New TU Assistant Music Professor Alican Çamci offers a look at his background and plans - The University of Tulsa
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New TU Assistant Music Professor Alican Çamci offers a look at his background and plans

Donald Feagin Assistant Professor of Music Alican Çamci comes to The University of Tulsa’s Kendall College of Arts & Sciences from Carleton College, a liberal arts school in Minnesota, where he taught composition and electronic music as a visiting assistant professor. He earned his doctorate from the University of Chicago and his master’s and bachelor’s degrees from the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

Photograph of Alican Çamcı
Alican Çamci

His work includes concert music, electroacoustic works, sound design for film and media art, and more. Çamci’s current body of work investigates sound as a documentary medium by exploring combined instrumental and electronic layers with field and speech recordings, as well as other “found sounds.” His work has appeared in film festivals and other exhibitions, including the Venice Film Festival, SXSW, the Istanbul Film Festival, and more. Recently, the professor gave us a look at his career and what excites him the most about his new position with the School of Music and the Film Studies Department.


Tell us more about your musical background.

As a child, I wasn’t interested in or passionate about music. I started taking classical guitar lessons because my mother thought it would be a good thing for me to do. My guitar teacher turned out to have a very strong influence on me, not just with regard to music, but art, philosophy, and literature. In high school, I continued my classical guitar studies, while also learning piano and playing electric guitar in several bands.

What made you decide to pursue music?

I’m not sure if it’s a single event. In high school, I gradually came to realize that I didn’t particularly enjoy practicing my instrument, but I loved every other aspect of music: listening to it, reading about it, composing, improvising, and arranging. At this time, my interests were expanding: some classical, but mostly rock, jazz, and avant-garde music. I remember downloading a performance of John Cage’s “4’33”” from LimeWire, which, looking back, I find very funny. [In it, the performer goes on stage but does not play a single note with his instrument – the piece is about everything else one hears while attending the performance.] I suppose having several teachers who were supportive and encouraging of my strange interests was a strong factor.

Tell us about your research and other creative endeavors.

In both my solo practice and my collaborative work, I create pieces that combine instrumental performance and electronically produced sound. As a result, my work with sound features a lot of nonmusical sounds in musical contexts, or musical textures against other types of sounds, such as field recordings. For instance, a recent piece I wrote for orchestra, “copy-paste diptych,” divides the ensemble in two. While one part of the ensemble is playing, the other records the first one with cellphones (along with everything else happening in the concert hall – I suppose that illegal download of “4’33”” still haunts me). In the second part of the piece, these recordings are played back on the phones, accompanying the orchestra. I think of it as music and its memory being presented simultaneously.

At the moment, I’m working on a new piece for harp, electronics, and video for a longtime friend and collaborator, Ben Melsky. It is the first time I’m working with live video. I’m hoping that we could bring this project to TU!

Tell us more about your experiences with music and sound design for film, dance, and media art.

I approach my collaborative work in the same way as I do my concert music and installations, which involves thinking about layers of music against other types of sounds. Obviously, this is very common in film, where the soundtrack combines diverse sonic material such as speech, foley, ambient sounds, and music.

I recently finished music and sound design for a virtual reality installation, “Shadowtime” by artists Deniz Tortum and Sister Sylvester, which considers the history of virtual reality against the backdrop of the ongoing climate crisis. It premiered in the 80th Venice Film Festival back in August and is currently on view at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam.

How did you become involved in music and sound design in film?

A close friend of mine from high school (Deniz, with whom I worked in “Shadowtime”) is a film director. We used to play in bands together, and we each went to pursue music and film, respectively. Through him I was exposed to the so-called “arthouse” and independent cinema. Starting in college, we collaborated on numerous projects. These were usually small-scale projects in which I would not just write the music but compose using all aspects of the soundtrack: sound effects, voiceover, atmospheric sounds, and music. That’s how I got started with composing for media.

What led you to explore sound as a documentary medium?

This is a very personal answer, but it is the deaths of people close to me. Experiencing loss in this way changes one’s relationship to artifacts of memory, like photographs, videos, or little pieces of paper with notes scribbled by someone who is no longer here. In my specific case, I’ve been interested in sound recording in many forms. Making field recordings, capturing people speaking, or discovering found sounds. I think about the literal and metaphorical implications of recording: who is recording, what (or who) is being recorded. What happened to the person or the place I recorded this one time? How do I – in the present – relate to my former self who pressed the record button?

How does sound as a documentary medium relate to the performative dimension of musicians?

I think about the fixed nature of recorded media and the unfixed nature of live performance. My background is in classical composition, where – historically – the technique is focused on fixing as many potentially unstable elements of live performance through notation. Over the years, I became less interested in composition in that sense, which merely seeks to organize sounds in time. I’m rather interested in thinking about performance primarily as an unfixed phenomenon and positioning that in relation to fixed media such as sound recordings and video.

Explain the importance of learning composition to a musical education.

For me, the main idea behind my teaching is exploring how we listen. This is different than the standard ear training curriculum, which gives one the ability to hear patterns within the tradition of European art music. I am interested in a less systematic and more personal way of perceiving sounds. How does composition relate to all of this? By focusing on our listening habits, how we hear sounds in relation to each other, we also figure things out about ourselves: things that we might want to express. Here, my main source of inspiration is the work of Pauline Oliveros, specifically her “Sonic Meditations,” which are a series of short text prompts to guide group meditations to raise sonic awareness.

How significant is learning about composition and film scoring to film students?

I’m not sure. It will be different for everyone. The more we learn about how music works as different elements come together to create a composite, we start to see a film’s entire soundtrack (dialogue, sound effects, ambience, music) in a similar way, as different voices in counterpoint.

How does the concept of sound as a documentary medium influence your understanding and method of preparing students in composition?

It doesn’t. I try not to impose my specific interests to my students; they will all have their own interests and outlooks toward music, art, and life.

What classes are you most looking forward to teaching in the School of Music?

I’m looking forward to teaching Introduction to Composition. I love thinking about working with sound in very basic terms and focusing on simple concepts to create music. For instance, the first assignment I give in that class involves writing music only using one sound, with the only variable being rhythm. Every time I teach a course like this, I am fascinated by things my students come up with, and it makes me think about my work in a new light, too.

What classes are you most looking forward to in Film Studies?

I should answer this question by noting that it is my first time teaching in a film department. So, one of the things I was looking forward to before starting at TU was working with film students here. So far, it has been a lot of fun working with my Intro Film Scoring class!

I’m teaching Sounds of Sci-Fi. We are looking at the role of sound in our understanding of sci-fi as a genre, and investigating how auditory elements such as music, sound effects, and ambient noise is used to build futuristic environments, characterize extra-terrestrial life, and immerse the viewer in the speculative worlds.

To learn more about Alican Çamci and his work, click here. Passionate about music or film scoring? Visit the School of Music and Department of Film Studies to learn how you can get involved.