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The Social Life of Musical Instruments
Author(s): Eliot Bates
Vol. 56, No. 3 (Fall 2012), pp. 363-395
Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for Ethnomusicology
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V. , N.  E F 
© 2012 by the Society for Ethnomusicology
e Social Life of Musical Instruments
E B / Cornell University
Accordion Crimes, a novel by E. Annie Proulx, traces the life of and routes
travelled by a green diatonic button accordion: its birth in Sicily in the
workshop of “ e Accordion Maker,” its numerous changes of ownership in the
Americas during encounters between various immigrant communities, and its
death when it  nally falls into disrepair in the town of Old Glory, Minnesota.
ere are other accordions in the book, and many temporary human owners,
but it is one particular green accordion that is the book’s protagonist. We meet
and experience other characters largely through their interactions with the green
accordion, a character whose voice, we learn, “sounded hoarse and crying, re-
minding listeners of the brutalities of love, of various hungers” (Proulx 1996:22).
is green accordion is not only central to human social networks, but is also
itself an actor with agency. Seeing the extent to which Proulx’s human characters
succumb to ill fate (while the accordion lives on), it would not be a stretch to
suggest that the green accordion was one of the only characters with agency.
A similar plot surrounds the protagonist of François Girard’s movie e
Red Violin (1998). In this story, the violin-maker Nicolò is about to varnish a
violin he considers to be his best yet, when he learns that his wife Anna has died
while giving birth to what would have been their  rst child. He mixes Anna’s
blood in with the varnish, donates the instrument to an orphanage, and never
makes another violin again.  e red violin, a  ctional instrument inspired by
Stradivari’s 1721 “Red Mendelssohn,” travels to Vienna, England, China and
nally Canada, cultivating fatal host-parasitic relations with each violinist that
it possesses, while motivating other individuals to steal it, sell it, or otherwise
turn to morally evil behavior.
e Red Violin was not the  rst  ctional account of a Stradivari violin
capable of travel and the occult; J. Meade Falkner’s novel e Lost Stradivarius
(1895) features a  ne Stradivarius which calls up the ghost of its original owner
as it travels from England to Italy.  rough much of the book, the violin is
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 Ethnomusicology, Fall 2012
depicted as being played by the protagonists brother, but as the instrument
progressively deepens its possession of the brother we become unsure about
the relationship between the two. In the penultimate scene, the possession
complete, our protagonist recounts:
As I opened my bedroom door the violin ceased suddenly in the middle of a bar.
Its last sound was not a musical note, but rather a horrible scream, such as I pray I
may never hear again. It was a sound such as a wounded beast might utter. (Falkner
1895:chapter 15).
I draw on these literary and  ctional examples from North American
and Western European literature to demonstrate the ease with which we can
conceive of musical instruments as not only having some degree of agency, but
even as protagonists of stories—as actors who facilitate, prevent, or mediate
social interaction among other characters.1 In none of these stories is the violin
or accordion symbolic, nor is the instrument unambiguously a metaphor or
parable for obsession, evil, jealousy, or other problematic moral-emotional
states. Let us not overlook the fact that the accordion and the two Stradi-
vari stumble into social worlds that are preconstituted as sites of con ict and
moral corruption. Furthermore, the instrument-maker, in these three stories,
is not an evil magician who uses the instrument to manipulate other humans.
e instrument is not the maker’s doppelgänger, but instead more akin to the
maker’s golem, albeit a golem that works not through direct violence but rather
by creating desire and a ect through soundings.2 Yet, only some instruments
seem to possess a golem-like autonomy. Guitars seem to have a propensity to
teach their owners how to play them,3 gods live in or are channeled through
certain instruments, and other instruments such as the Anatolian saz (which
I will explore, along with Central Asian long-necked lutes, later in this essay)
mediate interpersonal disputes in communities. Still other instruments seem
(at least as far as we know) to have little agency.
In this article, I argue for taking objects, and particularly musical instru-
ments, seriously—but not simply as things that humans use or make or exchange,
or as passive artifacts from which sound emanates. Much of the power, mystique,
and allure of musical instruments, I argue, is inextricable from the myriad situ-
ations where instruments are entangled in webs of complex relationships—be-
tween humans and objects, between humans and humans, and between objects
and other objects. Even the same instrument, in di erent sociohistorical contexts,
may be implicated in categorically di erent kinds of relations. I thus am arguing
for the study of the social life of musical instruments.
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Mention organology to an ethnomusicology student, and what probably
rst comes to mind are museums, the Hornbostel-Sachs classi cation system,
and perhaps (depending on the university program) a seemingly outdated class
on measuring and documenting physical objects.  is is not surprising: such
legacies abound in many organology courses, scholarly articles, and institu-
tions such as the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, Arizona.
Instrument museums are mausoleums, places for the display of the musically
dead, with organologists acting as morticians, preparing dead instrument
bodies for preservation and display. Visitors to MIM walk by a glass display
case containing a Turkish saz and hear a commercially available recording of
saz music through their FM-equipped headsets. Yet, the display (like many
displays in the museum) reads simply “Saz. Turkey. Long-necked lute,” bere
of stories about the particular instrument, how it came to be in the museum,
or its pre-death life in the hands of living players.4 Instruments may be central
to curatorial work, but it is a di erent sort of organology that I have in mind.
e lengthiest chapter of e Ethnomusicologist suggests a symbolic clas-
si cation for musical instruments. Ki Mantle Hood was attracted to the Horn-
bostel-Sachs system (1961) and preceding Mahillon system (1880) that was itself
derived from the Natyasastra Sanskrit treatise, but found many of these systems’
particular subdivisional choices to be arbitrary or inconsistent. He also believed
that a classi cation system needed to take account of details such as the musical
soundings and social function of the instrument, and developed the organogram
as an experimental symbolic representation. To get a sense of Hood’s ambitions,
let’s consider one of the few organograms that he details in full.
e notation indicates that the atumpan has the external and internal shape of a
bowl opening into a cylinder made of (5) wood, has a single head fastened by a
H(oop) R(ing) and is played with two crooked sticks, is used in pairs (the pair is
called atumpan), is tuned by W(etting) the heads and by means of tuning pegs,
supporting V lacing, to a R(elative) pitch of H(igh) and L(ow).  e drums are held
in a slanting position by a stand.  e pair has the following Hardness Scale ratings:
Loudness, 8; Pitch, 3; Quality, 4; Density, 7–9; Technique, 4; Finish, 1; Motif, 4.  ey
are associated with a G(roup) of H(igh) social status that values them at 10, they
S(ymbolize) the soul of ancestor drummers and a tree, are honored with L(ibations),
have magic P(ower), and R(itual) is involved in their manufacture and when they
are played. S(ociety) values them at 10, the P(layer) values them at 10, the M(aker)
of the drums is accorded a special S(tatus), their M(onetary) value is 8, they are
indispensable in the life C(ycle) of man. (Hood 1982:155–6)
In addition to construction details and considerations of the interface (how
performers play, tune, or otherwise modify the drum’s soundings), Hood’s or-
Bates: Social Life of Musical Instruments 
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 Ethnomusicology, Fall 2012
ganograms show concern for ornamentational details ( nish or motif), instru-
mental soundings (loudness, pitch, and quality), and basic aspects of the instru-
ment’s relationships to individuals and to society. While richer than preceding
classi catory systems, Hood’s organograms don’t convey the dynamic and vari-
able nature of personal and societal relations with instruments, and the incon-
sistent depth of his accompanying narratives ultimately results in a somewhat
incoherent concept of the instrument-object (following on Ian Woodward’s
insistence that “it is stories and narratives that hold an object together, giving
it cultural meaning” [2009:60]). Organograms may have been relegated to the
dustbin of ethnomusicological history, but I do wish to underscore that at the
very least the creation of an organogram required contextual information that
could only come via ethnography.5
Outside of organology journals,6 perhaps the last signi cant plea for a
broader study of instruments surfaced in the 1990 issue of UCLAs Selected
Reports in Ethnomusicology, edited by Sue DeVale. For DeVale, organology’s
ultimate purpose was “to help explain society and culture” (1990:22), and in-
struments might even contain the “essence of society and culture” (ibid.). She
surveys the scope of prior work and suggests classi catory, analytic, and ap-
plied approaches to organology, and zones of crossover between those three
approaches. Yet, none of the other articles in the special issue come as close
as DeVale to suggesting a mandate for thinking through instruments. Buried
in the article, DeVale recalls two examples from her own research, including
a theory of instrument-spirits as participants in rituals (DeVale 1988) and the
life story of the gamelan brought to Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
e former example focuses our attention on di erent possible subject/object
Figure 1. Mantle Hood’s
organogram for Ghanean
atumpan drums.
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relations between the scholar, instrument, performers, and society.  e latter
calls to mind the narrative of Accordion Crimes and reiterates the potential
speci city of organological study: sometimes one speci c instrument is em-
broiled in unique stories, trajectories, and sets of social relations.
Many of DeVale’s organological mandates were pre gured by  ve decades in
Robert Van Gulik’s e Lore of the Chinese Lute, a work that was in uential on
Chinese music scholarship but less so on organology.7 Van Gulik concludes that
the ch’in (qin) works as a “symbol of literary life” ([1940] 1969:17) through its
aesthetics (having elegant physical features), its resistance to becoming popular
(from theoretical and practical factors), its expense and rarity, and in how the
elegant taste required to appreciate ch’in music hints at the unusual sociability
of the instrument.  e ch’ins ontology as a musical instrument distinguishes it
from other antique objects, as the ch’in alone is capable of giving “an impression
of meeting with the ancients in person” (ibid.:18).
e numerous ch’in-pu (qinpu), handbooks for lutenists, comprise a pri-
mary source type for Van Gulik.  ey contain striking details about instru-
ment and string construction, playing techniques, the “discipline of the lute
player” (ibid.:32), and the “ideology of the lute” (ibid.:33). Concerning lute
ideology, Van Gulik writes: “it is suited for harmonizing the human mind,
and may move man to the improvement of his heart” (ibid.:72). In addition
to discussing musical techniques and the e ects of lute playing on the literati
and society, several handbooks included detailed descriptions of how the lute
should be accompanied by other objects and in which acoustic environments
lutes should reside. One handbook stipulated: “ ere should be a  ywhisk, a
sonorous stone, brushes and ink to keep the lute company and there should
be lustrous  owers and cranes to be its friends. All these things belong to the
domain of the lute” (ibid.:69–70). Another noted the need for a special room
in the lutenist’s house for playing, and described the material construction and
acoustic qualities of such a room (ibid.:67). Beyond human-object sociability,
several stories discussed the e ect of ch’in playing on birds (cranes in particu-
lar), and one recounted how a crane taught a master ch’in player a song that,
subsequently performed for a duke, led to an awe-inspiring sequence of events
including the summoning of a storm and an ensuing drought that lasted for
three years (ibid.:143–44).
