given very little consideration. For Banu, listening and hearing are essential in our daily life to understand the urban space and our surroundings.
She also told us how she took the challenge and included human perception with Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening theories and what attentive listening can bring about. She proposes to sound as a participatory tool which means that measurements and acoustics play a role and how we as users hear or listen to the urban space.
Banu has also very recently released her debut album TransSoundScapes (Intergalactic Research Institute For Sound, 2022). The production is an exercise in female solidarity between her as a migrant woman (she’s currently based in Berlin) and her sisters from the trans community, where an artist from one marginalised group showing support towards her trans sisters, using her platform to help them amplify their voices and building a bridge towards a mutual understanding of femininity. T
here is also a part where she proposes urban space as a music composition – she doesn’t believe in improvisation. She thinks there are rhythms in life that everyone follows, but we still create a holistic composition; this is why life goes. There are ruptures, like accidents or pandemics… But we still find harmony.
This mixtape, she says, is a bunch of secret conversations with her Arp 2600 and everything influencing what she hears and listens to. It is about synths and drums.
You just released your debut album, TransSoundScapes, which we read the idea came from a workshop series you did– Blocking the Sound on sonic violence and verbal harassment. Could you tell us a bit about the intellectual process behind its inception?
I have been facilitating the workshop since 2019, working mostly with women and LGBTQI+ communities. The idea started with my own urban experiences; either I counter catcalling or the person with me, as we like to be bold with our outfits and make-up, outside of the norm, etc. As a result of the hundreds of incidents, I created a workshop where we can share and empower each other by talking about our experiences. It was clear to me from the beginning that verbal harassment is sonic violence.
My activism background has influenced the format of the workshop. It is about urban space because I trained as an urban designer. In that sense, in a very different layer, the idea of the workshop is to scrutinize the possibility of considering non-sexist urban design strategies by Blocking the sound.
The workshop kicks with a soundwalk, a method which focuses on hearing and listening to that invites participants to understand the urban space through sound. After that, we make headphones from recycled material that are used as protection by the majority: one cannot hear or pretend not to listen.
After three years of work, I observed that the experiences of transgender people were totally different. In addition, I worked with Queerberg-Soli, a platform for BIPOC migrant background performers, mainly trans*. As more as I’ve heard their story, I realized that I, as a POC migrant woman, cannot describe what it is to be trans*.
However, I wanted them to be heard, and music was the greatest tool for that. This is how I started to look for collaborations and made sure who was telling the story that wasn’t mine and how I could make that more visible. As in the streets, all the collaborators and I were very certain: we are here, we are human, and we are fighting for our rights and future.
And what were you exploring with it at the technical level?
The main technical idea was to enter a professional music studio for the first time to enhance my producing skills and learn about mixing. With good timing and great luck, I got an Arp 2600 Korg reissue, and the whole album features that great synth. Other than that, the biggest part of the production is analogue from the synths, drum machine, and the Studer mixing console has been used. I wanted to explore the analogue sounds. There are also field recordings. All sounds with Arp 2600 is one go because I only had very limited time to be in the studio and had very little budget to rent, so I had to use my time very on point. Therefore, I had to go with a clear idea, set up everything, and work on what came out. After that, I invited my collaborators to record either their voice or the instrument they play, which we had already agreed on before the studio, what story they wanted to explain and reproduce, and what resonates in them and consequently in me.
So it also includes a very emotional process; it is not always easy to hear the whole story and not get stuck in sadness because never easy for trans* people. I had to finish one track in each session. I would imagine spending days and months in the studio, but limited time and budget forced me to finish the album in about six months.
The preparation, finding collaborators, budget, studio, and engineer took much longer time. I also had very limited time to get feedback and opinion. The closest person who also believed very much in this album was Irakli, who runs the label Intergalactic Research Institute for Sound, from which the album came out. He is a great musician, critic and honest.
In every stage of this album, he was very supportive and solution-driven, and I am really grateful to have him always next to me. He wouldn’t mind coming to the studio anytime to listen and give his opinion. It was one of the most intense times of my life, in which I learned a lot. I believe having a clear idea of what my collaborators and I want to explain and what kind of sounds I want helped me a lot to get through the process.
We’ve discussed before the relationship between a musician and modular synths and the symbiotic interactions between the human and machine. What is your relationship with the Arp 2600 synthesizer when you play it?
That’s my baby. People buy cars, and I bought a synthesizer. People invest in real estate, and I invested in an album. I first heard Arp 2600 when I was a teenager. Turkish national television showed Jean Micheal Jarre’s studio and his music. The presenter was interpreting what Jarre was saying; I caught the Arp part but nothing else. That alien sound was mesmerising; it was like from another planet.
Growing up with folkloric music in South-East Turkey, I had never heard electronic music in my life till that TV show, but I also didn’t understand what it was. That analogue sound stayed with me. I even dreamed several times of that sound. Since then, I always wanted to make analogue and electronic music. I think it was 2006, Four Tet came to play at a festival in Istanbul and gave a workshop on Ableton, where he showed how to produce Creep from Radiohead only using his laptop; that was my first encounter making music with a machine.
