The group's genesis was in the meeting, in 1971, of guitarist/flautist Eril Tekeli (b.25.4.54), guitarist/singer Setrak Bakirel (b.19.11.53) and drummer Can (pronounced Jan) Kozlu, three Turkish students in Istanbul. Setrak and Can were self-taught musicians much influenced by rock, whereas Eril, who had attended flute classes, was influenced by jazz. fond of English rock but immersed in Middle-Eastern culture and music, they decided to form a group whilst continuing studies at college.
In 1971, they won two prizes for composition and interpretation at a musical contest gathering together participants from high schools all over Turkey. In order to carry on with their studies, however, the three decided to emigrate in 1973. Eril and Setrak settled in Paris and Can in Grenoble. They benefited form this move greatly as the musical scene in Turkey was too restricted for them to fulfil their artistic ambitions.
Sharing the same musical orientation and ambition, Eril and Setrak decided to perform as a duo in 1974, under the name of Layla (referring to the well-known Clapton song as well as a character from Perion mythology). They became acquainted with the local music scene in Paris and worked on improving their technique, acquiring better equipment which they needed to sharpen their instrumental skills.
During the ?74 Easter holidays, Eril and Setrak visited Can in Grenoble and recorded some tracks with him. After this session Can decided to go to Paris and join Layla, followed by a bass-player named Herv? in 1975, the year of their first concerts.
They performed at the youth-centre, Rue Borrego, Theatre Mouffetard, the Facility of Architecture and as backing musicians for a play of three nights at the Paris festival. In 1976 Herv? left the group and was replaced by Setrak's fellow student Jean-Philippe Bottier.
The band took the name Asia Minor process, title chosen by the whole group as a reference of their origins and the kind of musical style they wanted to develop, inspired by Middle-Eastern culture.
At the beginning of 1977, Can left the group to pursue jazz-oriented career in the States. Eril and Setrak recruited a 16-year old drummer, Lionel Beltrami (b. 11.6.60) through a small ad he had placed for a vacancy in a progressive rock band. He auditioned in April ?77, passed and joined the band. At his suggestion the band then shortened its name to Asia Minor.
At the audition. Lionel had been accompanied by a friend, keyboard-player Robert Kempler. Lionel had played with him a year before in a progressive outfit called Atlantis whom he had left in search of a more challenging gig. He suggested that Robert join Asia Minor to enrich the group's sonic palette but at the time Eril and Setrak weren't keen on introducing keyboards into their music., focused as it was very much on the sound of guitars and flutes.
Lionel was a self-taught drummer. He had started learning drums and piano at the age of thirteen. He played his first gig as a drummer with a band called Phenix in December 1974; shortly afterwards, while with another group, Graal, he began to work on his own compositions, influenced by the English progressive movement. An excellent drummer with a strong technique and an individual style, he was an ideal partner for Asia Minor. When he joined the band, his creativity opened up new perspective, enabling the band to spread its wings anew. Harmonic and rhythmic language was considerable enhanced by his contribution. Shortly after Lionel Joined, Jean-Philippe Bottier left the group for personal reasons and Paul Levy, also recruited through an advertisement, joined on bass.
The musical format, a quartet with two guitarists reflected the personal choice of the musicians. They were quite satisfied with this rather conventional line-up, as both the front men were adaptable, Eril and Setrak both playing guitar and singing lead vocals with guitars the lion's share of the spotlight. Keyboards were excluded; they were thought to be superfluous to the role played by the guitar duets between Eril and Setrak which dominated the music.
The group started work on a personal repertoire, composed by the two leaders. Asia Minor's musical identity was however predominantly the work of Eril. Their originality lay in compositions that combined Middle Eastern scales with Anglo-Saxon progressive rock, a style much admired by Eril and Setrak, though they didn't consider it a major influence. The Middle Eastern influence most obviously manifests itself in the melancholy and sinuous shape of the themes and in Setrak Bakirel's nostalgic vocal style. Time signatures of great complexity and syncopation are also apparent; these are characteristic of much Eastern music.
Eril and Setrak composed prolifically and met up every day to work on new pieces, which would be worked out in rehearsal with the others. Suggestions were made as to thematic developments, which were sometimes so radical that the tune became almost unrecognizable except as a small motif in the background.