While instruments appear to be in the margins of ethnomusicological in-
quiry in the early twenty- rst century,8 several notable works have emerged since
2000.9 Regula Qureshi and Kevin Dawe provide cogent arguments for studying
the embodied a ect and symbolic and a ective meanings of musical instru-
ments. In an article on Indian sarangis and sarangi players, Qureshi explores the
interrelations between audible aesthetics, instrumental symbolisms, and debates
about the appropriateness of certain performance contexts for sarangi playing.
Bates: Social Life of Musical Instruments 
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 Ethnomusicology, Fall 2012
She notes the absence of a political dimension in scholarship on emotion and
embodiment in music:
To insert music into [the anthropological debate on the politics of emotion] requires
a more broadly based and widely referenced notion of music and its production. It
calls for a willingness to expand music studies from their cocoon of conventionalize d
aesthetic and sonic jouissance in order to allow political and historical implications
to surface and thus to hear when music (and its instruments) speak to social struggle
and to the politics of dominance and exclusion. (2000:808)
Qureshi’s work was the  rst to connect anthropological studies of the body and
embodiment to the domain of musical instruments and instrumental sound-
ings. However, one conclusion that could be drawn from her article is that con-
tested meanings of the sarangi are a direct result of the web of associations and
meanings in which sarangis are encountered in Indian society—“an unequal,
exploitative feudal and increasingly capitalized class structure” (ibid.:830).  is
is a minor distinction, perhaps, but I will return later to the di erence between
casting an instrument as the subject or as the object of the research.
Kevin Dawe, whose  eld research in Crete focused on a small indigenous
ddle called the lyra, extends a common ethnomusicological proverb in urging
us to conceive of musical instruments as culture:
ey exist in webs of culture, entangled in a range of discourses and political in-
trigues, and they occupy engendered and status-de ning positions. Musical instru-
ments are seen as material and social constructions. (2007:114)
His work is strikingly heterogeneous in the scope of its ethnographic observa-
tions: festivals, lyra-makers, lyra ampli cation, the visibility of lyras in contem-
porary Crete, and even villagers who play “air lyra.” In addition to his discussion
of lyra meanings, Dawe writes about instrument pedagogies and the bodies of
lyra performers. He suggests that “musical instruments can transform minds
and bodies, a ecting states of mind as much as joints, tendons and synapses,
ergonomics and social interaction—the joy of playing musical instruments is
a joy that comes from exhilaration felt at physical, emotional and social levels”
(Dawe 2005:60).  is assertion is one of the few in music scholarship, following
DeVale, where instruments are regarded as potential subjects (rather than ob-
jects) of research, a tantalizing suggestion that there might be a broader valence
to the sorts of  ctional accounts of instruments I began with in this article, or a
value in what might be called “thinking through instruments.
Yet, while the lyra “and its repertoire have evolved with, and are inextri-
cably linked to, the intricate rituals, spectacle, and display of the celebration”
(Dawe 2007:115), Dawes work stops short of maintaining a sustained analysis
of the lyra as an active participant in those rituals, spectacles, and celebrations.
He hints of the transformative power of instruments, and writes elsewhere of
instruments as “active in the shaping of social and cultural life” (2001:220), but
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most of his analysis is of the “polyvalent and polysemic” (ibid.:222) meanings of
lyra in contemporary Cretan society.  e lyra and the lyra-maker’s shop become
sites where broader social processes (technological modernization, globaliza-
tion, gender politics) can be witnessed; the subject of the article shi s to Cretan
society, the lyra becoming a prosthesis of politics (speci cally, the body politic)
rather than the central actor.10 Dawe writes of the considerable economic value
of the lyras made by Dimitris Agrimakis, one of the last great makers, and about
changes to the pegs and headstock of the instrument. But rather than analyzing
Dimitris’s relation with lyra materialities during the construction stage, Dawe
treats the passive, inert lyras adorning the shop window as a metaphor for social
change. I, too,  nd it productive to investigate how instruments become such
contested sites of meaning, and how instrumental sound can come to profoundly
a ect and transform people. However, I assert, many valences of instruments
go beyond meaning, symbol, and metaphor.11
Central Asian Long-Necked Lutes
Ever since Mark Slobin’s studies of music in the social life of Kyrgyzstan
(1969) and Northern Afghanistan (1976), long-necked lutes have had a signi -
cant place in scholarship on Central Asian music. Slobin devotes several pages
to the construction, playing technique, and ethnic variations (Uzbek and Turk-
men) of the dutār, and documents changes to the instrument when it moved
from being a rural instrument to one played in towns and cities. Building on
this work, John Baily wrote extensively about the dutār in the city of Herat,
discussing innovations in instrument construction, instrumental kinesthetics,
and the “complex and dynamic sociomusical situation which involves changes
in music structure and changes in the social position of music and musicians
Baily was one of the  rst ethnomusicologists to conduct a lengthy study of
the kinesthetics of playing in relation to the morphology of the instrument.12 He
documents the shi from a le -hand technique initially learned through visual
information to a later kinesthesis honed through increased “auditory control
of the performance” (1977:309). For Baily, the relation between kinesthesis and
morphology directly in uences the nature of musical genre: “While classical
music may be highly compatible with the spatial layout of the rebab, traditional
Herati music is not.  is shows how closely these two kinds of music are adapted
to the instruments on which they are habitually played and suggests that in both
instances the instrument has to some degree shaped the music” (ibid.:323). Baily
argues that physical changes in the dutār “have a signi cance that extends far
beyond their interest from the point of view of material culture.  ey express in
a concrete manner the essence of a complex and dynamic sociomusical situation
which involves changes in music structure and changes in the social position
Bates: Social Life of Musical Instruments 
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 Ethnomusicology, Fall 2012
of music and musicians” (1976:53–54). In a later work, he asserts the represen-
tational power of the dutār as the “voice” of Herat, contributing to Herat’s role
“as an integral part of Afghanistan” (1988:158).
Two scholars have written about the Ahl-i Haqq tanbūr, an instrument at
the center of sacred and secular music practices of the Gorani Kurds of Western
Iran. Partow Hooshmandrad advocates for a lived organology (2004:42) based
on stories, historical meanings, and analysis of the function of musical instru-
ments in human-divine relations. She writes this about the “sanctity and sacred
function of the tanbūr”:
Tanbūr is an embodiment of various aspects of the Ahl-i Haqq religion. It secretly
holds the divine message of the presence of the divine; it is the instrument with
which the sacred musical repertoire of the Ahl-i Haqq is performed and the sacred
texts are sung. It may be used in the sacred ritual of Jam where, even when it is not
sounded, it is considered as a Jam'Nishīn and receives a portion (bash) of the sacred
blessed food. It is greeted by kissing in the Jam and when approached in general.
It heals illnesses, and is hung in the best part of an Ahl-i Haqq’s home as a sacred
icon with a constant purifying e ect. Most importantly, tanbūr is a manifestation
of one of the Ha an. (Hooshmandrad 2004:25)
One of the most striking moments in Hooshmandrad’s dissertation is her
analysis of the enormous production output of the living master of tanbūr-making,
Ustād Asad Allāh. Even though the Ahl-i Haqq community in Gahwārah num-
bered fewer than 15,000, Ustād Asad Allāh had produced perhaps upwards of
ve thousand instruments, and demand appeared to be steadily increasing.  e
tanbūr, which had always been important in Ahl-i Haqq households, proliferated
in the a ermath of the Islamic revolution. Many instruments ended up inhabiting
museums and Sunni and Shi͑a households;  y instruments had even travelled to
private homes in the U.S. Yet, unlike other Iranian stringed instruments, the price
of the tanbūr was stable, largely since the pīr (religious/community leader) strove
to avoid the commoditization of the instrument (ibid.:45–48) or a situation where
an Ahl-i Haqq could not a ord to own the instrument.  e tanbūr in this account
is a central actor—in the continuation of a minority religious practice in the face
of changing national religious politics; in a form of commerce that resists supply
and demand economic logics; in the social relations between the community
leader, instrument makers, and the local and regional Ahl-i Haqq communities;
and as a mediator in relations between the Ahl-i Haqq and outsiders.
Navid Fozi (2007) extends Hooshmandrad’s work, providing a detailed
ethnography of tanbūr-making techniques focused on the bodily and knowl-
edge practices of Ustād Asad Allāh (written as Ostád Asadulláh Farmáni).
Fozi’s theoretical framework attempts to reconcile a Maussian approach to the
body as a “natural instrument” and “technical object” with Barth’s approach to
studying distributed knowledge. A key point for Fozi is the delineation between
processes where makers verbally articulate why they use particular tools or
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techniques, and conventions of the cra that seem to defy utilitarian explana-
tions. His account of bodily techniques and knowledge practices gets to the
heart of the complexity of tanbūr-making and the transmission of knowledge
between generations of makers. It also suggests the need for an embodiment
paradigm attentive to bodily capabilities and instrumental techniques, rather
than a Qureshi-style paradigm where bodies constitute a site for class struggle.
However, I feel that Fozi’s framework is less conducive to exploring certain
liminal moments. Fozi observed that makers don’t measure the dimension
of a bowl that they are carving, instead determining its dimensions “through
intuition,” and that they routinely add little pinholes in the side of the tanbūr
that have no clear audible e ect or symbolic function. It is precisely these
moments that show the limits of an exclusive focus on body techniques and
articulated knowledge, and the perils of focusing exclusively on the human
side of human-instrument interactions. In neighboring Turkey, ‘ûd makers talk
of letting the wood “tell them what to do,” a phrase I have heard articulated
by wood turners in the San Francisco Bay Area. Perhaps a similar attention
to wood, to the proto-tanbūr, is at work in Iran, too.
e instrument narratives of Van Gulik, Qureshi, Dawe, Baily, and Fozi
in sum, hint at other possible valences of Hooshmandrads “lived organology.
