Turkish musician invents a guitar for music of East
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily NewsTolgahan Çoğulu is a musician and academic who felt compelled to create a brand new instrument to add to his music scene. As a result, he invented a new type of guitar, the “Microtonal guitar,” which in his words allow musicians “to play all the sounds and music types that you can’t play with the normal guitar.” Besides maqam-based Middle Eastern music, the microtonal guitar offers the possibility of a new world of sound and harmony in the contemporary, avant-garde genre, or what is called “new music.” “You can try new things in a space that is untouched. This idea is attractive for today’s world which is craving for original things,” he said, during an interview.
The microtonal guitar allows musicians to discover and play new sounds. On the adjustable microtonal guitar’s fretboard, there are channels under each string. Çoğulu has transformed the microtonal guitar and created 150 fretlets (little frets) that can be inserted into or removed from these channels.
The fretlets of mictonal guitar
“These fretlets can also be moved along the fretboard as you wish. I should say that the channel idea belongs to German luthier Walter Vogt. In 1985, Vogt invented a guitar with a fretboard he called 2The Fine-Tunable Precision Fretboard,’ on which all the frets are movable for limited distances via the channels under the strings,” he said, and added that as the title of this fretboard reveals, Vogt’s goal was to solve the intonation problems of stable-fretted guitars and he reached his goal by finding a remarkable solution.
However, Çoğulu has never had the chance to play a Vogt guitar or analyze its complex mechanism.
“When I saw the photos of the guitar on the website of luthier Herve Chouard, who has been making Vogt guitars after Walter Vogt, I realized that the channel idea was the most logical solution to play microtones on a guitar, if a complete freedom of movement is provided for the fretlets. Besides, the fretlets had to be inserted into or removed from the fretboard practically. Thanks to the financial support of Istanbul Technical University, my advisor Şehvar Beşiroğlu and luthier Ekrem Özkarpat, I have a fretboard and fretlets that have all the related properties I need.”
Playing maqams with movable frets
Living in Istanbul
Living in Istanbul, a city located between the two continents of Europe and Asia, has changed Çoğulu’s approach toward music. According to Çoğulu, musicians in Turkey have the chance to be trained in either the classical Western music tradition or maqam-based Ottoman and Turkish music and Asia Minor folk music. “After playing the guitar for some years and improving your technical skills, one starts to feel an urge to play or arrange the maqam-based music of the geography you live in,” he explains.
The maqams and the microtonal guitar
The maqams have microtones which can be played in a very limited way with the stable-fretted classical guitar. “This was my initial reason to design a guitar with movable frets.
Other reasons started to build up gradually throughout the years, as I started to become interested in contemporary microtonal music and a classical Western music repertoire based on tunings other than the equal temperament system such as Pythagorean, just-intonation, mean-tone and well-temperament,” he said. He added that the facts that the equal temperament violates nature, the just intonation consists of pure intervals, the pure major third is 14 cents lower than the equal tempered major third shook his perspective of classical Western music.
Çoğulu started to create the guitar by first arranging maqam-based Asia Minor (Anatolian) folk music for the adjustable microtonal guitar. The microtones are essential elements for the melody. When you omit the microtones, the folk melody sounds like a Gregorian chant and therefore the arrangements for classical guitar may not be so original, Çoğulu added. After his friends arranged a piece and Çoğulu tried to play these arrangements on the guitar. “If I don’t go crazy with the complex maps on the fretboard, I hope I will continue exploring microtonal music repertoire on the adjustable microtonal guitar.”
Tunes of the eastern and western world
In today’s hybrid world, it is very difficult to differentiate the music of East and West, according to Çoğulu. “But traditionally, we can make an analogy by using buildings. Western music is like a four-storey building. Each floor has 12 rooms representing the notes. Let’s say the base floor is the melody. You have sometimes three or four floors of melodies that you can hear simultaneously. This is polyphony. Of course all floors have their ornaments and the building as a whole has a form.”
Çoğulu describes Eastern music as follows, “Eastern music is a one-storey building. But this building has more than 12 rooms. Sometimes 24, sometimes 32, etc. All the rooms have ornaments and the relationship of the rooms can be much more complicated than Western building’s one store. This is monophony. Western music has been developed vertically while Eastern music horizontally.”
Throughout the ages, both music types have been developed to an incredible level and in today’s world the building of music is like a skyscraper with 100 rooms! The buildings merged, he added.