For a Little While Everything Was Offline

It is the people who make a place what it is. Inspiring and driven merchants import and trade overseas. That may be some slight romanticisation of the truth as I lead myself to wonder how much is driven onto the city by corporate giants like Virgin and Mango

We saw the film ‘Crossing the Bridge: The Sounds of Istanbul’ last night. Many of the shots in this film are much like those that we are making or would like to make. It is perhaps one of those desires born out of and guided by the social and physical architectures of Istanbul. The shots that I mean are visions, yet our inadvertent echoing suggests a clear resonance that others may be affected by. This film was about the music scene here and about the way in which perceived cultural differences that are elsewhere frequently propounded as being extreme and incompatible, have a meeting ground.  The idea is relevant it seems in all senses of East meeting West and not just in the music. 

I had thought to write some differences between East and West and present them as being co-existent. Instead here are some observations. 

Turkey has the internet – but not pornography (or YouTube)  [edit: Turkey has Youtube again as of the 30th of October 2010, this is good but seeing as our IPs were [unexplainably] already being  redirected out of Turkey, this is hardly a revelation.]

Istanbul has clubs, strip bars, brothels, mosques and churches. 

Istanbul is a city in development! As it is one in disrepair. 

One of many buildings in the Istanbul area
One of many buildings in the Istanbul area

The music scene feels dense here. I can’t really define what I mean by this, but if I were to try I would begin by describing the scenarios in which the music is found. There is no clear musical identity perhaps. Traditional music is played on the streets, instruments I cannot recall the name of not claim to know in the first place. Synthetic, Electronic, Big Beat, and House music, sometimes even IDM or a more popular form of glitch-core. I’m yet to hear anything resembling Gabba. 

Then of course there is Western music that I feel I know well and variations upon, music which feels as though it is often being played without the prejudices usually affiliated with them. Another statement I perhaps cannot back up. Yet what is the value in this statement? I think it’s only valuable from a musical perspective as it opens up music as an open platform rather than it being a subject that needs a structure of classification. One less thing to learn? Or perhaps it is an ideal for equality that has social implications? Hip-hop, rock, pop, metal – As music with contemporary relevance + again there are the regional/cultural variations on these. Yet I am not a scholar of music nor can I lie and say that music particularly interests me. 

(Apologies) Although I am not interested in music for music’s sake it would be desirable to find a location detached from the hustling of city life. Away from the sounds of traffic, sales pitches, and the sound of music (that is for the purposes of promoting the exchange of money for material possessions). I would like to listen to, and study, the flow of the language as a noise. A fluid conversation, with all of its natural rhythms and breaks, as pure sound as it can only be to someone unfamiliar to the formation of those sounds and unacquainted with the references that those sounds make. I cannot do the same in English without that subjective interplay of sound and reference. I do not want chanting, but the sounds of communication as they can only be for me as someone unable to comprehend. 

Language must communicate tonally as well as conjunctively through pronounced sounds right? 

Istanbul has its high streets, its back alleys, its street vendors, markets, bazaars, salesmen on boats, salesmen with carts. 

English isn’t as prevalent as I had initially believed and the City is far larger than I had imagined. No-one could ever know this place in a single lifetime. 

Istanbul is too big for my artificial eye
Istanbul Cityscape 1 - City stretching East into Asia

Istanbul is built on Seven Hills
Istanbul Cityscape 2 - City stretching East into Asia. The original foundation site of the city that Istanbul is built from was purported to be spread across Seven Hills, like Rome, and during Roman occupation the city was refered to as 'New Rome'

Istanbul Cityscape 3 - View of Eyup area, Istanbul stretches West

Istanbul is where things happen fast, although what is happening is not clear. Communications technologies here are, from experience, temperamental. The internet has been asking for money for days, and mobile phones don’t always get through. 