I think this can be pushed further, particularly if the subject is shi ed to the
tanbūr—not such a stretch if we recall that organology is nominally the study of
instruments.  e tanbūrs of Hooshmandrad and Fozi mobilize publics around
them.  ey mediate relations between pir, makers, and consumers, yet do so
without constructing a market based on supply and demand. Tanbūrs only come
into being if there are makers willing to undergo physiological and psychological
pedagogies, makers who cultivate particular bodily skills and knowledge sets
yet never attain a complete knowledge about tanbūrs (while being willing to
adorn the instrument in ways that have no pragmatic purpose nor result from
any known symbology).  e tanbūr used the Iranian Revolution of 1979 as an
opportunity to further its own proliferation: post-Pahlavi tanbūrs serve myriad
symbolic-ornamental functions, adorning the walls of Ahl-i Haqq homes and
those of non-musician consumers alike, and populating museums around the
world. And we haven’t even touched upon tanbūr soundings, tanbūr players, or
the tanbūr’s role in healing the Ahl-i Haqq.
e Social Life of Objects
In short, I am arguing for a paradigm that encompasses the full range of
possible human-object-divine relations, as seen in instrument making, per-
formance, musical healing, and numerous other domains. Earlier I used the
phrase the “social life of musical instruments,” which we should revisit in light
of the intriguing possibilities opened up by tanbūrs, dutārs, and ch’ins. But
Bates: Social Life of Musical Instruments 
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 Ethnomusicology, Fall 2012
rst, a clari cation: in referencing the “social life of objects” or “political life
of objects,” I am not suggesting a utilitarian/semiotic approach such as that of
Stephen Riggins, where “the social life of objects is a response to complexity in
the social life of persons” (1994:20), or something akin to Arjun Appadurai’s
“perspective on the circulation of commodities in social life” where “what creates
the link between exchange and value is politics” (1986:3). In neither approach is
the material object the object of study; rather, the object world is simply another
instantiation of a preconstituted humanistic theoretical terrain or economic
system, the objects rendered immaterial.13 ere is a di erence between musical
instruments being incidental to, or constitutive of, social interaction.
e loose assemblage of approaches that I  nd to be most use ful originat es
in Science & Technology Studies (STS) and in recent anthropological and
political science work on material culture.14 STS, which like ethnomusicology
is a  eldwork-based ethnographic discipline, has produced much work on
invention and technological adoption (e.g., Bijker 1995) and the practices of
laboratory work (e.g., Latour and Woolgar 1979). Several STS works have ex-
plored musical technologies, including failed innovations in European classical
instrument design (Bijsterveld and Schulp 2004), the shi s in manufacturing
of audio recording technologies ( éberge 1997), and the invention of the
Moog synthesizer (Pinch and Trocco 2002; Pinch 2008). In contrast, much of
the new materialism literature examines visual art (Gell 1998, and numerous
articles inspired by Gell’s approach) and material artifacts in everyday life
(Miller 1998; Vannini 2009). What ties together these approaches is a shared
concern with examining “the performative and integrative capacity of ‘things
to help make what we call society” (Pels, Hetherington, and Vandenberghe
2002:2), and theorizing the social to include people, animals, material objects,
spaces, and ideas/concepts.
ese divergent approaches all depend upon an analytical “naivitae” when
analyzing the relations between humans and nonhuman objects, and all tend
to trifurcate complex entities into constituent parts (also called actors, actants,
agents, objects, or vital matter), assemblages (also called networks, webs, ecolo-
gies, or societies), and relationality (also called sociality and semiotics).  e
most o -used approach, Actor-Network  eory (ANT), loosely de nes an
actor as neither a subject nor object, but as a source of action, “something that
acts or to which activity is granted by others. It implies no special motivation
of human individual actors, nor of humans in general” (Latour 1996).15 Net-
works are simply ad-hoc groupings of heterogeneous objects, and relationality
examines how these ad-hoc groups cohere. In conducting an ethnography of
actor-networks, the key methodological challenge is in  guring out which
objects are signi cant (and therefore part of an actor-network or material as-
semblage) and how they relate.
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Simply casting the net wider and including more objects in networks is, by
itself, an unremarkable proposition. However, these approaches all share a theory
of agency and power which has signi cant implications for humanistic scholar-
ship: agency becomes not an inherent capacity held only by humans, but rather
something “seen as di erentially distributed across a wider range of ontological
types” (Bennett 2010:9). In short, any material object, within any assemblage,
has the same capacity for action. Political scientist Jane Bennett has written
most extensively about this material agency, which she terms thing-power, “the
curious ability of inanimate things to animate, to act, to produce e ects dramatic
and subtle” (ibid.:6). Bennett argues that we must “readjust the status of human
actants: not by denying humanity’s awesome, awful powers, but by presenting
these powers as evidence of our own constitution as vital materiality. In other
words, human power is itself a kind of thing-power” (ibid.:10).
One of long-standing critique of ANT and related approaches is that it
ascribes intentionality to inert matter, but this is a misreading of the theory of
agency as it con ates intention with e ect. Lambros Malafouris, in a thought-
provoking study of potters, clay, and potting wheels, argues that we must distin-
guish between a sense of agency and material agency, between prior intention
(the potter planning to throw clay in a certain way) and intention in action (an
ongoing feedback systems where potters respond by feel to clay). For Mala-
fouris, “agency is about causal events in the physical world rather than about
representational events in our mental world” (2008:30). Returning to Bennett:
Human intentions [are] always in competition and confederation with many other
strivings, for an intention is like a pebble thrown into a pond, or an electrical current
sent through a wire or neural network: it vibrates and merges with other currents,
to a ect and be a ected. is understanding of agency does not deny the existence
of that thrust called intentionality, but it does see it as less de nitive of outcomes.
An ANT or vibrant matter approach also raises important issues about
how to analyze the temporality of networks, and more broadly how to theo-
rize culture, context or community. ANT scholars write of the durability of
networks—the tendency for some networks to stay similar in form over long
periods of time, and durability is a key issue in the analysis of musical instru-
ments that seemingly have produced similar e ects for hundreds of years. Yet,
we must always be attentive to di erently structured networks around the same
instrument type, and the multiplicity of networks that may include even one
particular instrument. Allowing agency to material objects, and thinking of
assemblages as ad-hoc groupings of heterogeneous objects, moves beyond a
culture-context divide, as both culture and context are formed simultaneously
with the ad hoc assemblages. ANT-informed scholarship could be viewed as
being wholly about the formation of culture and context, or alternately as a
Bates: Social Life of Musical Instruments 
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 Ethnomusicology, Fall 2012
mode where culture and context cease to be productive analytics.  e networks
of ANT can do analytical work similar to Will Straw’s “scenes” (1991), but do
so with a much greater degree of speci city with regard to the constitutive ac-
tors and actants. Musical instruments constitute a fruitful site for ANT-style
approaches, as they are intertwined in myriad forms of social relations, and
instrumentalists and audiences o en have distinctively intimate a ective rela-
tions with them.
Encounters with Instruments
It is not an exaggeration to state that instruments introduced me to ethno-
musicology and created the initial framework for my study. I never consciously
set out to theorize instruments, though I have been deeply involved in oud/͑ûd
study and performance ever since a chance encounter in 1992 with Scott Mar-
cus and one of his ouds lured me into the UCSB Middle Eastern Ensemble.16
Spending time in Turkey with oud performers, teachers, students, and makers
provided an obvious variety of oud-speci c observations, including divergent
beliefs about what ouds were, what ouds evoked or invoked when played, or
what potentially permanent physiological and moral e ects oud playing might
have on me or other players. For this article, though, I decided against an auto-
ethnographic approach, with the oud as the focus of study, since my own trajec-
tory as an oudist has been somewhat unconventional. More importantly, I feel
too close to the oud to tease apart what is interesting or noteworthy about my
relationship with it.17
For the remainder of this article, as an exemplar for my approach, I will at-
tempt the beginnings of an analysis of the social life of the saz, today an ubiqui-
tous instrument among Anatolian, South Caucasian, and Southeastern European
ethnicities including Turkish-, Kurmancı-, Zazaki- and Azeri-speaking Sunni
Muslims and Alevi-Bektais.18 at the saz (also known as bağlama) is o en
called the “national” instrument of Turkey (Marko 1993:96) attests to a certain
kind of widely perceived importance, although as I will suggest, simply being a
potential (albeit uno cial) national instrument doesn’t immediately mean that
the saz is symbolic of the nation, constitutes or embodies the nation, or even
has a clearly conceived function in relation to society, regardless of how national
borders might be drawn.
My own encounters with the saz span nearly twenty years, beginning in
1993 with my  rst ethnomusicological  eldnote, where I wrote in surprise about
the thousands of sazes I saw being carried up and down İstiklal Caddesi (a busy
pedestrian street in the Taksim neighborhood of Istanbul). My oud teacher
Necati Çelik is also an excellent saz artist who plays in the style of Haci Taan,
and in lessons he would o en demonstrate the intricacies of makams (melodic
modes) shared between rural and urban art musics by playing Central Anato-
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lian folk music on the saz. However, it was when I started researching Istanbul’s
recording studios and arrangement practices that I personally experienced the
inextricability of the saz from modern Turkish society. Although professional
studio musicians specialize in one of over forty di erent Anatolian folk instru-
ments (see Bates forthcoming), the saz is the only such instrument to be found
on nearly every contemporary recording of arranged folk, arabesk, Turkish pop,
and Kurdish popular music. I recorded numerous saz artists, ranging from ris-
ing stars (Özlem Taner, Engin Arslan, Erol Mutlu, Ali Rıza Albayrak) to estab-
lished professionals (Erkan Oğur, Çetin Akdeniz, Neet Erta). Conversations
with these and other artists revealed o en contradictory attitudes towards a
multitude of issues a ecting music and instruments in contemporary society,
including changes in saz making, pedagogies, playing techniques, and musical
meanings and contexts. I pursued these contradictions through subsequent
ethnographic observations of saz makers, performances (sacred and secular;
in concerts, houses, bars and universities), pedagogy in private lesson houses,
and in discussions of saz on Turkish social media websites.
In the subsequent tangle of anecdotes and observations, my goal is not to
provide a comprehensive overview or theory of the saz, an instrument that (like
most instruments) is grossly undertheorized.19 Rather, in order to explain the
immense thing-power of the saz, I chose examples that demonstrate the hetero-
geneity of networks in which sazes have agency, and the multitude of attitudes
towards and engagements with the saz. I hope to show how an approach that
entails the study of heterogeneous networks including instruments, performers,
makers, listeners, and other material objects directly addresses many key ques-
tions at the core of ethnomusicology, while extending the analytical models and
methodological paradigms that we have available. I also hope that this article will
encourage others to publish their own saz stories, to expand our understanding
of the social life of the saz.
Saz and Song
“Ben Ağlarım Saz Ağlar” (As I cry, the saz cries)
evki Bey
“Ben ağlarım saz ağlar” begins the song, which is not an unauthored türkü,
but a newly composed şarkı by Istanbul-based composer and pedagogue evki
Bey (1860–91).  e phrase as it stands is ambiguous due to a missing preposi-
tion or converbial su x. It might be interpreted as having a sequential causative
relation, such as “when/if/every time I cry, the saz cries,” or “when/if/every time
the saz cries, I cry.” However, with syllables missing, the phrase would most likely
connote a simultaneity of singer and saz crying, folding subject (the singer) and
object (the saz) into a unity that cries together.
