In Esther's Memory, Turkish composer Erdem Helvacioğlu and American percussionist Stuart Gerber explore the mind of a woman with dementia through sound. It was recorded while improvising over two days yet it feels very cinematic. I couldn't begin to dissect each movement individually in the space I have here so I'm going to attempt to look at the project as a whole.
The primary instruments on the recording are melodic percussion instruments that seem to include chimes and bells and an instrument I had never heard of before, the guitarviol. A guitarviol is a guitar that is constructed with the bow in mind, though you would not necessarily use a bow in the same way that Jónsi from Sigur Rós uses it. It's a much more classical approach that here sounds almost primitive. There isn't a single melody to grab onto as you listen, everything is kind of helter skelter. I think this is due in part to the fact that it was improvised and also to the subject matter. While there are no lyrics, this is absolutely a conceptual piece.
After a very small amount of research, I can say that I find it interesting that the third movement is titled "Mnemosyne.” Mnemosyne is the personification of memory in ancient Greek mythology and is also the mother to the nine muses, each representing a form of music, poetry or science. The association with memory alone makes sense, yet to include creativity seems to be a nod to the creation of this recording in the first place.
The further into the project I got and the more I tried to see what this woman would have been going through, the more heartbroken I became. This music is confusing and infuriating at times. There's no point of reference that holds up under an attempt to lean on it. If this is what it is like to lose your memory and your sense of self, I can't help but wonder how you cope or if coping is possible. This project also proves that avant-garde in music does not have to mean Yoko Ono. This music is rife with meaning and room for interpretation, not mindless screaming. I'd love to hear what else these guys have done.
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