A powerful agent in the production of history has been the state. The role of modernist intellectuals in defining rational, bureaucratic national cultures has been much discussed. Under these conditions, the production of 'history', in the sense of school textbooks, archives, museums and national monuments assumes epidemic proportions, underpinning claims for political legimacy and territorial sovereignty through narratives of immanence, immutability and inevitability. In this kind of history, everything becomes involved in some kind of archival project, snapping at the heels of the present, as Pierre Nora has memorably put it (1989). The state has therefore been of particularly significance in creating forms of historical consciousness which are pervasive, if not always entirely persuasive. Indeed, this kind of history is seldom uncontested in some way or another. The role of those intellectuals who have attempted to undermine or maintain alternatives to the state project are often 'forgotten'; (this, of course, being an active process) in historical writing which is, by and large, the product of the state itself. It is also easy to forget those factors unconsidered by ideologues which render the best laid reformist plans unworkable. It is still all too easy, in other words, to take reformist intellectuals at their word.
In contemporary Turkey a nationalist ideology (Kemalism) focussed on the figure of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk has provided the basic parameters within which the past can be experienced. It has constrained these experiences, but not completely defined them. If we approach ideology as a set of loosely coordinated practices, based on distinct and socially embedded techniques of writing, seeing, reading and interpretation, then the closure implied by an ideological system (such as Kemalism) gives way to a world of plural meanings shaped by the meeting of text and a variety of social actors - a world of anomaly, contradiction and ambiguity. As Can Kozanoglu has recently pointed out, Kemalism is now 'read' in so many ways that it is almost impossible to define (Kozanoglu 1995). The old language of centre and periphery which once dominated Turkish studies is now entirely impossible to sustain.
Music history writing, as I hope to show, throws a particularly interesting light on these complexities. The specific concern of this chapter is the ways in which modernist intellectuals are currently seeking to reappropriate a genre of music that has been demonised as part of the wider process of modernist nationalism. Turkish art music was the subject of an ideological onslaught in the 1920s and 1930s in the hands of modernising Kemalist elites who saw it as the relic of a barbarous Ottoman past. In the hands of nationalist musicologists such as Mahmut Ragip Gazimihal, Halil Bedi Yönetken, Muzaffer Sarisözen, a reconstructed folk ('halk') music provided the basis for a national music. This was adumbrated through state funded research projects, conference reports, new musicological journals, and the results were subsequently much promoted by the Turkish radio and later television.
|Fidayda Oyun Havasi|
|Fidayda Oyun Havasi, played by the Istanbul Turkish Radio and Telelevision Orchestra c. 1979. Reconstructed 'halk' music: note massed voices, baglamas (folk long-necked lutes) and well drilled unison style.|
The efforts of these intellectuals has been inspired by the fact that this process of reform has been, in certain ways, a failure. At the most general level, the problem of 'writing music' has been confronted most directly and influentially by Charles Seeger, who noted the epistemological problem of converting the logic of one system of communication (music) into another (speech) (Seeger 1960). From this point of view alone, the attempt to construct a coherent Kemalist musical project was from the outset marked by the problematic engagement of a logocentric political philosophy (language, indeed, was the driving metaphor of the state's reforms) with the messy and evasive world of musical sound, and, of course, musicians. But the state's musicology and the world it tried to summon into existence also conformed to deeply rooted notions of decree and command, and the elitist view that the mass of the Turkish people had so little in the way of 'real' (that is to say, a racially conceived notion of 'pure Turkish') culture, that anything that they came up with was likely to be gratefully accepted. This was not the case, and musical reformism was easily resisted. And, in simple practical terms, the state's bureaucratic efforts to reform musical culture were disorganised. The state's official musicology has thus never engaged with the musical world inhabited by most people living in Turkey. Throughout the 1980s this musicology was discursively organised around the 'threat' of a popular genre known as 'Arabesk', although it never attempted to engage with it as a serious intellectual issue. It is in this gap, between discursive evocation and serious critical engagement of officially condemned genres, that one must situate the new Ottomanist scholarship.
|Opening of Ibrahim Tatlises's 'Asiksin' ('You are in love')|
Tatlises is one of the most conspicuous
and successful Arabesk singers of recent years. The
intense vocal qualities and group of violins instantly
mark this performance as Arabesk to any Turkish listener.
The relevant 'other' in this musicology has been the 'urban' art music genre. The distinction drawn between the art music genre and the state's constructed rural folk music was underpinned by a general set of oppostions between city and village, between Turkish and Arab, between a racially conceived notion of 'culture' and Islamic 'civilization', between people and palace. Before setting foot in Turkey as a research student, I had been thoroughly schooled in this kind of binary operation. Its ideological nature soon became fairly clear to me, but, given the ever present signifiers of the state tradition (busts of Ataturk, monumental architectural modernism of a nationalist kind, slogans spelled out in white stone on mountainsides and cut into forests) I was constantly taken aback during my fieldwork by the ways in which these distinctions were either ignored, or brought self consciously into provocative proximity.
Two brief illustrations from my fieldwork experience will illustrate the point. The first concerns the world in which I learned makam (modal theory) and the kanun. My kanun teacher was a low ranking officer in the Turkish army who had taken early retirement on health grounds, and worked both as a musician in gazino clubs and as an administrator in a private housing co-operative in Üsküdar (1). This housing co-operative - part of a major movement in Istanbul following the spiralling cost of property and massive rural-urban migration in the 1980s - was entirely run by retired army officers who were all passionate devotees of Turkish art music. My teacher was a close friend of a serving army colonel who made kanuns in his spare time. In recent years he has become one of a small handful of kanun makers in Istanbul, selling his instruments in Germany and the Middle East as well as Turkey. The extent of these men's commitment to what is often described as an Ottoman culture, branded in certain registers of reformist discourse (mentioned above) as decadent, elitist, Islamic and so on, was initially a matter of great surprise. It was, to me at least, as if this music allowed them to maintain memories that they knew they had to forget.
The other moment relates to a more specific incident. I spent an afternoon watching preparations for a traditional folk dancing contest in Pendik (2) with a group of friends. The 'folklor' in question is the danced equivalent of the nationalist 'halk' music mentioned above, emerging in the same ideological 'moment'. They were all from the Eastern Black Sea area, an area that prides itself on loyalty to Ataturk during the struggle for independence, an on the absence of corrupting urbanism conferred, in their own self-representations, by climate, topography and distance from cities: loyalty to the state, its reforms and the Turkish flag were constantly asserted. During such folklore festivals, this kind of self-celebratory language appeared to me, at least, to run riot. Later, we emerged from the school hall in which the practice was taking place, ate from a stall in the street and then sat in a cafe looking over the sea of Marmara to Istanbul's islands on a perfect moonlit night. A central theme running through the Turkish art music repertory of sarki relates to the genteel pleasures of the beauty spots of the main imperial cities, Istanbul and Izmir, (Heybeli, Çamlica, Kalamis, Göksu...), all ideally seen in moonlight. Popular urban genres began to refer to the city in the late Tanzimat period, when new public transport systems made trips to such places possible, and the quality and visual order of the urban environment, in a time of rapid social change, became a matter of intellectual concern (Mitchell 1991). Since the 1940s and 50s, songs about the city, particularly those of Munir Nureddin Selçuk, have enjoyed enduring popularity. On this particular occasion, the combination of high spirits and the beautiful moonlight unleashed an exuberant performance of these popular 'art music' songs that went on until the other customers in the cafe eventually asked them to quieten down. Juxtaposed as it was to an afternoon of rampant Kemalism, this was, for me, a striking and memorable moment.
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