Bates: Social Life of Musical Instruments 
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 Ethnomusicology, Fall 2012
In the lyrics to many türkü (metered and unmetered Turkish-language
folksongs of unknown authorship) and pedagogical arkı (authored urban art
music songs) such as “Ben Ağlarım Saz Ağlar,” one  nds copious mentions of
sazes, saz strings (tel), broken sazes, saz frets (perde), saz tunings (düzen), and
saz picks (mızrap or tezene). Sazes cry (ağlamak) and laugh (gülmek), although
based on these words’ sheer frequency alone, they seem to cry quite a bit more
o en than they laugh, and o en, just like their owners, feel troubled (dertli).  e
listener in many songs is ordered to come to the saz or to the sound of the saz,
but rarely to the saz player. When the aşık dies,20 the saz might be instructed to
sing by the aık’s gravestone. Quite evocatively, when aık Deli Hazım wants us to
get to know the poet Karacaoğlan, he begins by proclaiming that the saz’s strings
act as an interpreter for us—perhaps not so surprising when we consider that
many aık songs correlate the e ects of the saz with the words sung by the aık
(saz ve söz). Aık Ali İzzet Özkan asks you to wish upon a saz string (teller de
muradın alsın), but probably not the strings of the broken saz that Aık Reyhani
hung from the ceiling (rılmış sazımı astım tavana). But the saz loses control
and is anthropomorphized when Dursun Ali Akınet’s saz becomes “unfaithful,
the frets “oppressive and cruel”; the saz-pick “pulls the trigger” and the string
whacks him (saz vefasız oldu perdeler zalim, mızrap tetik çekti tel vurdu beni).21
e saz alone appears in Turkish lyrics with such a strongly articulated agentive
force and position. Even though the sound of the kemençe or tulum allegedly
makes girls uncontrollably begin dancing, the kemençeci or tulumci (kemençe
or tulum player) is assumed to be in control of the process.22
Yet I will return to the crying. One performer’s saz seemingly makes audi-
ences cry more o en than others—the saz of Neet Erta (b. 1938 or 1943).23
Neet is a folk musician who performs the traditional repertoires of the Kırehir
region of Central Anatolia (particularly the unmetered bozlak form), and also an
ozan (poet) who authored many notable new songs, and a er his father Muhar-
rem Erta (d. 1984) is considered the authoritative interpreter of bozlak.24 My
colleague Mustafa Avcı recounted numerous stories where he was moved to tears
from simply listening to the sound of Neet’s saz, in concerts and even when
listening on headphones while riding in a dolmuş (personal communication,
March 2011). On the popular social dictionary site Eki Sözlük, over ten authors
wrote entries about crying while listening to Neet Erta, some attributing the
causality to Neet’s saz, others attributing it to Neet himself.25 However, Neet
and/or his saz have a particular relation to performed repertoire. Respected saz
artist and scholar Bayram Bilge Tokel famously said:
Neet Erta, herkes gibi çalıp söyleyen sıradan bir sanatçı değil. Türküyü bağlamaya,
bağlamayı türküye bu kadar yakınlatıran ve yakıtıran. (Neet Erta is not like others
in the lineage of singers who play [the saz].  e türkü is brought closer to the bağlama,
the bağlama to the türkü and each make each other look so good). (Tokel 2007)
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at the saz performer mediates between instrument and repertoire (türkü)
is notable, especially in light of the lingering question of performer or instru-
mental agency. It leaves open the possibility, although one I must stress has not
to the best of my knowledge been explicitly articulated, that an “unmediated
performance of türkü requires only saz and song, not the performer. Crying
sazes and repertoire mediations, in actor-network terms, point to the need to be
open to complex and potentially shi ing agentive relations between performer,
instrument, repertoire, and audience.
However, crying is not the only a ective response to saz. Within Alevi
communities, the saz has an essential position in the primary institutions of
sacred and secular music-making: cem and muhabbet.26 In Cem TVs satellite
broadcasts of public cem religious ceremonies, Alevi festivals, and semah dances,
the saz has a strong visibility. However, the saz’s importance doesn’t solely come
from its visual traces in transnational broadcasts. Within a lesser-known form
of cem called görgü cemi, a ceremony used to mediate disputes within a com-
munity, saz ve söz is considered to be a key enabler of reconciliation, much
as the tanbūr in neighboring Iran functions as a mediator between the Ahl-i
Haqq and outsiders.27 Muhabbet is a less formal (but equally important) music
performance context that transpires in Alevi homes. Muhabbet literally means
conversation,” and Alevi muhabbets o en unfold as a “dialogue” between par-
ticipants—not a speech-based dialogue, but rather a combination of secular
songs (deyiş, nefes) interspersed with instrumental performance. Again, the saz
is essential to muhabbet, a key actor in the dialogue, and an enabler of a social
atmosphere of equality and togetherness (personal communication, Sabahhat
Akkiraz, 19 May 2007).
Saz and Nation
e saz has been called the national instrument of Turkey.28 A competing
cultural identity claim a liates the saz with Alevi sacred/secular practices and
thereby Alevism as an ethnicity and Alevi-Bektaism as a religion. In many claims,
justi cation originates in the instrument’s alleged Central Asian origins in a long-
necked lute called the kopuz, although it is equally plausible that sazes (or perhaps
both the saz and the kopuz) derive from long-necked lutes that are known to have
existed in nearby Mesopotamia since at least the Akkadian Era (c. 2350 to 2170
BCE; see Turnbull 1972). Whether one history is more accurate, or whether both
are wrong and some other origin of the saz is speculated, is of little importance
for our purposes. Instrumental here is that in each version the saz is described in
terms that would typically be used to historicize an entire nation—it has a history
and a prehistory, a stake to a territorial claim, and a social identity.  e codi ed
tavır system of regional performance practices (see Marko 1986a and Bates 2011)
and repertoire of theorized saz ornaments now used in Turkish conservatories
Bates: Social Life of Musical Instruments 
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 Ethnomusicology, Fall 2012
and private lesson-houses even suggests, if somewhat obliquely, that the saz has
its own language distinct from the languages of other instruments.29
We can perhaps best relate the Turkish-national nature of the saz to the
e orts of Ankara Radio (later, Turkish Radio and Television) in conducting
folklore expeditions, bringing aık poets to the studio, arranging collected folk
songs for ensembles, and subsequently broadcasting arranged folkloric perfor-
mances on national radio and TV. It was through programs such as Yurttan Sesler
(Sounds of the Homeland),  rst broadcast in the 1940s, that the nation as a whole
became aware of the music of localities and regions other than those in which
they lived, and the saz was the core instrument in the Yurttan Sesler ensemble
and subsequent national and regional governmental folk music ensembles. While
most rural Anatolian music had been traditionally performed solo or with two-
to three-instrument ensembles, Turkish governmental ensembles from Yurttan
Sesler onwards featured four or more di erent-sized members of what became
known as the saz family of instruments.30
One of the most cogent examples of sazes mobilizing a public was an event
rst staged in Köln, Germany in 2000 (later in Istanbul) called “Bin Yılın Türküsü”
(one thousand years of Turkish ballads), where 1246 sazes, 674 semah dancers,
and the Köln Symphony Orchestra took the stage.  e event was sponsored by the
German Alevi Federation of Associations, and transpired  rst as a performance
by and for the Alevi-Turkish diaspora living in Germany. While the event’s name
underscores the historicity of Turkish-language folk ballads and hints at a Turkish
national claim, much stronger is an Alevi national claim, as semah sacred/secular
dancing and much of the performed repertoire, notably songs such as “Ötme
Bülbül Ötme,” are speci cally meaningful to Alevis. Yet, the event transpired “in
the diaspora,” in a country where Turkish nationals comprise the overwhelming
majority of guestworkers, suggesting a reading of the event as an instantiation of
an Alevi and/or Turkish nation within Germany. Further complicating things,
some accounts of the event positively emphasized the participation of twelve
African and  ve Greek performers, suggesting that brotherhood in an interna-
tional sense was one possible message of the event. Getting 1246 sazes and 1246
saz players on one stage (and in tune) was a massive undertaking, yet even such
a clear instantiation of an instrumentally mobilized public had an ambiguously
symbolic, or perhaps polysemic, valence. Still, no other instrument would have
had such a powerful mobilizing force in that context.
e Material Saz
e Hornbostel-Sachs classi cation of the saz is either 321.321–5–6: “Necked
bowl lutes, carved, sounded with the bare  ngers or sounded by plectrum,” or
321.322–5–6: “Necked bowl lutes or necked guitars, whose body is built up in the
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shape of a bowl, sounded with the bare  ngers or sounded by plectrum” (Horn-
bostel and Sachs 1961:23).  ese classi cations de ne the saz as functionally/
structurally identical to instruments as diverse as the guitar, mandolin, theorbo,
Ottoman or Uzbek tanbur, Herati dutār, Okinawan sanshin, and American or
We st Af ri ca n b anj o.  e Hornbostel-Sachs system was not intended to classify the
speci city of unique instruments, but rather to highlight commonalities across
the world of instruments.  is system focuses the museum curator’s attention on
aspects of the instrument perceived to be essential for the production of musical
sound, which hints at certain kinds of codi ed relations that curators or collectors
might have with instruments.31 is mode of organological thought downplays
the ornamental conventions of instruments; that a tassel o en hangs from a
saz’s pegblock, or that saz makers carve their insignia in the rosette covering the
instrument’s sole soundhole becomes immaterial.
However, I mentioned two possible classi cations, di ering only with regard
to bowl construction technique. Oddly, it is not clear in what way building up
material into the shape of a bowl, versus carving a bowl out of a single piece of
wood, necessarily results in a di erent sound.  is distinction could be viewed as
simply ornamental, but we’ll take advantage of this possible slippage in classical
organological taxonomy to explore a distinction that has profound implications
in the world of saz-making, a er a detour into saz workshops and factories.
According to saz-maker Özbek Uçar and many others, the traditional means
for making a saz entailed carving out a bowl from a single piece of wood—a
reductive process of removing material to leave form.32 A newer staved-bowl
technique entails carefully bending thin strips of wood around a bending iron
and then gluing them together to form a bowl-like form, a process of adding
material to fabricate form. Additive or reductive processes, with hand tools ver-
sus electric ones, imply di erent relations between saz-maker, tool, wood, and
the semi- nished proto-saz object.  e staved bowl technique was cultivated in
the cra guilds that specialized in oud- and tanbur-making, notably the multi-
generation workshops of the Manol and Karibyen families, but became a mode of
saz construction only in the mid to late 1900s. For that matter, sazes weren’t made
en masse in workshops until well a er the founding of the Turkish Republic.
Historically, saz players themselves mades sazes, parts sourced from local trees.
Two famous saz players, Pir Sultan Abdal (see the next section) and Aık
Veysel (1894–1973), both played sazes carved out of chestnut or mulberry wood
(Figure 2). Today, the carved mulberry/chestnut saz is the iconic saz for Alevis,
and handcarved sazes command a premium over staved ones. In part, prices
derive from the limited availability of chestnut and mulberry wood, as it is illegal
to cut chestnut and mulberry trees in Turkey and makers are dependent upon
infrequent occasions when municipalities cut or prune trees and make wood
available to luthiers.33 Also, handcarving a bowl from mulberry is laborious and
Bates: Social Life of Musical Instruments 
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 Ethnomusicology, Fall 2012
time-consuming, as mulberry is notoriously tricky to work, its hidden knots
making it more prone to cracking than other fruitwoods (Figure 3). Despite the
price premium, and a potentially negligible di erence in sound quality, Özbek
Uçar’s workshop still  lls many orders for carved sazes. Özbek’s atölye is similar
to the tanbūr workshop of Ustād Asad Allāh described by Hooshmandrad and
Fozi; both provide instruments for a steadily increasing worldwide market for
sacred instruments, and both continue to use traditional tools and woods.
ere is more than one way to make a saz, however. In Özbek’s atölye (work-
shop), he and two other master cra smen, İlyas Demir and İsmail Akpınar,
produce a small number of instruments per month, utilizing many traditional
handtools (planes, scrapers, chisels, gouges) and some newer electric machines
(band and circular saws, bench grinders). Each of them works on each stage of
the construction process. In contrast, in Saz Müzik Aletleri, a saz fabrika (fac-
tory) owned by Hasan Sarıkaya, construction is done in more of an assembly-line
manner, although nearly all of the work is still done by master cra smen (and
with handtools).34 Many of Hasans employees developed their knowledge and
skills in atölye-like environments before becoming fabrika employees, but at the
fabrika specialize in one stage of the process: cutting and bending wood staves,
planing and truing the saz neck, drilling holes in the pegblock and  tting tuning
Figure 2. Etching of Aşık Veysel playing a carved saz, in Özkek Uçar’s saz atölye.
