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Making Sunshine Music

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Have you ever wondered what sunshine sounds like? Caribbean-based musician Turtuga Blanku has come as close as humanly possible to replicate the sounds of the sun. With his funky Caribbean eco-activist sound, he created and recorded his music in a solar powered studio dubbed the Green Machine. We asked Turtuga a few questions about his recorded sunshine and how his music is helping to spread the good green word.

You have released a few songs of your upcoming album, can you describe your music and what can we expect for the rest of the album?

Yes, so far I have released the first three songs of the upcoming debut album ‘Golden Bubble’ on my website. I want to give people the opportunity to listen to my music for free to get a feel. And I think you'll be able to hear that the songs were made with a very sunny mindset, towards the music, as well as towards the lyrics.

There's a sort of funky attitude in the melodies. And even though the topics I discuss in some of the songs can be quite serious issues, like environmental issues, you'll find that the message remains upbeat as well. I don’t like “scaring” people into action. Some of the problems we are facing in the world today are big, but not even that difficult to solve. Simply informing people is much more effective than making them feel guilty or inadequate. That is what I try to do with some of my songs. And I want to do that in a positive way. However, there are not just problems in the world, there is fun too. That is what the album will reflect, I hope. But, you’ll be able to see for yourself, as I’ll be regularly posting new songs on the website.

Using solar energy for recording music brings you so much more close to being carbon neutral than when using fossil fuel produced electricity.
—Turtuga Blanku

What were some influences on the music?

There were some unexpected influences on the music, actually, but those fit in very naturally anyway. For example, if you listen to the song ‘Golden Bubble’ you’ll hear some wild parakeets that were having a chat just outside my studio’s window. They made it into my recording because I work with the windows open. I am Caribbean based and the temperature is at least 30°C in the shade. Which is about, let me take a quick look, 86° in Fahrenheit. But, to save energy, I don’t have AC in my little studio. So, I let the southeast trade winds keep me cool. This all makes for a pretty concrete and symbolic example of what influences my music.

So, yes, apart from what is going on in the world on a global scale, the environment around me influences my music as well. And I happen to be surrounded by quite a lot of nature and sunshine.

What does 'recorded sunshine' mean?

‘Recorded sunshine’ is the way I like to describe the music that I make. It has a two-way meaning. There is the style of the music and then there is the way I produce it.

I had a hard time categorizing my music and I asked a lot of people to help me out. They usually replied with: “it kind of reminds me of..er…well, it sounds familiar, but not like something I know…” The songs have an overall rather sunny sound, with their unique mix of funk, reggae, pop and rock-elements. As to the way the music is produced there's the fact that actual sunshine was used to record it: all songs were made using solar energy only. So I figured calling my music 'recorded sunshine' covers both how the music sounds and how it was produced.

Describe your recording process?

I convert sunrays into music. And I use solar panels to do that. The studio in which the songs were recorded runs completely on solar power. I call it 'the Green Machine'. The solar panels on the roof catch the solar energy and turn it into electricity that I then use to power up my instruments and recording gear. I record or program every part of the songs myself and make it all work together through sequencer-software. That, in a nutshell, is my recording process.

Did you build the studio?

I built the studio, yes, but the solar power system was already in place. Hooking up your studio to this system is no different from hooking it up to a conventional electrical system: you just plug your equipment into an ordinary socket. The set up of the studio deliberately has been kept simple to keep the electricity needs low. I mostly use real instruments like electric guitar, bass and a stage piano that are connected to a computer through a hardware mixer. Most of the rest is done inside the computer. Software can replace a lot of hardware that otherwise would need powering up as well.

There is some maintenance involved in a studio powered by solar energy. This basically comes down to checking your batteries every three weeks or so, and refill them with battery water if needed. And that’s it! Sure, batteries don’t last forever, so, eventually, they have to be replaced, which is about as easy as replacing your car battery.

How many solar panels does it take to supply you with enough electricity to make music?

It depends on the number of electrical devices you want to hook up to your solar system, and which kind of devices. For me, eight panels and six deep loading batteries do the trick. I realize that living in the Caribbean reduces the number of panels you need compared to someone living in say, Canada. You would have to invest more to get the same output, but apart from that it can be done easily in non-(sub)tropical regions of the world as well.

Is any traditional electricity used in the process?

No, in creating these songs, nothing but solar power was used. The whole house is off the grid, so it would not even have been possible. Distribution and promotion goes through the internet, mostly, and most of the servers and internet users are still using traditional electricity. That is one of the things I hope to change through sending out my musical eco-message. Because, you know, the great thing about solar energy is you're only wasting it if you’re not using it.

I don't think you can escape the ever-growing notion that we've really got a problem on our hands with the way we're living and how it affects our environment.
—Turtuga Blanku

Is your music carbon neutral?

I’m not sure. I mean, yes, the music was made and recorded using solar energy only. But you would also have to consider all the CO2 that is released into the air with the production and the shipment of the solar system itself and the instruments and hardware that I use. Taking everything into account, I don’t think the music is carbon neutral…yet! I say ‘yet’, because the longer you use renewable energy, the more CO2 you may deduct of your ‘CO2-mortgage’. You simply pay this off by not using fossil fuel based electricity that would otherwise have meant extra CO2 release. The nice thing about this ‘CO2-mortgage’ is that paying it back only costs you time, and not a dime. Using solar energy for recording music brings you so much more close to being carbon neutral than when using fossil fuel produced electricity.

Any other green aspects to your music making process?

Yes: inspiration. I like to go out and have a nice walk or run in nature. It is refreshing and when I come back I can continue working on music with new inspiration.

Where does your eco-inspiration come from?

To me, concern about our environment and nature in general comes natural, as I am a biologist at heart and by education as well. But aside from that, I don't think you can escape the ever-growing notion that we've really got a problem on our hands with the way we're living and how it affects our environment. I'm trying to contribute to the solution of those problems, by addressing them in my songs, and offer information how we might solve them. And that is why I promote the need and advantages of using renewable energy.

What other green aspects are incorporated into your life?

I use a bicycle as much as possible. I think I visit the gas station only once every six to eight weeks or so. Healthy for the environment, healthy for me (both financially and physically!). And there is of course the usual simple but overall effective stuff like turning off the lights when they are not needed, no electrical devices on stand-by, not using too much water, etc. I’m also part of a local wildlife organization and involved in conservation wildlife restoration projects.

Music is a very powerful way to get a message across.
—Turtuga Blanku

Do you think art/music can create change?

Sure. Music is a very powerful way to get a message across. We humans are extremely perceptive to music, being such a communicative species. You can reach a lot of people with it, especially if the information is presented in an attractive way. In my case, not only the message is an environmentally friendly one, but the funky, musical wrapping paper around it is as well.

How does music influence your activism?

For me it is mostly a means for activism. I use it to get a message across.

Any future green plans?

Yeah. Somewhere in the future, I would like to start working on converting my combustion engine car into a car with an electrical motor. Powered by solar energy only, of course, and with recorded sunshine on the sound system. Also, I want to try to make sure that wherever I'll be in the future, I’ll always be able to use solar power to record my music. Obviously, I plan to continue and extend promoting green energy through my music in the future as well. Combining music production with creating environmental awareness is pretty pleasant job to be doing!

To hearTurtuga Blanku's music visit: http://www.turtugablanku.com/