My feelings were that the salesmen here are pushy – I can understand that this works only because they are targeting an ephemeral client, the tourist, who has money to spend even if they might not want to spend it. There is also the fact that any new place needs an acclimatisation period and a two week holiday isn’t really long enough. But that period is so disorientating and Turkey is so packed ful of life and vigour that a tourist is honestly going to be raped in his confusion. But then I have to think again. A friend has arrived from travelling through India where the conditions are extreme. A particular story passed on by word of mouth is that one technique of acquiring a travellers money uses women bearing children who work in league with shop owners. It follows that a woman with her baby approaches a traveller asking for milk for the child which may look starved. This is a moral obligation for the average traveller who agrees and is taken to a specific shop and has to buy some specific and expensive milk for the baby. Once the traveller is gone the milk is returned and the money is split between shopkeeper and woman. 

I’m not sure if this is a sort of economical pimping on the behalf of the shopkeeper or whether the woman is making use of the situation. Either way it is a curious or troubling state of affairs which has its own extremes in that there is at least one account of such a situation where the woman bares a dead child in her arms as she asks for milk. 

Istanbul is not like that, yet there will still be opportunist overpricing by independent shopkeepers and also demands for money as one becomes looped into things around them. 

So far working here has not been easy and we are not integrated into life here in any other way than as a foreign body. There are plenty of them here. I desperately wish to paint yet I have no studio space or floor space upon which I can work. In regards of accommodation, we are still in transit. Work processes have begun to take form although nothing is firmly established yet. We visited the old city wall fortifications which once marked the edge of the city but have long since become embedded in the city’s flesh. The fortifications are dysfunctional, their original purpose long deceased, but the walls now serve as a tourist attraction and are a physical memory of the city’s past. It is a curious addition to the city’s infrastructure in that the flow of life around it cannot help but be directed by it. 

Istanbul City Wall Fortifications

The city wall is worth revisiting for its visual character and its various peculiarities such as the towers, its physical condition, the perspective that it provides over the West side of the city and its neighbouring buildings, the walls linear structure, and also the stepped platforms that top it. It is an interesting site, although, as I said before – it has no function today. 



Heybeliada Pine Wood
Initial Improvisation on Heybeliada

 We have also visited the Prince islands which are just down the Bosporus in the Marmara Sea. There are a collection of nine islands there and about four of them constitute the Adalar islands and all of these islands are quite different and are inhabited to varying degrees. We made a stop at Heybeliada which is an island with a considerable amount of pine woodland and a military base situated on it. There is a small town at one end of the island where the ferry pulls in. This town is dramatically different from Istanbul’s City Centre and its outskirts (from our experience).  It is a beautiful site and on our first visit Minou felt inspired to work within a site we discovered in the woods. However this improvised session was not taken in its stride and the inspiration Minou had there dissipated between then and our second trip. 

I feel as though I am rushing to write everything down and I’m tripping over my own feet in what I am saying. So instead I will say it is a peculiar place. There is a picnic area entirely fenced off and marked as a Military operations zone. The woods are all filled with litter and yet people take leisurely walks through them and sit in the shade amongst scatterings of bottles and newspapers. It is an island with very little beach and that beach there is, is made of shell. The town is idyllic, very quiet, relaxed in a way that is best described as serene or sedated. Children play in the streets, laden fruit trees overhang the cobbled sidewalks, and there are no cars, only horse and carriage. 

Now the litter has already been mentioned and upon our second visit we had predetermined that we would return to the site Minou had originally felt inspired by. One thing that Minou enthused was the feel of the ground, the roughness of the pine needles against her skin. It was this that we tried to take with us. Also our feelings towards the site were different, they were more aware of our status as outsiders. I think of Camus when I say that. Our empathy with the discarded material was appropriate and it became a focal point of sorts. We were aware of our alienation from much of the immediate surrounding world due to language differences and the distance between ourselves and homes and those people whom we knew, loved, and cared for. We knew we didn’t belong. We could only perceive that which was (is) and then realise our place there. 

In the end we drafted a film of the place and only used parts of the choreography and movement in a film which tried to show our emotional estrangement from our chosen site, our status as tourists, and the physicality of our being in that site. As it became quite an objective perspective the resulting film feels, for me, now quite dead.


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