Photograph by Ladi Dell’aira.
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pegs, or staining and sealing the instruments in polyurethane (Figure 4). In each
of these stages, the relationship between maker, saz, and tool changes. When us-
ing a bandsaw, the maker moves the wood while the tool remains  xed in place
(the bandsaw blade has just enough  ex to enable the cutting of curves, but not
too much to hinder the cutting of straight lines); when using a handplane, the
maker manipulates the tool directly over or through the proto-instrument while
it is held  rm to the workbench with clamps. At various stages the wood must
rest and endure changes in temperature and humidity, otherwise the instrument
will continue  exing a er it has been assembled.  is was most visible at Hasan’s
fabrika, where the second and third story rooms were  lled with upwards of ten
thousand sazes in various states of completion (Figure 5). In the tool-centric
stages of the process humans appeared to have some degree of control over the
wood (although recalling Malafouriss accounts of pottery making, the control
Bates: Social Life of Musical Instruments 
Figure 3. Özkek Uçar
handcarving a saz
bowl. Photograph by
Ladi Dell’aira.
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Figure 4. Hasam Sarkaya’s saz fabrika. Photograph by Ladi Dell’aira.
Figure 5.  e social life of proto-sazes. Entering this room felt as though I had stum-
bled upon a private party of sazes, one where no humans were invited. Photograph
by Eliot Bates.
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is never complete but rather an example of intention in action), but the resting
stage by de nition lets nature take its course. Some half- nished sazes warp too
muc h and will not bec ome instr uments; ot hers need to have t heir neck s rep lane d
and retrued.
Whereas each instrument from Özbek’s atölye results from a unique dia-
logue between Özbek and the customer, Hasan’s shop produces many instru-
ments with the same combination of woods and a standardized playability. For
Özbek, construction is a process that is individually negotiated and transpires in
relation to his perceived understanding of how the particular instrument may
be used by the saz-playing end-user—whether it will be picked, strummed, or
played şelpe-style,35 and for what kinds of music it will be used. For Hasan, his
standardized instrument models are informed by knowledge of thousands of
prior maker-customer negotiations and are designed to address the most com-
mon concerns. One of Hasan’s primary markets is Germany, where there is a
large demand for sazes among guestworkers and second-generation Turkish-
Germans. Expanding on his international ambitions, Hasan hopes to implement
a web-based ordering system, where prospective customers choose neck length,
tekne (bowl) length, and woods from drag-down menus, designing their own
custom instruments without necessitating any face-to-face interaction.
is brings up the issue of the variable mobility of saz instruments, histori-
cally and in the present. Aıks such as Dadaloğlu were “wandering minstrels
who travelled Anatolia and Central Asia performing folksongs, popular tales,
and oral epics such as the Book of Dede Korkut or Epic of Köroğlu.  e aık pro-
fession has existed in name since the  eenth century (Bagöz 1952), and aıks
nearly always travelled with their sazes, bringing with them music, news from
other villages, and of course the crying and troubles of the instrument.36 Modern
aıks travel even farther, touring European and North American festival circuits
by plane and train. However, not all sazes in historical Anatolia travelled. I have
previously mentioned saz-making saz players and their use of local woods. One
of their sazes might have experienced its birth, troubles, crying, and eventual
death all within a one-mile radius of that  rst felled tree.
But it is not just the instruments themselves that traverse transnational mar-
kets. Many sazes today, including those made in an atölye or fabrika, use exotic
woods that would have once been unimaginable. African wenge and zebrawood,
Brazilian rosewood, Sri Lankan ebony, and American curly maple o en replace
the traditional mulberry and chestnut carved bowl, and these exotic materials
are sometimes stained in wild colors, such as orange, purple, or green.  is is
partly due to changing aesthetics, but perhaps more signi cant is the absence of
a su cient sustainable forestry initiative within Turkey coupled with the ready
availability of exotic foreign woods (no matter how rare). Yet, these particular
woods gained much value and notoriety, as well as a transoceanic distribution
Bates: Social Life of Musical Instruments 
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 Ethnomusicology, Fall 2012
network, during the peak of the European colonization of Africa, Oceania, and
Central-South America.37 In Turkey today, critiques of colonialism, imperialism
and transnational capitalism are quite vehement and public,38 yet knowledge of
the kinds of exploitative labor practices and slash-and-burn decimation of the
world’s forests that produce the raw materials for new sazes is non-existent. Is
the modern saz a key cultural actor whose very existence is made possible by
colonial exploitation, cargo ships, and environmental destruction? I’ll leave that
question unanswered for now.
Saz, Image, and Body
Like some other stringed instruments, the saz is itself described in human-
anatomical terms. It has a body (gövde), neck/arm (kol), breast (göğüş), cheek
(yanak), and seven ears (kulak), though it is not clear how long this terminology
has been used to refer to saz anatomy. But within Alevi history, the saz’s anatomy
has consistently been related to religious imagery, as the body represents ‘Alī, the
neck represents ‘Alī’s sword, and “the 12 strings of the large saz symbolize the 12
imams” (Marko 1986b:48). In Alevi cem (sacred ceremonies), saz bodies and
human bodies come together ritualistically when the dede (religious leader) kisses
the saz and touches it to his head before commencing playing (Özdemir 2008).39
e most o -duplicated historical image involving the saz is that of Pir
Sultan Abdal (d. 1560), a rural Anatolian martyr who fought against Ottoman
authoritarianism and was ultimately hung for his resistance. His poetry lives
on as a cornerstone of Anatolian folk literature, and continues to be set to mu-
sic to this day, particularly in Alevi sacred and secular music practices and by
Anatolian rock groups.40 However, here we are interested in Pir Sultan’s carved
kestane (chestnut) saz, which he holds above his head with both hands as if it
were a ri e or sword (Figure 6). We have already touched on the endurance
of carved bowl designs, but let us now consider the iconography of Pir Sultan
in relation to his legendary life and what it might mean to brandish a saz as a
weapon. In the hands of Pir Sultan, the saz becomes a weapon against injustice
and imperial oppression; he does not even need to play it for its e ect to be felt.
Perhaps, to invoke a familiar adage, Pir Sultan Abdal implores us to believe that
“the saz is mightier than the sword.
Not only Pir Sultan holds the saz in a manner that suggests nonnormative
playing techniques.  e Turkish-born, Germany-based duo Derdiyoklar, who
inaugurated the diskofolk movement of psychedelic-rock- and disco-inspired
interpretation of Anatolian folk songs and Alevi secular music, used elektrocura
(a small elektrosaz) as part of their own unique form of musical theatre.41 Derdiy-
oklar performed regularly for wedding receptions for German Turks, where their
performances included dramatic theatrical suites that moved between heavy
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aık repertoire, experimental improvisations, and drum solos, and culminated
in lively line dance numbers. For example, in their 1984–85 performances of
Dadaloğlu’s “Kalktı göç eyledi avar elleri (yollar bizimdir),” Ali Ekber Aydoğan
interrupted the song lyrics “Belimizde kılıcımız kirmani” (In our mountain pass
our swords are broken) with “ri e  re” that he produced sonically, by playing
with heavily strumming stopped strings and gesturally mimicking the motions
of ri e use with his electrocura.42
One night in Ankara, in a restaurant that hosts regular performances of East-
ern Anatolian folk music, I sat with several folklore students and the restaurant’s
proprietor.  e subject of why I was interested in Turkish folk music came up,
and the proprietor (who remains nameless per his request) started grilling me
on why I didn’t play music from my own memleket (ancestral homeland), why
I played music that wasn’t in my own kan (blood). Upon learning that I sang
Figure 6. Pir Sultan Abdal and saz. Photograph by Paul Koerbin. (Used by permis-
sion.) (
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 Ethnomusicology, Fall 2012
türkü and played the oud, an instrument most commonly encountered by Turks
today in Ottoman art music ensembles and Kurdish arabesk arrangements and
likewise associated with Arabness or multiculturalism but never Turkishness,
the proprietor was even more confused. Why didn’t I play the saz? A er all, if I
really wanted to get closer to Turkish music and Turkish people, the saz was the
instrument I needed to play.  e conversation moved into a general discussion
of what woul d need to happen for me to “ become m ore Turkish” ( Türkleşmek). It
was agreed that simply by holding, playing, and interacting with a saz I would be-
come more Turkish (although other things might be additionally necessary, such
as taking a Turkish surname and converting to Islam). Note that the potential of
causation went one way. If I played a saz I wouldn’t run the risk of rendering it
less Turkish; the saz itself contained an exclusive potentiality to impact change.
I encountered similar convictions on numerous occasions—that a repetitive
physical practice involving certain musical instruments would unequivocally
change me as a person.43
e function of saz pedagogy in contemporary Turkish society warrants
further attention. Of all the instruments in Turkey, the saz has accumulated
the greatest range of pedagogical theories, method books, instructional videos,
and private school franchises. As part of the national project, the saz became
the key instrument in Turkey, even though it didn’t have truly national distri-
bution before the establishment of the Peoples Houses in 1932 and folk music
conservatories some years later. Saz pedagogy did not just make foreigners more
Turkish, but made modern Turkish citizens more Turkish. Part of the Atatürk-
ian project for national development was the division of rural Anatolia into
administrative regions, and we can observe the e ects of this in the codi cation
of tavır—regionally de ned saz performance practice systems. By learning a set
of picking patterns and some standardized repertoire, one “learned” the music of
an unfamiliar region. To underscore, it was not conceptual or abstract learning
that inculcated a richer sense of Turkishness or regional/national awareness, but
rather a kinesthesis, a set of repetitive practices on the saz. Kevin Dawe suggested
something similar in describing the lyra as part of the Cretan “body politic
(2007:111) and as “conventionalized by the in-corporation of social meanings
where the body becomes imbued with social meanings, norms, values and be-
liefs” (ibid.:128; emphasis in original).
