Name: Mehmet Aslan

Nationality: Swiss-Turkish
Occupation: Composer, producer, DJ
Current Release: Mehmet Aslan's The Sun Is Parallel is out November 11th 2022 via Planisphere Editorial.
Recommendations: The Listening Book by W. A. Mathieu and Music by Numbers by Eli Maor
For me, The Listening Book has become one of my favourite books that I open up again and again when I need a different perspective on music and sounds. It's about very basic and simple views on how to think about music and sounds and is always somehow an exhilarating book.

If you enjoyed this interview with Mehmet Aslan and would like to stay up to date with his work, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

When I was 17 I had my first encounter with playing music in the local youth centre JTA of my village in Allschwil. There were turntables, mixers and speakers. We could bring our own vinyl and experiment with music and sound, which was a huge opportunity for us.

I remember that Jeff Mills’s Purpose Maker was one of my first records - we were watching his video series, which inspired me to dig more into Techno and House. Detroit Techno and artists like Laurent Garnier, Basic Channel or Francois Kevorkian were my beginnings.

[Read our Jeff Mills interview]

I think I was drawn into the technicality of mixing and the possibilities it opened up.

When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?

What I like to do is "conscious listening". I live on a very busy street in Berlin, where the trams squeal, the cars drive through constantly and when the weather is good, you can hear the people sitting in the cafes and talking.

I experienced the other day, the complete opposite of this soundscape.

I was on vacation and rather surrounded by nature and farms. I heard mostly the constant chirping of crickets. There was sometimes a group of dogs barking or howling like wolves in the night, plus the cows and it created a wonderful cacophony.

I tried to capture this feeling and put an emphasis on it in my track "Private Soundscape“ from my new album, with a quote from R. Murray Schaefer: "In a way, the world is a huge musical composition, going on all the time, without beginning and presumably without an ending …"

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

Being an artist and having the possibility of expressing myself is a great gift for me. But not many people talk about the downsides, the struggles that comes with it.

My first years as a professional artist felt more effortless than it is now, everything felt quite natural. But holding on to it, searching for my identity was more challenging and it is still. But it is a joyful process to explore it too and I wouldn’t be here if not so.

Through the fact that I have also dealt with my origins in my musical career, I have been able to learn more about myself. I am very grateful for this and perhaps I would be someone else today if I had not occupied myself with music.

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

Growing up in Switzerland, in a Turkish speaking family, presented me with challenges such as having to learn the German language and do well in school. I had to find my way in two different cultures. I think with these experiences I learned early on to adapt to new situations.

I can remember so well a scene in kindergarten where I, just newly arrived and not yet speaking German well, first hung out with foreign kids because I felt closer with them. Of course, that changed later, but somehow that memory stayed with me.

I think that being more of an outsider stayed with me for a long time, I mostly hung out with the nerdier types who weren't considered cool but ended up being the cooler ones. I think that's what brought me to creative fields in the end.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

It's not always easy, but I always try to listen to my first instincts when I'm at the beginning of something creative, whether it's music or design. Especially nowadays it's so easy to be quickly influenced by the outside.

I think if I try to hold on to those first, own ideas, something more original will come out of it. I often think of this Oblique Strategies card, "Don't be afraid of using your own ideas".

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

For me, music creation is an opportunity to experiment with previous sounds and trying to erase the division of the past and the present. This concept helps me to concentrate on the future, to create new music but have the past in mind.

On the topic tradition versus future, I find it fascinating as an example of how Arnold Schoenberg advanced classical music by putting all tones on the same hierarchical levels, calling it ‘pantonal’ music. It is tremendous how he invested years of his time to develop this in order to bring advancement in music.

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

As a kid, I was always interested in working with computers and I never imagined that it would be my most important tool to make music. Beside everything what I used to make music, my fascination with computers was probably the most important tool.

But with a computer, you have endless possibilities at the same time, which can also be a barrier. That's why it's incredibly important to keep my musical setup minimal and functional in order to get there quickly.

