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Painted On Water

About Painted On Water
The Turkish traditional art of marbling paper with dyes floating on water, Ebru, dates back at least to the 16th Century. Its technique, philosophy and history are reflected in the creative spirit of Painted On Water’s partners, vocalist Sertab Erener and composer/guitarist/arranger and album co-producer Demir Demirkan.

Ebru has been passed down as a practical art, with its techniques of preparing water, pigments, paper, and hand-made brushes, combs and other instruments, from master to apprentice. Much the way that Ebru marbled paper has been used in bookbinding and in combination with calligraphy, its visuals and philosophy frame the alchemic fusion of Turkish classical and folk melodies with jazz, modern rock and blues created by Painted On Water.

“We live in a modern world, but this Anatolian folk music has survived till now, and once you really listen to it, you know why,” says Demirkan. “The elements are strong. You never get tired of songs tied to your roots; you play with it, interpret it a different way, different instruments, different audiences. The atmosphere changes whenever you play it.”

The album’s combination of traditional music and art from eastern culture with America’s roots music, jazz and blues, proves to be deliciously rich and resonant in every musical, aesthetic and communal sense -- for both the performers and the listener. “We chose Ebru as the visual counterpoint because you can do it live on stage,” says Demirkan. “When we are playing, there’s a projection from the artist as he’s painting in his tray. It’s spell-binding. Magical. After the artist is done, you have a printed paper -- like recording music on a tape.” These techniques will not be unfamiliar to Westerners who have seen the abstract oil-based projections tagged as psychedelic art in the 1960s.

Erener and Demirkan both stress the richness of the primal connection between listeners and music makers in describing Painted On Water’s powerful unified vision of modern and traditional arts, and its essential eastern and western influences. “It’s not trying to prove or invent itself; it’s a whole,” says Erener. “In our music, we try to make a space for the listener to experience their own emotion, philosophy and feeling. Your inner voice, your deeper thoughts.”

Demirkan observes, “Once you take those early elements of music and play them now, you’re connecting again to a time when the idea of spirituality had aspects of intellect, philosophy, emotions, even mathematics. It defines the whole individual and his connection to the universe. It’s connecting everybody on every level. It’s not cerebral, or academic. It’s carnal, from the gut. It’s not in-your-face or a challenge to listen to. It’s inviting. Everyone’s invited and it’s there for you. Painted On Water is about that. The whole thing.”

The album’s distinguished international slate of collaborators was assembled in a relatively prosaic web search. “We called them up from seeing their names on great records,” says Demirkan. “We searched the Internet to find Jay to help us as an engineer -- but he asked to co-produce when I described the album.” Music for the album was written and arranged first, and lyrics co-written with Galdston in an exchange of phone calls and e-mailed mp3s and lyric drafts. “We didn’t meet Phil till Sertab came to New York to record vocals,” Demirkan says. “He’s a quick guy, and very soulful. My lyrics have a tendency to be more abstract, ambiguous. Phil needed ground to grow his idea in a modern context. But he was very respectful to the culture. I’d write every song like that now!”

The album is in a constant balance between interpreting western melody in a Turkish way, and vice versa, according to Demirkan: “‘1000 Faced Man’ has a fun lyric because it’s fun to play. ‘Painted on Water’ is arranged to one piano and cello, and Sertab sang in a Western classical style. ‘Blue’ was written for Al DiMeola the day he arrived at the studio. I love his electric playing, but the classical nylon-string guitar he plays is exceptional. He’s unique doing that. I wrote it for two classical guitars, and he played the solo and melody on it. ‘Shehnaz’ is a girl’s name, and it’s based on a melody that’s written to be played fast to show off your musicianship. Normally, folk music doesn’t swing, so when we arranged it for a swing band, I thought, Shehnaz must be drunk! Dave and Al both solo on that one.”

Album co-producer Jay Newland insisted on recording vocals at Sear Sound in New York, because of its stunning array of vintage microphones. “Sertab sang on a 1930s mike that the studio owner modified by hand, and you could hear everything she had to offer. I know now that the technical part can change the emotional value of the music.”

Painted On Water is a personal and creative breakthrough for both partners, and both look forward to introducing the global audience to their new music onstage. “Sertab has been a pop star for years, but she has a classical background,” notes Demirkan. “I’ve played all kinds of music as a guitarist. We’re not teenagers; we wanted to make the kind of music that we’d go and see. We know people listen song-by-song now, but this is a whole album. Otherwise, we wouldn’t make an album. To know the best of the musician, you have to be right there when he’s playing.”

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