Conclusion: Questioning Instruments
I nd fascinating the extent to which agentive sazes are implicated in numer-
ous facets of life in contemporary Turkish society, from the ongoing legacies of
a Turkish national project to the politicization of minority religious practices to
the transformations of cra guilds and transnational lumber industries. Sazes in
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the twentieth and twenty- rst centuries are a constituent force in pedagogical
projects as much as aesthetic or political ones. Despite the presence of numerous
other instruments, the saz continues to wield an immense amount of thing-
power, and saz education at private lesson-houses, public educational institutions
and conservatories continues to transform the bodies and sensoriums of much
of the country’s population, perhaps to an even greater extent than compulsory
military service and other rituals of the state.44 e saz enables Alevi muhabbet
and cem ceremonies, and to this day still communicates its troubles to listeners.
My own grappling with the speci city of the social life of the saz, and with
questions such as de ning what precisely is “national” about “national instru-
ments,” led me to a number of rhetorical and practical questions—questions
which I hope will contribute to a lived organology that is attentive not just to
the vibrancy of living musical styles and musicians, but also to the vibrant life
of the material world. Most of these questions could be asked about any speci c
instrument, and, furthermore, most could be asked about instruments within
any heterogeneous network, whether that network operates within a locality,
region, nation, diaspora, virtual space, or still-unde ned cultural geography.
Some questions I have posed, such as “does the performer perform the instru-
ment or the other way around?” may border on the absurd. Yet, the inability to
nd a consensus regarding this seemingly pedantic question (let us not forget
the red violin, green accordion, or the lyrics of numerous türküs) suggests a
lingering discomfort and inadequacy with human-centered conceptualizations
of “performance” and “agency.
Why do some musical instruments (but not others) possess the performing musi-
cian and/or the audience, and how do such possessions happen?
• Does the performer perform the instrument or the other way around?
Why are some musical instruments caught in an allegorical web over owing with
symbolism and symbolic associations, while others comparatively seem to lack
symbolic references?
Why are some (but not all) instruments anthropomorphized; for example, being
regarded as capable of crying or feeling sorrow?
Why do some instruments have an instrumental role in moral pedagogy, meaning
that simply from the act of repetitively playing them the player becomes a better
or worse human being or a subject of the nation?
In what ways can we understand the e ects of “national” instruments not in
symbolic or metaphoric terms but as an actual mobilization of a nation?
• Why do some instruments necessitate a “poor” ergonomic position for the per-
forming musician, an ergonomics o en leading to permanent injury?
• Why is there a resistance to the adoption of ergonomically “improved” versions
of some instruments, and what does that resistance tell us about instrument-
performer relations?
• What sensoriums and kinesthetics are necessary for performers to interact with
instruments? What happens in that interaction, and how do certain modes of
Bates: Social Life of Musical Instruments 
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 Ethnomusicology, Fall 2012
interaction necessitate the cultivation of a speci c bodily or sensory pedagogy
on the part of the performer?
• Why do some instruments become the site of legal struggles (being banned or
restricted in their performance or construction) or even the targets of attack dur-
ing civil war (as was the case with instrument makers in Iraq in the mid-2000s),
while others seem exempt from litigation or con ict?
• Where is the power of sacred instruments located, and how does that sacredness
relate (or not relate) to the practices, beliefs and sensoriums of religious experience?
How do instrument makers relate to the instruments they make at di erent stages
in the making process, and how do those relations themselves relate to the myriad
ways in which instrumentalists relate to instruments? Alternately, how does the
proto-instrument mediate between instrument maker and user?
How do makers adapt/respond to changes in the available raw materials, construc-
tion tools, and instrumental forms/designs available to them and subsequently
alter the way in which instruments are made? How far is too far, or in other words,
how much can construction techniques, materials, or formal aspects change with-
out resulting in a new instrument?
Furthermore, I assert that one of the aspects that makes ethnomusicology
distinct from other humanistic social sciences is the unique powers and roles
of instruments within the lives and studies of both the ethnomusicologists and
their interlocutors. For many ethnomusicologists (myself included), instruments
alone enable long-term participant observation of a sort and intensity that would
be inconceivable in any other social milieu. What might begin as a topical cu-
riosity quickly becomes a vital research implement that (o en inadvertently or
subconsciously) structures the entire research methodology many of us adopt
while in the  eld. Instrumentality is o en implicated in the ethnomusicologist’s
ability to “understand” a music culture, yet there is rarely any sustained account
of how this transference comes to take place.45
As I argue for a consideration of musical objects, I also warn against a
wholesale march toward a new fetishized “object” (more accurately, topic) of
study. One assertion I make in this article is that “the social” has not been ad-
equately studied and theorized because of a paucity of attention given to how
social relations are mobilized around material objects and the thing-power
that they possess. Likewise, our understanding of “music” can be greatly en-
riched through an increased understanding of the means of sound production,
similarly requiring an attention to objects and instrumentality.  us, many of
the key concerns in ethnomusicology as well as in musicology and numerous
branches of anthropology—of the study of music in/as culture—intersect in
vital ways with the world of objects.
My research was facilitated by a State Department Fellowship provided by ARIT (American Research
Institute in Turkey) (2006–07), a Fulbright IIE grant (2005–06), and an ACLS New Faculty Fellows
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fellowship (2010–12).  e idea for this paper emerged during weekly gatherings for Cornell’s Society
for the Humanities, and I wish to thank its director Timothy Murray, and Society Fellows Michael
Jonik, Jolene Rickard, and Lawrence Chua for their provocative questions and encouragement. I
thank Larry Witzleben, Andy McGraw, Adam Smith (Cornell), Mustafa Avcı, and Ladi Dell’aira
for invaluable feedback on earlier dra s of this article. Additionally, in one or more ways this work
bene tted from conversations with Sabahat Akkiraz, Ali Rıza Albayrak, Engin Arslan, Aytekin Gazi
Ata, Bob Beer, Necati Çelik, Partow Hooshmandrad, Songül Karahasanoğlu-Ata, Yeliz Keskin,
Ayenur Kolivar, Irene Marko , Erkan Oğur, Ula Özdemir, Trevor Pinch, Hasan Sarıkaya, Özlem
Taner, and Özbek Uçar. Finally, I thank Scott Marcus for facilitating my  rst encounter with an
oud and for continued mentorship.
1. I also  nd it interesting that despite Proulx’s novel being a bestselling work of “historical
ction,” written with a great attention to locality and period-speci c dialogue and detail, I could
nd no published review of the work that lambasted Proulx for allowing so many characters to be
possessed by a musical instrument. Such criticisms weren’t levied against e Red Violin, either.
2. e golem, in Jewish mythology, was an anthropomorphic being created out of clay and
other inanimate objects. In many accounts, a rabbi (and later, in popular fantasy novels, a wizard)
creates a golem for a particular purpose, o en to protect Jewish society (or the wizard’s lab), but
loses control of the golem, and the golem subsequently sets on a path of mindless destruction.
Golems, unlike other monsters, lack evil intent or the power to possess humans.  e golem simply
didn’t know any better, and its creator didn’t understand the nature of what s/he was creating. On
the golem and science, see Pinch (2000).
3. In Herman Melville’s Pierre: “ e guitar was human; the guitar taught me the secret of the
guitar; the guitar learned me to play on the guitar. No music-master have I ever had but the guitar
. . . it knows all my past history . . . Bring me the guitar” (1992:125). A similar premise is found in
Robert Cezar’s novel La Guitarra. I thank Michael Jonik and one anonymous reviewer for these
4. I don’t intend this primarily as a critique of museum curatorial work. One of the a ective
powers of instruments is their ability to continue to enchant subsequent generations, even when
instruments no longer sound and are contained within protective cases. In a similar vein, Jude Hill
writes of how “magic haunts modernity” (2007:72) in relation to British amulets and charms that
continue to enchant a er being removed from their original context and deposited in museums.
5. e passage on organology in Ethnomusicology: An Introduction expands on Hood’s inqui-
ries, suggesting questions collectors could use when collecting a particular instrument (Dournon
1992:290–94). Dournon’s list is similar to folksong-collecting questionnaires, and follows a similar
functionalist paradigm.
6. Speci cally, the Galpin Society Journal, Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society,
and the shorter-lived Archiv für Musikorganologie.
7. Ethnomusicologists today refer to the qin as a zither, not a lute, but following Van Gulik I
retain his terminological choices in this discussion.
8. For example, despite the broad applicability of DeVale’s article, it has yet to be cited in any
North American publications or the major European ethnomusicology journals. Also, instruments
do continue to be a topic of several national schools; in China and Turkey, many articles, books and
musicology dissertations focus on the history and construction of a particular instrument (e.g.,
Çolakoğlu 2008, Soyda 2007).  ese literatures, as well, seem to have a limited circulation.
9. Also noteworthy is Doubleday (2008), a broad survey of prior ethnomusicological work
into musical instruments and gender.
10. Dawe is not the  rst to relate instruments to societal norms. Curt Sachs writes about the
evolution of masculine instruments (the trumpet), feminine ones (plucked strings), and how the
ute became universally viewed as a “love charm” (1962:94–95). However, Sachs views these as
Bates: Social Life of Musical Instruments 
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 Ethnomusicology, Fall 2012
symbolic, not constitutive, relations, and does not question the e ects of performing gendered
11. In addition to Dawe’s work, other recent publications on metaphoric, symbolic, and ana-
logic meanings of instruments include Kartomi (2005) and Magowan (2005).
12. Ethnomusicological writings on instrumental technique used the terms kinesthetic and
kinesthesis as early as 1960, but Baily was arguably the  rst to treat the topic as the center of analysis.
A compelling recent study of the “sensual culture of the guitar,” which brings kinesthesis in dialogue
with a consideration of a ect, is Dawe (2010).
13. John Law writes even more forcibly about this issue: “Artefacts may, indeed, have politics.
But the character of those politics, how determinate they are, and whether it is possible to tease
people and machines apart in the  rst instance—these are all contingent questions” (1992:383).
14. For a recent survey of di erent STS approaches to materiality, see Law (2010).
15. e earliest manifestation of ANT de ned an actor as “any element which bends space
around itself, makes other elements dependent upon itself and translates their will into a language
of its own” (Callon and Latour 1981:286).
16. It was the oud that brought me to Turkey the following year and opened up a path of
ethnomusicological inquiry. More accurately, there have been several ouds: the Egyptian oud I
borrowed from Scott and the  rst I bought in Antalya in 1993 were somewhat poor instruments,
but their imperfections led me on a long-term search for better instruments and for instruction
in Turkish art music performance. Not only speci c instruments—but more abstract instrument
categories or sensibilities (e.g., the desire to perform oud music)—can be signi cant actors.
17. Many ethnomusicological works follow the ethnomusicologist’s own process of learning
an instrument (e.g., Berliner 1993; Rice 1994). While that can be a productive frame, I feel that
such works tend to shi the subject to the relation between ethnographer and  eld, between the
scholar and his/her other, a di erent relation than I’m suggesting in this article.
18. e South Caucasus region includes modern-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
Kurmancı and Zazaki are languages in the Northwestern Iranian language family (o en lumped
together under the moniker “Kurdish language”). Alevi-Bektais comprise a heterodox religious
sect that adopted elements of Shi͑a Islam; Alevis (who are at the center of this study) are additionally
a hereditary ethnicity.