When I moved to Barcelona for my master’s studies, I learned about Moog and Wendy Carlos. I did every kind of theoretical research about analogue synths and machines. However, besides my friend’s synths, I never owned any.
Once I had the possibility, I hung on with analogue sounds. I sometimes think that my Arp 2600 talks to me. We communicate with each other. She cries, she screams, and she responds. The biggest example is the last track in the album “We” with Aérea Negrot. The first sound is not hers, it is the Arp 2600, but it blends very well. This interaction between a machine and me continuously fosters the possibility of creating and producing.
What are your main inspirations for your productions these days?
The inspiration comes from urban space and my encounters with humans and non-humans. I analyze all things very closely. So many ideas come to me from analyzing situations, people, and happenings. Listening is my main inspiration.
In your whole practice, you work with deep listening, a discipline or concept established by Pauline Ontiveros to promote more profound and active listening. In your opinion, what does Deep listening awaken inside the listener? And what are you trying to awaken with your music?
Pauline Oliveros, a feminist sound artist, proposes the “Deep Listening” practice. She encourages attentive listening –listening carefully– which provides us with a new way of listening and considering our environment. Oliveros, in 2005 highlights the importance of listening attentively, which can bring us into a transcendental community if we listen hard enough to each other and the environment that connects us. Hence, Oliveros invites us to focus on one of our most important senses: hearing and listening.
First of all, I try to awaken my feelings. I try to touch people with sound and music. Secondly, I try to create empowerment for whoever needs it. And last but not least, I try to break the norms and change the discourse. I grew up in a society where music-making was considered very technical, and as a woman, I wasn’t even allowed to. In Berlin, where I started my DIY music career, I was underestimated because I didn’t have any education in music. To be honest, all these assumptions about me only slowed me down but never discouraged me.
How I read Pauline Oliveros is that if you are able to hear and listen, you can transform everything into your music. The track “Surgery” is a great example. I tried to create the surgery room’s sound environment after interviewing transgender people and learning about the surgery process. I have had surgery several times for different reasons, so I have some sonic memory.
The Arp 2600 gave me the organic- bubbly vein sound, and I already had the bass and the kick. But there was something missing: For some reason, I had a knife and spoon in the studio, and I accidentally dropped them while the engineer was trying to solve a problem. I thought that was it. The doctor drops the tools during surgery.
I recorded that metallic sound and included it on the track. While all the production was happening, everything got so warm that either a cable or any machine produced white noise, like the background noise in a surgery room. We took that; I remember it was a kind of surgery – taking out a sound that is not so dominant, basically doing a surgery. This is how the track came out. It was all that I heard, and I got the story together.
Your PhD thesis revolves around the argument that listening and hearing are important for our daily life to understand the urban space and our surroundings, plus the challenge and including human perception in that. What are your main reflections or findings throughout the research? What are your favourite daily sounds? And how did they change from Turkey to Berlin?
While I was finishing the album, I also finished my PhD in sound and urban design. My friends call me Dr. of Sound, which is cute, but I also think I am not very academic. I completed my PhD at an art university which gave me a lot of freedom. I also struggled because creativity doesn’t have limits, and one needs some limits to complete academic work. If not, that research is never going to end.
My initial criticism was that urban design and architecture are very visual, and there is very little research on how to include sound in the urban design process, not only laboratory work or measurements but also how to consider human perception. The thesis also includes what kind of similarities a Dj and a urban designer have. Both of them need to analyse, select and apply. I wouldn’t say something changed in my inner sound environment through my migration from Turkey to the USA and Europe. I rather collect and blend them all together. It is very related to migrant psychology, to understand where you are and what to carry or not. That’s the biggest challenge, and I know it will follow me. So, in that sense, I appreciate all the sounds around me. I love the sound of the city, the sound of nature, the sound of people and the sound of things. And I let them into my sonic memory.
You are going to Namibia soon for a residency. Could you tell us a bit more about that? How does it relate to your music and the themes you usually explore?
For the next four months, I will be in Namibia. It is a program called Namibia Initiative between the artist residency Academy Schloss Stuttgart and Namibia National Art Gallery. “Laut Archive”, one of the biggest colonial sound archives, was presented in the Humboldt Box (during the construction of Humboldt Schloss) in 2019. After seeing that exhibition, I considered sound archives’ possibilities, accessibility, etc.
The same year, I saw Pungwe (Memory Biwa and Robert Machiri, both DAAD Artists in Residency in 2021-2022) at Savvy Contemporary Berlin performing with and about sound archives. It inspired me extremely, and I decided to research representations of colonial sound archives; luckily, I got into this program. It was postponed for two years because of the pandemic, but it is finally happening.
My idea is to go there, make connections, get to know artists that work with sound, understand their position and their relation to colonial archives, give space to their art and collaborate with them. In that sense, it is vice-versa. My research is related to my music. They constantly feed each other. I am extremely looking forward to being in a totally different environment. In this specific case, I am very interested in the drumming culture that one can hear in the mixtape.
Speaking about another type of aggression, not sonic, but mostly visual, how do you find balance for the current screen/digital overload?
I just go into flight mode.