While it's difficult to characterize the fascinating and multifaceted work of Nihan Yesil, the sound- and videoscapes, classical music and theatrical work all come down to "the concept of perception: how ideas, concepts, and sound are perceived by the listener." Her sound collages are worlds unto themselves, full of electric animals, alien strings and haunting echoes. A native of Turkey, Yesil has been deeply committed to helping develop the Kansas City electronic music community for more than a decade. We are excited to share this revealing interview with Nihan Yesil.
Introduce yourself. Where do you live and work?
I am primarily a composer and a sound designer. I also work with projectors and create multi-media art.
I work in both acoustic and electronic media. I come from classical music background. In the last four years my work revolved around sound installations, electroacoustic music, and sound design for theatrical productions and screen. I have lived in Kansas City since 2005, in the past few months I have been in between Kansas City and Los Angeles.
Describe your music and multi-disciplinary work for new listeners. What drives you to create?
My music would be best categorized within the genres of classical music. Majority of my work consists of chamber music and electroacoustic compositions. I love the intimacy of chamber music setting and with solo works I like to exhaust what expression is available within an instrument while staying within the ideas I choose for a composition. In both genres, I am almost obsessed with the concept of perception: how ideas, concepts, and sound are perceived by the listener and whether I can manipulate that. I work with spoken word and language often, especially in electronic medium.
You’re originally from Turkey. What originally brought you to Kansas City? How has living here influenced your work over the years?
I came to Kansas City for my graduate studies in composition at the UMKC Conservatory. It’s not that common to find some of your favorite composers teaching at the same institution. It was a truly rewarding experience. I started writing electroacoustic music there, which really changed the course of my career. I stayed after the program and continued to work here. What I love the most about Kansas City is how invested and entrenched in the arts it is. It is a very compact city and there’s a passionate art and music community. You can be inspired by others’ work and collaborate with many wonderful artists, and it all happens within a comparatively small area. There’s a dynamic electronic music community, which is continually fed by UMKC composers the conservatory nurtures. I am one of the founding members of Kansas City Electronic Music Alliance, the following generation of composers took over and it’s still an active group. Then with a colleague of mine, we found SoundTheater, a collaborative endeavor that aims to bring electronic music and performing arts together in a way that will challenge audience’s perceptions of both disciplines. This was made possible through the inspiration we got from KC performing arts community and KC Fringe festival. Support from organizations such as ArtsKC and Charlotte Street Foundation helped me establish my multi-media art. Kansas City provided me with the inspiration and support every step of the way as I defined and then redefined my work through the years.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently designing sound for a feature film by Mountain Air Productions, LLC in Kansas City off location. I am also working on a commission of a song cycle titled “Walpurgisnacht” that will be premiered in Turkey in April. It is for voice, prepared piano, and fixed audio.
What inspires you the most about the Kansas City classical and electronic music communities?
They are vibrant and constantly strive to go one step further. There’s a sense of responsibility within these groups, they want to inspire, educate, and create awareness within the community. There are handful of established groups and programs that didn’t exist when I arrived at Kansas City, and were founded by people who wanted to make an impact. These activities challenge the music as well, because you cannot, or should not, repeat yourself but should reach for the next opening in your creation. Then you start inspiring and influencing others, which generates a wonderfully artistic circulation. I have always been proud to be part of such activity and passion.
Nihan Yesil's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
"How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming" by Mike Brown
"Relic Master" by Christopher Buckley
"The Wind-up Bird Chronicle" by Haruki Murakami
Book of Longing by Philip Glass
String Quartets and Duets by Gyorgy Ligeti
Jenufa by Leos Janacek
The Seasons by John Cage