On 18th-19th February 1978 for their debut recording, Lionel suggested once again that the band at least enlarge their sound by adding some keyboards parts by way of ornamentation. Lionel was friendly with Grime's keyboardist Nicolas Vicente, whom he had met at a concert. Nicolas played on the recording - three numbers cut at Tai Phong's eight-track home studio. This five-man line-up also played at the Faculty of Architecture on 29.3.78.
During the first week of May 1978, the group landed a five-day residency at the Drugshow in Paris; their show was very sober, favouring the intensity of musical performance over any great display of stagecraft.
Without an album to their credit, and subsequently largely unknown to much of the audience, Asia Minor surprised everyone with their original music which stood proudly against the prevailing trends of the time, but they had to wait until September for their first next gig, two performances at the Boule Noire, also in Paris.
As they had no manager, the group had to contact the venues themselves to secure what few contracts there were. To distinguish themselves from other Parisian groups and gain more credibility, they recorded a demo-tape, hoping to make a name with the media and concert promoters and managers, as well as obtaining national - or even international - recognition.
With this in mind, they contacted record companies, without results. One of CBS' A&R men liked what he heard and even sat in on a rehearsal but sadly couldn't persuade his bosses to sign the group.
Following this setback, Asia Minor decided to produce an album by themselves, with the financial help of their parents and friends. The lack of professional support didn't discourage the band.; to their way of thinking, this at least meant complete artistic freedom! Moreover they had sufficient knowledge of studio techniques to be confident of showing off their compositions their best advantage whilst recording them.
The band booked the obscure Maia Studios in Bondy near Paris, yet only a fortnight before recording was due to begin, Paul Levy left for personal reasons. As the group were unable to recruit another bassist at such short notice, Eril and Setrak decided to tackle the album's bass parts themselves. Lionel asked Nicolas Vicente to participate once again and the sessions took place between a6 and 28 October 1978. The recording was made on 16 tracks under the supervision of sound engineer Serge Dudit, assisted by Guy Adams.
As the original mixes proved unsatisfactory, the band decided to remix the album to their own tastes at the Studio de la Grande Arm?e in Paris and achieved a better result.
The album contains nine tracks, and features two songs sung in Turkish. All vocals are performed by Setrak, except for the final bars of ?Mahzun G?zler? where Eril takes over and Setrak sings backing vocals. All the tracks from the session were retained with the exception of ?Boundless? which eventually found its way onto the second album. Two other numbers from their repertoire remained unissued. The lyrics serve mainly as support for the music, suggesting images and emotions which fit the melodies. Singing in English seemed an obvious choice, given the element of English rock in their musical background. But their publisher suggested that a couple of songs in Turkish be included; after some consideration, the band agreed that their native language would sound better on some of the tunes, and agreed to the suggestion.
Following the recording sessions, the group searched once again for a company willing to distribute the album, but met with the same indifference that had greeted their efforts with their demo-tape. The group resigned itself to issuing the disc at their own expense, creating a label for the occasion called W.A.M. (Ware of Asia Minor). Setrak and Eril designed the sleeve, with layout exclusively by Setrak. The album was called ?Crossing the line?, Eril's title, symbolizing the line dividing dream form reality; or in another sense, the band's hope of recording its music and the final realization of that dream. It was issued on 19 April 1979.
The band struggled hard to arouse interest in the media but without the help of a record company or PR officer they only got as far as winning a few lines' space in Rock ?n' Folk. Asia Minor's music, with its instrumental virtuosity and complexity and melodic originality contrasted totally with the musical fashion of the time, namely punk. The press subsequently gave their album short shrift, preferring to laud the (then) more lucrative punk acts.
The album was only distributed among some Parisian record shops. In spite of this relative commercial failure, the group's enthusiasm and faith in its music was undiminished. While commercially unfavored, the album nonetheless represented considerable artistic success. In it, the listener discovers an original, highly sophisticated and technically proficient music, the work of young musicians who had managed to record an album in the face of great odds.
For that alone, the record deserves a place as one of the most notable and certainly unique Turkish and French progressive issues of the era, proposing a music arisen from the symbiosis of two very different musical traditions.