19. An excellent introduction to the saz (and related instruments) in pre-1960s rural Anatolia
is Lawrence Picken’s Folk Musical Instruments of Turkey (1975).
20. Aıks are professional folk singers who compose poetry and perform the saz. Historically,
aıks travelled transnationally and thus were important carriers of news, stories, and saz traditions
(Bagöz 2008). Some regions feature aık competitions and folk-song duels (Erdener 1995).
21. A full analysis of even the poems selected here and their authors is beyond the scope of
this work. For an English-language introduction to Turkish folk poetry, see Bagöz (1952) and
Bagöz (1998). For more on Ali İzzet Özkan, see Bagöz (1994); on Reyhani, see Kartarı (1977).
22. e türkü “Gene Geldi Yaz Bai” from Rize contains a typical passage, “kemençeyi çalayi
kızlar oynayi kızlar” (play the kemençe, make the girls dance).  e kemençe doesn’t play itself or
possess the owner in such türküs; rather, its sound has an e ect. Also perhaps of note: there is no
standard term for “saz player” in Turkish, while there are established terms for nearly all other
23. Neet Erta’s autobiographical song “Bin dokuzyüz otuzsekiz cihana” (In 1938 I came into
the world) and most trusted biographies cite 1938 as his date of birth. His handwritten autobiog-
raphy from 1996 lists 1943 as his birth year, but handwriting analysis shows that the original date
had been written as “1933,” with a “4” superimposed over the  rst “3” with a di erent pen.
24. Irene Marko writes about Muharrem Erta in her dissertation (1986a).
25. Author Yuksel wrote: “aslında kötü bir adamdır. zira kimsenin beni böyle ağlatmaya hakkı
yoktur” (10/19/2005): “anyways he’s a bad man, because no one has the right to make me cry like
this.şet+ertaş (accessed 15 April 2011).
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26. Irene Marko notes that the saz is a primary tool in Alevi communities to educate youth
about Alevi beliefs and worldviews (personal communication).
27. Irene Marko (2002) writes of görgü cemi and focuses primarily on the role of the dede
(religious leader); the power of the saz in helping enable such reconciliations was a topic of personal
communications with Ula Özdemir (2006–07) and Dertli Divani (2007).
28. See Kurt (2003) and Ersoy (2011).
29. Lest we overread the language allegory, it is interesting to consider that the Turkish word
for language, dil, can also mean tongue (relating to the aık’s words in the song trope saz ve söz),
but in Alevi poetry sometimes refers to the heart—an organ that is believed to be essential both for
giving and receiving true communication. In Ottoman Turkish compound forms, dil also means
heart, such as the Turkish makam suz-i dil-ârâ, meaning “setting the heart on  re.”
30. Saz family distinctions are based on the length of the instrument’s tekne (bowl). From
smallest to largest are the cura (8–12”), dedesaz, tambura, çöğur, and divan (greater than 18.5”).
e term bağlama typically refers to tambura and çöğür-sized instruments, and the meydan sazı
is a longer divan. Kısa sap refers to shorter-neck versions of a saz. Other common names for saz
family members include üçtelli, bam telli, balta, ruzba, and kopuz (Bates 2011:13–15).
31. A t hought-provoking recent work on the changing nature of organology and the practices
and attitudes of collectors and museum curators is Dawe (2001).
32. I visited Özbek’s workshop in the Mecediyeköy neighborhood of Istanbul with Yılmaz
Yeilyurt and Ladi Dell’aira in January 2009; details in this work result from interviews with Özbek
and  eld notes.
33. One interesting instance of government-luthier-consumer interaction was the excavation
of an abandoned mine near Turkey’s Eastern Black Sea coast.  e beams that supported the mine
were made of old growth sitka spruce, a kind of wood nearly inaccessible today due to deforesta-
tion, yet preferred for the soundboards of ouds, sazes, tanburs, and many other instruments. Oud
and saz makers o en let their customers know their instruments are made of 100-plus year aged
spruce wood from that mine; I own one such oud. Other luthiers employ sitka spruce logs that
once were used as  sh nets in Alaska and found underwater near riverbanks (MacPherson 1998).
34. Notes about Hasan Sarıkaya and Saz Müzik Aletleri result from an interview in January
2009, informal communications with Bob Beer who works part-time for the  rm, and observa-
tions of the fabrika in Sarıgazi (an industrial city east of Istanbul) and showroom in Okmeydanı
(a neighborhood of Istanbul).
35. elpe, also called pençe, is a  nger-picking style believed to be the original playing style of
the kopuz (the Central Asian predecessor to the saz).  e style had largely disappeared in Anatolia,
but in the 1970s-80s a number of professional folk musicians (including Hasret Gültekin, Arif Sağ,
and Erol Parlak) studied the technique with a performer and saz maker located in Fethiye named
Ramazan Güngör (1924–2004) and repopularized it for a national audience.
36. Bagöz traces the history of aıks to the eleventh century when the profession was known
as ozan (poet) and ozans performed the kopuz, a predecessor of the saz (1952:331).
37. For example, Paraguay, a Spanish colony, was “known for its  ne hardwood products” as
early as the 1600s, and hardwoods developed into its second largest economic sector by the late
1700s (Cooney 1979:187). A more exhaustive history of colonial and postcolonial deforestation
can be found in Williams (2003). One of the few scholarly works to link the international trade in
hardwoods with instrument construction is White and Myers’s study of woodwind instruments
made between 1857 and 1931 by Boosey & Company (2004).
38. ere has yet to be a study of post-1980 political protest in Turkey and the near-daily
demonstrations and marches held in Beyoğlu (Istanbul) and on Ankara university campuses. Watts
(2010) includes some discussion of anti-imperialism protests but focuses on Kurdish examples.
39. Ula Özdemir has conducted long-term research into the sacred-secular dichotomy of
sazes in Alevi-Bektaism, which will hopefully provide much richer detail about the embodied
nature and sacred registers of the saz.
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 Ethnomusicology, Fall 2012
40. For a general introduction to Alevi musical practices, see Marko (1986b). For a an-depth
discussion of Pir Sultan’s legacy in contemporary Alevi expresssive performance, see Koerbin (2011).
41. See Stokes (1992) for more on electri ed saz instruments.
42. Videos of Derdiyoklar’s 1980s performances at German weddings abound on YouTube
and other video sharing websites.
43. e tanbur used in Ottoman art music is another instrument framed in relation to physi-
cal discipline and moral pedagogy. While the saz is capable of imparting Turkishness, the tanbur
is capable of bringing moral piety, and as such has seen a renaissance among some of the more
observant Muslim youth in Istanbul.  e ‘ûd and ney are also o en viewed in this manner and all
three are o en regarded as tasavvuf instruments, yet the tanbur is the only one to be considered
quintessentially Turkish, the oud being of Arab and the ney of Persian origin.
44. Here I am thinking of Yael Navaro-Yain’s anthropological study on secularism and public
life in Turkey, where she analyzes wrestling,  ag campaigns, holidays, and military service sendo s
as constituent elements of a broader project of public statism (2002).
45. Most of the contributions to Solís’s collection Performing Ethnomusicology suggest that
the kinesthetic practice of playing musical instruments can lead to conceptual understanding,
including David Harnishs discussion of the Balinese concept of guru panggul, or “teacher mallet”
(2004:132). Similar instrument references permeate many contributions to the second edition of
Barz and Cooley’s collection Shadows in the Field (2008). Despite the central importance of musi-
cal instruments in both volumes, “musical instruments” or “instruments” do not appear as index
entries, nor is there any explicit theorization of precisely how kinesthetic practice leads to con-
ceptual understanding.
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... Οι μάγοι και οι θεοί ζουν ή διοχετεύονται μέσω ορισμένων οργάνων, και άλλα όργαναφυλακτά μεσολαβούν σε διαπροσωπικές διαφορές στις κοινότητες. Ωστόσο, υπάρχουν και όργανα που φαίνεται να έχουν μικρή δράση (τουλάχιστον από όσο γνωρίζουμε) (Bates 2012, Nettl 1983). Η δύναμη των ιερών οργάνων σχετίζεται με την ιερότητα στις πρακτικές, τις πεποιθήσεις και στην αίσθηση της θρησκευτικής εμπειρίας καθώς και με τον τελετουργικό εξοπλισμό (Bates 2012, Nettl 1983. ...
... Ωστόσο, υπάρχουν και όργανα που φαίνεται να έχουν μικρή δράση (τουλάχιστον από όσο γνωρίζουμε) (Bates 2012, Nettl 1983). Η δύναμη των ιερών οργάνων σχετίζεται με την ιερότητα στις πρακτικές, τις πεποιθήσεις και στην αίσθηση της θρησκευτικής εμπειρίας καθώς και με τον τελετουργικό εξοπλισμό (Bates 2012, Nettl 1983. Η μουσική πρέπει να δώσει την εντύπωση της μαγείας ή της θρησκευτικής τελετής και τα όργανα χρησιμοποιούνται για να προκαλέσουν μια έντονη ψυχική κατάσταση, να εκφράσουν τη λατρεία, την προσευχή ή μια μεταφυσική προσέγγιση στην πραγματικότητα. ...
... Τα όργανα γίνονται αμφισβητούμενες τοποθεσίες νοήματος και ο οργανικός ήχος μπορεί να επηρεάσει βαθιά και να μεταμορφώσει τους ανθρώπους. Πολλά σθένη οργάνων υπερβαίνουν το νόημα, το σύμβολο και τη μεταφορά (Bates 2012), με «πολυσθενή και πολυσημικά» νοήματα (Dawe, 2007: 222). Ο Atkinson ερευνά τη βιβλιογραφία για τη μουσική σημειωτική για να καταλήξει στο συμπέρασμα ότι όλοι οι ήχοι λειτουργούν ως σημεία και ότι οι συνθέτες πρέπει να αναγνωρίσουν τις εξωγενείς δυνατότητες των οργάνων τους, ενώ παράλληλα επιτρέπουν σε τέτοια υλικά να λειτουργούν μουσικά. ...
Conference Paper
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The semiotics of music investigates the relationships between the musical sounds and what these sounds mean to those who produce and employ them in specific socio-cultural contexts (Tagg, 2013). In the semantic network of a communicative musical system, we may state that the value given to a sign is a representational value relative to another sign. This results in a chain of operations and relationships between signs and users. But what exactly is the musical instrument as a musical sign? What are its uses? In the present paper, we will discuss the functions and complexity of instruments as signs in various contexts, through specific examples of musical expression. We will focus on the ways in which musical instruments acquire meaning (bodily mastery, work, tradition, conventions, etc.) and will document the reciprocal relationship between musical instruments and contexts. We will discern musical instruments not only as sound sources but also as signifiers of culture and social interaction. The field in question is unexplored, as the majority of semiotic studies have only researched the musical text or gestures in specific genres.
... For example, the valve that was adopted into brass instruments relates to metal tubes and plumbing used at the time (Waters, 2021). Also, the transgression or migration (of musical instruments) from region to region or even rural to urban/city environments affects change in construction and even the playing style of some instruments (Bates, 2012). Bates (2012) suggests that humans are connected with instruments through the multiple functions of instruments (e.g., dance, celebration, experimentation, rebellion) and our relationship with them, from instrument making to performance. ...
