By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Dr. Tunc Evcimen.
Imagine if creating your favorite form of art, music, film, writing–insert any expressive passion–simply wasn’t enough. What if your freedom, and very home, depended upon the caliber of work you produced?
It’s not easy walking this tight rope, but Gizem Gokoglu does so with impassioned tread that belies no hint of fear or second guessing. The young composer and Berklee College of Music graduate spent most of her upbringing in Turkey, where she studied classical music and learned how to sing and play the piano at an early age.
Now her output is immeasurably diverse, including soundtracks to films, re-scores of cinema classics, and original compositions for jazz orchestras like The BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra. Conjoining visual mediums with emotionally challenging movements is Gokoglu’s forte, although she stays busy writing concert charts and original pieces that are both hypnotic and ethereal in their subtle layers of beauty.
BTR talks with Gokoglu about what it’s like to compose.
BreakThru Radio (BTR): So you grew up in Turkey where you got involved in music at a very early age. I’m wondering what were some of your earliest and most formidable musical experiences you can remember?
Gizem Gokoglu (GG): I guess the most vivid one would be when I started composing and I didn’t know what I was doing. I was getting classical training in piano, but meanwhile I was practicing in my room and I would use a tape recorder to record some ideas. I guess they’re called improvisations, but I didn’t know that was what I was doing at the time.
I used to record ideas and play them over and over again and in the end it would be like a fixed kind of composition, except made of little pieces.
BTR: Interesting. Do you still do that? Has your creative process changed since those days?
GG: Yeah, I actually do. I don’t always do it–I usually use computer software to write down my ideas. But I guess it’s the most natural way, to just sit down at the piano or sing from my piano. That’s kind of my comfort zone. Whenever I’m stuck with something, I’ll go back to that.
BTR: I’m sure the process changes from composition to composition, but when you’re writing a composition that involves a lot of instrumentation do you hear the greater score in your head, or does it start off as something smaller, like a simple melody?
GG: Well, it really depends on the project. For scene scores, if I’m working with a director, they have an idea of instrumentation already or what kind of piece they are looking for. So first I have to look at their ideas, like how they want the music to be and from that point I would start by just writing down ideas like: “This section I’ll have this instrumentation, this section will be more intense, the tempo will slow here…”
BTR: Speaking of directors, you do a lot of work scoring for film. When did you realize this is not only something you wanted to do, but something you could do really well? Was there a particular movie that you saw or where the score inspired you to start doing this?
GG: Definitely Schindler’s List. That is one of the most emotionally powerful movies I have ever watched, and it has a very moving score. Maybe that had some influence, but I really like Alexandre Desplat’s work and Danny Elfman and Thomas Newman’s work, so I guess I listen to a lot of film composers’ work too.
But, before film scoring I was focusing more on jazz composition. After my training in Berklee, even my last year at Berklee, I realized that I can’t even differentiate the styles in my writing. So the education starts there as jazz composition, but if you graduate you end up having your own voice in composing. So I thought, “I don’t need this, I don’t need to differentiate my style,” so that kind of pushed me to find more expressive ways to write.
BTR: There’s a particular video I wanted to talk to you about; one you scored for a whale trainer who lost her legs at one of her shows is reunited with her whale for the first time again in a short scene. I was wondering what it was like writing music for that, given how intense the footage is.
GG: Emotionally, it was really important to me. First of all there is a lot of water that you see on screen. The moment that the female character is reconnected with the whale–it’s almost kind of like slow motion dancing. I was trying to capture that and make it more powerful with the movement of strings.
BTR: So regarding some of your original compositions, what have you been up to lately?
GG: I worked on a short film recently. Other than that, I have a few upcoming arrangements I will be doing.
To hear more from Gizem Gokoglu, check out her site or tune into BTR’s very own In the Den.