Various Artists - An Anthology Of Turkish Experimental Music 1961-20 [Sub Rosa - 2016]
Here’s a smart little package from Sub Rosa: a two CD set, in a fold out wallet, complete with booklet. The two discs are titled ‘Electronic Music’, and ‘Politic, Samplers, Ambient Music’, respectively, and the contents of each reflect these. The compilation covers a long period of time - 1961 to 2014 - but curiously, this actually translates into one piece from 1961, and then a huge gap chronologically until the next work in 1996. This isn’t really addressed in the liner notes, beyond pointing out that Bülent Arel (the 1961 composer) ‘did not have immediate followers’ - but there’s no further discussion or investigation. So, despite the title, the compilation really only covers a more modern, compressed, period of time.
I have to admit that when I first saw the album, I presumed it was a hardboiled archive of electroacoustic works, or modern composition/etc. However, I was quite wrong. For better or worse, it’s actually an much, much broader survey of work, certainly on the second disc, and a fair amount of it sounds more ‘bedroom’ than ’studio’, if you know what I mean. So it does cast a wide net, and I realise that these are empty words, but there really is something here for everyone - though whether that makes it a good album is a moot point. With that in mind, I’ve decided that I will simply pick through some of my favourite pieces here.
The first track of the ‘Electronic Music’ disc, is indeed the 1961 work from Arel, Postlude From Music For A Sacred Service. This is not a piece that will shock anyone versed in early electroacoustic/tape work, but it’s still a pleasant listen. It bubbles along on kinetic blips, sounding very much like stereotypical ‘random synth/computer noise’, but its age and context gives it more interest. Alper Maral’s Sho, from 2001, begins rather like an old Warp electronica track, before quickly disintegrating itself. Short, but sweet. Plug-Out: Balžklar II by Mehmet Can Özer (2007) continues this theme of evisceration, with a minimal tour of ultra-glitchy bleeps and twitches. It occupies a grey area between electroacoustic composition, and electronica decomposition. Basar Ünder’s Diving (2012) has a stealthy, eerie quality, marking out a nice ‘escape’ in the compilation. Similarly, Prelude No.17 (Istanbul Fog) by Ilhan Mimaroǧlu (1996), also sounds out a rather different space to the bulk of the album. It has an odd tone, and uses some sounds that border on kitsch, but has an undeniably arresting logic. It’s far too fleeting though, almost insubstantial.
Turning to the second disc, ‘Politic, Samplers, Ambient Music’, I’ll be upfront that a lot of the material is based in an area that leaves me a little cold. Whilst there were elements of electronica/etc on the first disc, the successful tracks were overwhelmingly deconstructed. Here, the tropes of the genre, and surrounding territories are more plain. So, there’s a lot of stuttering and glitching, a lot of beats, and none of these things are crimes in themselves, it’s just that my tastes lean simultaneously towards the more conservative and radical ends of electronic music, whereas here the middle ground is strongly represented. I’ve come to see elements of this middle ground as unfortunately comparable to contemporary post-rock, in tone and intent. Indeed, several tracks even feature melancholy, but anthemic, guitars… I’m not dismissing the entire second disc, but the high points are fewer for me, and also lower. Nefes, by Tuna Pase (2007), begins with layered breaths, before opening out into a drone fleshed out by flute notes, and those same breaths. Cevdet Erek constructs a nicely detailed sound-world with Strob (2005), reducing everything to the finest granules of sound, but still creating a work of interesting depth. SUTT, by Utku Tavil (2012) is a short burst of noisy electronics, which is distinctly hyperactive, but never really catches fire, whilst the final track, Sworn Mother by Meczup (2012) is a strong, haunting wail of a drone, pitting feedback-esque tones against more acoustic-sounding lines.
As stated above, this is really quite a broad, mixed bag. It’s the kind of compilation that will point you in directions, but then run the risk of being forgotten once those directions are pursued. However, as a broad ‘Overview of Experimental and Electronic Music in Turkey’, it covers a lot of ground. Clearly, the second disc was less to my taste, but it still had some strong work on it. I think a compilation this diverse will always disappoint one minute, and delight the next… Martin P