... Also, the transgression or migration (of musical instruments) from region to region or even rural to urban/city environments affects change in construction and even the playing style of some instruments (Bates, 2012). Bates (2012) suggests that humans are connected with instruments through the multiple functions of instruments (e.g., dance, celebration, experimentation, rebellion) and our relationship with them, from instrument making to performance. These connections impact how our expressions, playing techniques, and instruments develop. ...
... These connections impact how our expressions, playing techniques, and instruments develop. As Bates (2012) points out, our embodiment of musical instruments and their sound materialize in how parts of instruments are named and can refer to the human anatomy, such as neck, body, and head. With respect to the technology surrounding a musician's connection and physical relationship with their instrument, there are significant differences between conventional acoustic or electric instruments and DMIs. ...
This article explores the concept of intimacy in the relationship between a musician and their instrument, specifically in the context of designing digital and accessible musical interfaces (DMI/AMI) with disabled musicians. We argue that current DMI/AMI design frameworks are lacking in their consideration of this relationship and that this deficiency can prevent designers from understanding the specific needs and desires of disabled musicians. The paper presents an autoethnographic study of the lived experience of the first author, a disabled musician, to provide insight into the evolution of his musician-instrument relationships and his definition of “success” in this context. The authors propose that incorporating these types of lived experiences into the AMI design process, and considering cultural probes or provocations related to phenomenological experiences and characteristics that contribute to a successful musician-instrument relationship, could lead to more effective and tailored DMI/AMI designs with disabled musicians.
... But where I see the orientations of geographers as most complementary to the ways music's materiality tends to be considered in current ethnomusicology is through the specific and direct focus on performance (Saldanha 2005;Simpson 2011Simpson , 2012. Curiously perhaps, much of the best-known recent work on the role of things in music from ethnomusicologists has looked less at the space and material of performance than at various facets of wider musical life, for instance flows of musical artefacts (Impey 2013;Steingo 2015), or the manufacture of musical instruments and their investment with symbolic significances (Bates 2012;Roda 2014). Studying street-music performances in the UK, however, the geographer Paul Simpson (2013) explores how the "vitality" to produce effects on the very unfolding of performance events is shown by a range of "operators" including non-human bodies, sounds, and atmospheric conditions. ...
... It has contributed particularly fruitfully to understandings of how musical instruments are part of wider experiences beyond the moments of literal performance. In Turkey, for instance, Eliot Bates analyses how people and physical tokens of the instrument the saz interrelate off the stage to generate social meanings around national identity (Bates 2012). And on a finer level of detail, Allen Roda talks of the dried grains of paste involved in the production and tuning of new tabla drums in Indian workshops. ...
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The urban environment is more than simply a setting that contains the regular pop shows found in various public spots in the city of Wuhan in China. Instead, the performances are formed from the sounds and other material conditions of their situation. Their sustainability as sources of income for performers and organisers, I argue, relies on a synergy between the acoustic qualities of the music and the wider sound environment, including in senses that draw upon the particular physical geography of this river city. Zooming in to look at individual street performance venues reveals also that different layouts are associated with characteristic patterns of audience behaviour, and there are links between these patterns and contrasting modes of social engagement. These modes, in turn, are significant in how singers negotiate legitimacy in their identities as performers, with different material circumstances and wider cultural perceptions of street performing in China shaping the struggles and successes of the group whose fortunes I follow in this article.
... Dentro dessa perspectiva, a pesquisa sobre instrumentos musicais é de fundamental importância, pois nos permite compreender a interação entre os objetos musicais e as práticas sociais, culturais e históricas de uma determinada comunidade ou período. Uma abordagem a partir da Cultura Material, nos possibilita ir além da simples análise sonora e técnica dos instrumentos, adentrando em um campo mais amplo de significados e relações (DAWE, 2003;BATES, 2012). ...
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Este artigo apresenta a catalogação dos violões construídos pelo renomado luthier brasileiro Sérgio Abreu. O catálogo foi desenvolvido por meio de uma pesquisa documental, utilizando os livros de encomendas do próprio luthier, bem como uma pesquisa de campo realizada nas redes sociais, que envolveu a coleta de depoimentos de músicos e proprietários dos violões Abreu. O objetivo principal desta pesquisa é documentar e preservar o legado do construtor, destacando sua importância tanto no cenário nacional quanto internacional, e fornecer uma visão abrangente dos instrumentos por ele criados e seus métodos de produção. Através desse estudo, é possível compreender a significância de Sérgio Abreu para as práticas musicais, a luteria e a cultura do violão de concerto como um todo. Este trabalho representa um passo inicial na documentação desse legado, e espera-se que sirva como base para pesquisas futuras, visando ampliar e aprofundar o conhecimento sobre a obra desse renomado luthier.
Amplifiers from Fender's so-called Tweed era (1948–60) are among the most valuable instruments in all popular music. Inside most Fender Tweed amplifiers is a piece of masking tape bearing the signature of the worker who hand-wired the amplifier's circuit. Today, collectors have elevated several of Fender's previously unknown Latina employees into legendary figures with near cultlike followings. In the absence of biographical information about these women, however, the contemporary discourse about them is often highly romanticized. In this article, I present novel historical information about Fender's Tweed-era employees to counter the misinformation surrounding them and Fender's mid-century Fullerton, California factory system more broadly. Analyzing contemporary discourses surrounding Fender's earliest employees, I also critique the persistence of gendered and racialized stereotypes about Fender's female employees being naturally equipped for labor-intensive assembly work due to their supposedly “nimble fingers.” This article also details the social processes through which Fender's Tweed amplifiers have been made “vintage,” and the company's mid-century mass-production techniques have since been attributed the same artisanal values associated with vintage string instrument making. Ultimately, I show how the builder-signatures contained within Fender's Tweed-era amplifiers have been central to the discursive production of value among collectors.
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This article explores the transformative power of musical instruments on pedagogical strategies within music ensembles, with a focus on world music ensembles at the tertiary level. Drawing from my unique perspective as an international graduate student in the U.S. and having had no prior exposure to world music ensembles, I share my experiences with the saron metallophone from the Javanese gamelan and the mṛdaṅgam, the principal rhythmic instrument of South Indian Karṇāṭak music ensemble. I argue that the interaction of sound between instruments and learners offers a deeply enriching, immersive educational journey. Recognizing this sonic interaction broadens our understanding of world music education and suggests that instruments inherently carry pedagogical value. By embracing this notion, educators can cultivate a more holistic teaching methodology, enhancing the pedagogical landscape within and beyond world music ensembles.
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O presente artigo propõe analisar algumas das trajetórias e caminhos de circulação possíveis de instrumentos musicais. O escrutínio de sua vida social como mercadoria nos diferentes regimes conduzidos pelas lojas de música também levará em conta o modo como se dão as tecnicalidades e condutas específicas relacionadas a esses espaços. Para tanto, reúno alguns referenciais da antropologia da música e museologia para apresentar espaços, etapas técnicas e relacionais ligadas aos processos de exibição e comercialização destes objetos. Argumento que, quando atentamos aos processos supracitados, engendrados em uma loja de instrumentos musicais, os observamos também como pontos nodais de extensas políticas de valoração, autenticidade e sonoridade que se refletem nas tecnicalidades concernentes à sua organização volumétrica e espacial.
Performing Ethnomusicology is the first book to deal exclusively with creating, teaching, and contextualizing academic world music performing ensembles. Considering the formidable theoretical, ethical, and practical issues that confront ethnomusicologists who direct such ensembles, the sixteen essays in this volume discuss problems of public performance and the pragmatics of pedagogy and learning processes. Their perspectives, drawing upon expertise in Caribbean steelband, Indian, Balinese, Javanese, Philippine, Mexican, Central and West African, Japanese, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Jewish klezmer ensembles, provide a uniquely informed and many-faceted view of this complicated and rapidly changing landscape. The authors examine the creative and pedagogical negotiations involved in intergenerational and intercultural transmission and explore topics such as reflexivity, representation, hegemony, and aesthetically determined interaction. Performing Ethnomusicology affords sophisticated insights into the structuring of ethnomusicologists' careers and methodologies. This book offers an unprecedented rich history and contemporary examination of academic world music performance in the West, especially in the United States. "Performing Ethnomusicology is an important book not only within the field of ethnomusicology itself, but for scholars in all disciplines engaged in aspects of performance-historical musicology, anthropology, folklore, and cultural studies. The individual articles offer a provocative and disparate array of threads and themes, which Solís skillfully weaves together in his introductory essay. A book of great importance and long overdue."-R. Anderson Sutton, author of Calling Back the Spirit.
Artists, scholars and audiences in Aceh, the northernmost province of Sumatra, conceive of their percussive, wind and string instruments as symbolising Aceh's "glorious past" and attach a variety of metaphorical and analogous meanings to them. Implicit in the culture, and formulated explicitly by Acehnese scholars, is a classification that divides the instruments at the most general level into three main categories, or metaphorical socio-historical streams: those associated primarily with (i) the pre-Islamic ancestral and nature venerating (animist-Hindu) stream, practices, or presumed origins (ii) the Sunni and/or Syiah Islamic stream (including borderline cases of instruments that straddle both Islamic and animist practices), and (iii) the European or Western socio-historical stream. Organological sub-categories at the second level of categorical thinking are based on an instrument's manner of exciting sound, while the third level comprises the instrumental types with their local names. The instruments are also attributed with broader, changing socio-cultural meanings, including gender and class divisions.
This article considers the role of lute culture (specifically, the lyra ) in a Mediterranean society. Cretan lute cultures have historical roots imagined and otherwise which entangle them completely in a local musical and social world. My research into Cretan musical instrument cultures among others have demanded not only a scholarly response to new questions but also the construction and application of a broad theoretical and analytical framework with which to try and understand lute worlds. It is within this cultural and academic context, therefore, that I probe the relationship of music, technology, and the body and how these connections are configured in a Cretan-Mediterranean context, in symbol and metaphor, and as engendered and socially active, existing where musical and social practices coalesce. Therefore broader and theoretically demanding questions must form the basis of an opening discussion as defining of an approach and preparing the ground for a focussed study of the Cretan context.
The didjeridu has accumulated considerable symbolic capital in recent years. Its status as an icon of Aboriginality, musical tradition and ritual significance has embedded it firmly within the Australian national imagination. However, the didjeridu did not hold centre stage as a symbol of Indigeneity until fairly recently, when it moved from the periphery of the Australian continent to come to stand for Australianness at its centre. The didjeridu has crossed internal boundaries altering perceptions of music and music making in different parts of Aboriginal Australia. It has crossed national and international boundaries through adaptations of its shape, tone and rhythmic contours, and it has taken on new cultural histories as a result of its global appropriation by non-Indigenous peoples. Globalisation presents both a threat and an opportunity for the recontextualisation of Indigenous meanings around the didjeridu.