I started playing live with musicians last year and until then I had hardly any theoretical understanding of music. Because it wasn't really necessary for me in the studio, even if it would have helped in some situations.

But only then, when I was on the rehearsals with Daniel and Alican, who both collaborated on my album, I wanted to know more about music theory. It's kind of strange, but sometimes it takes moments like that for something to grab you.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.

Waking up 7-8 am, going for a run or doing exercises, ideally also meditating.
Sometimes I go for a walk, get an espresso to get my head working. I like to make my “famous” porridge with an apple and I am ready.

Since I have other duties, such as being a graphic designer, it depends what my priorities are right now. So if it's music, I would try to do something creatively in the first hours, because that’s when my head is clearest.

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?

For example the song “Garden” from my album started out with a sample from a 60s vinyl from Ilhan Mimaroglu, a child-fable record which is pretty experimental. I liked these little noises and toy sounds on the record and was inspired by that soundscape. I later added a piano sample from the radio and started to build the arrangement around that.

That state of the song stayed like that for a long time. At some point I knew the song should be on the album and I started to look for collaborations, because I thought the song could need more elements. So I wrote to Valentina Magaletti, her style of experimental drumming would be perfect, I thought. Valentina then recorded two different styles of drumming in Italy and sent it over the Internet. I had great joy working with these microscopic rhythmic sounds and building it in the song.

But the song wasn’t finished! When it was already almost too late, I realized one of the piano samples from the radio was a rather well known record by Talk Talk. So I had to replace the sample with new synth parts I played myself.

As you can see, sometimes as song can have many stages, but what’s left is only the final version.

Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?

During the rehearsals for our live performance, we had converted my studio into a rehearsal space and played almost every day for a week, preparing the performance. Every day we met in the studio, talked, laughed, had difficult moments but also very good and funny ones.

When we cleared the studio, I found it a very sad sight, the studio was empty and without people. I think this experience speaks for itself in terms of what I think about communal activity.

For me, collaborations are very important to learn more about music and I don't want to miss being able to make music together with musicians, it's just very fulfilling!

How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?

"Without music, life would be a mistake" - Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche - Twilight of the Idols

Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?

When I had the idea to make an album, my mother told me her journey and her difficulties to come to Switzerland. Her story and my father's story touched me deeply and I decided to make my album 'The Sun Is Parallel’. For me it was important to consolidate this in something tangible.

At first I wanted to do road trip from Switzerland to Turkey to incorporate my findings into the album. It fell through because of Covid, but it is still important for me to explore my roots in a similar way in the future.

Nevertheless, this idea of a road trip was what held my album together.

How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?

There is a very nice example of how science and music can enrich each other in the famous Rick Rubin x Paul McCartney interview.

Paul is sitting at the piano, talking about harmony in music. He says something like music is based in mathematics and that the music theory follows rules and patterns. This, he says, gives him a calmness and clarity.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

For me, making music with other musicians, live or in the studio, can't be compared to anything else. This bonding feeling is one of the reasons why I make music in the first place. Also, with creativity you have the chance to transform a feeling or an inspiration into something more tangible.

Creativity is such a dilemma for me: on the one hand it's fun, sometimes it's very easy to come up with something good, but most of the time you take extreme hurdles and difficulties until something is ‚accomplished'.

And that’s sometimes a bad thing, that only the final result is hearable and the whole process behind it disappears.

Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?

In the book Music by Numbers by Eli Maor, there is a passage about a Beethoven symphony, that is performed and is strongly criticized by a listener. Because of the poor acoustics in the hall, he experienced the harmonies quite differently and thus did not hear at all what he knew about that symphony. I think you often notice something similar in clubs when the acoustics are bad, certain pieces come across very differently.

Factors like these make every listening experience different, the same performance, in another space can sound completely different. In addition, it depends how musically educated a listener is, which can also influence the sensations, in my opinion.