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Technological Encounters in the Interculturality of Istanbul's Recording Studios

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This essay questions what is cultural within a recording studio, and the extent to which interculturality could be a useful lens for examining studio encounters and by extension other forms of artistic-technological labor. As I will show, when the concept of interculturality surfaces it rarely is accompanied by a sufficiently nuanced concept of "culture," and additionally relies upon an assumption that the "inter-" is mapping an encounter between individuals representing discrete cultural units, typically defined in reductive demographic terms. Interculturality may be able to be partly recuperated, however, through a more flexible and realistic conceptualization of culture that is more responsive to specific local practices and discourses, and through a more sustained engagement with the materiality of the lived world. For a case study, I will explore professional Istanbul recording studios active between 2004-2011. Beyond the complex and polyethnic identity of many of the individual participants, cultural differences were typically framed by arrangers, engineers, and studio musicians in relation to specific professions, particularly in regard to ways that people inhabited the space of the studio, training and knowledge systems, and participants' distinctive modes of engaging with technological objects. "Encuentros tecnológicos en la interculturalidad de los estudios de grabación de Estambul" Resumen: Este artículo se pregunta qué es cultural en un estudio de grabación y en qué medida la interculturalidad resulta útil para examinar los encuentros en un estudio y, por extensión, en otras formas de trabajo artístico-tecnológico. Voy a demonstrar que cuando el concepto de interculturalidad se usa, raramente está acompañado por un concepto de “cultura” suficientemente matizado, y que, generalmente, depende de la suposición de que el prefijo “inter” describe el encuentro entre individuos que representan unidades culturales discretas, típicamente definidas en términos demográficos reduccionistas. La interculturalidad podría ser recuperada parcialmente, con una conceptualización más flexible y realista de la cultura que responda a las especificidades de las prácticas y los discursos locales y mediante un involucramiento sostenido con la materialidad de mundo vivido. En este estudio de caso voy a reflexionar sobre estudios de grabación profesional asentados en Estambul que estuvieron activos entre 2004 y 2011. Más allá de la compleja y poli-étnica identidad de muchos de los individuos participantes, las diferencias culturales estaban típicamente enmarcadas por arreglistas, ingenieros de audio y músicos de estudio en relación con sus profesiones específicas, particularmente en consideración con las formas en las que las personas habitan el espacio del estudio, con los sistemas de entrenamiento y conocimiento y con las distintas maneras en que los participantes se relacionan con los objetos tecnológicos.
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Music and Interculturality
Antenor Ferreira Corrêa and Maria Westvall (Guest editors)
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145
Technological Encounters in the Interculturality of Istanbul’s Recording
Studios Eliot Bates
The Graduate Center, City University of New York, United States
ebates@gc.cuny.edu
Abstract
This essay questions what is cultural within a recording studio, and the extent to which
interculturality could be a useful lens for examining studio encounters and by extension other
forms of artistic-technological labor. As I will show, when the concept of interculturality surfaces
it rarely is accompanied by a sufficiently nuanced concept of “culture,” and additionally relies
upon an assumption that the “inter-is mapping an encounter between individuals representing
discrete cultural units, typically defined in reductive demographic terms. Interculturality may be
able to be partly recuperated, however, through a more flexible and realistic conceptualization of
culture that is more responsive to specific local practices and discourses, and through a more
sustained engagement with the materiality of the lived world. For a case study, I will explore
professional Istanbul recording studios active between 2004-2011. Beyond the complex and
polyethnic identity of many of the individual participants, cultural differences were typically
framed by arrangers, engineers, and studio musicians in relation to specific professions,
particularly in regard to ways that people inhabited the space of the studio, training and
knowledge systems, and participants’ distinctive modes of engaging with technological objects.
Keywords: Interculturality, technology, recording studios, Istanbul, technicity
Encuentros tecnológicos en la interculturalidad de los estudios de grabación de Estambul
Resumen
Este artículo se pregunta qué es cultural en un estudio de grabación y en qué medida la
interculturalidad resulta útil para examinar los encuentros en un estudio y, por extensión, en otras
formas de trabajo artístico-tecnológico. Voy a demonstrar que cuando el concepto de
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interculturalidad se usa, raramente está acompañado por un concepto de “cultura”
suficientemente matizado, y que, generalmente, depende de la suposición de que el prefijo “inter”
describe el encuentro entre individuos que representan unidades culturales discretas, típicamente
definidas en términos demográficos reduccionistas. La interculturalidad podría ser recuperada
parcialmente, con una conceptualización más flexible y realista de la cultura que responda a las
especificidades de las prácticas y los discursos locales y mediante un involucramiento sostenido
con la materialidad de mundo vivido. En este estudio de caso voy a reflexionar sobre estudios de
grabación profesional asentados en Estambul que estuvieron activos entre 2004 y 2011. Más allá
de la compleja y poli-étnica identidad de muchos de los individuos participantes, las diferencias
culturales estaban típicamente enmarcadas por arreglistas, ingenieros de audio y músicos de
estudio en relación con sus profesiones específicas, particularmente en consideración con las
formas en las que las personas habitan el espacio del estudio, con los sistemas de entrenamiento y
conocimiento y con las distintas maneras en que los participantes se relacionan con los objetos
tecnológicos.
Palabras clave: interculturalidad, tecnología, estudios de grabación, Estambul, tecnicidad
Encontros tecnológicos na interculturalidade dos estúdios de gravação de Istambul
Resumo
Este artigo questiona o que é cultural dentro de um estúdio de gravação, e até que ponto a
interculturalidade poderia ser uma lente útil para examinar encontros em estúdio e, por extensão,
outras formas de trabalho artístico-tecnológico. Como mostrarei, quando o conceito de
interculturalidade emerge, este raramente é acompanhado por um conceito suficientemente
matizado de “cultura”, e, adicionalmente, baseia-se na suposição de que o “inter-” está mapeando
um encontro entre indivíduos representando unidades culturais discretas, tipicamente definidas.
em termos demográficos reducionistas. A interculturalidade pode ser parcialmente recuperada, no
entanto, através de uma conceitualização mais flexível e realista de cultura que seja mais sensível
às práticas e discursos locais específicos, e por meio de um envolvimento mais sustentado com a
materialidade do mundo vivido. Como estudo de caso, explorarei estúdios profissionais de
gravação em Istambul ativos entre 2004 e 2011. Além da identidade complexa e poliétnica de
muitos dos indivíduos participantes, as diferenças culturais foram tipicamente categorizadas em
arranjadores, engenheiros e músicos de estúdio em relação às profissões específicas,
particularmente no que diz respeito às maneiras pelas quais as pessoas habitavam o espaço do
estúdio, treinamento e sistemas de conhecimento; e distintos modos dos participantes se
engajarem com objetos tecnológicos.
Palavras-chave: interculturalidade, tecnologia, estúdios de gravação, Istambul, tecnicidade
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Fecha de recepción / Data de recepção / Received: septiembre 2018
Fecha de aceptación / Data de aceitação / Acceptance date: diciembre 2018
Fecha de publicación / Data de publicação / Release date: febrero 2019
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In this essay I will reflect on the experience of working in Istanbul recording studios to
frame studio work as constituting a complex and multivalent kind of intercultural encounter.
Through this, I draw upon certain circulating discourses about culture within Turkey to rethink
questions around the ways culture gets framed and staged in situated, embodied encounters. I
extend that through a focused discussion of architecture’s and technology’s constitutive role in
shaping or producing culture. As a consequence, I rethink the term “intercultural” beyond more
commonplace demographic questions or externally imposed ideologies towards a more nuanced
and ethnographically-informed understanding of encounters where technology (including
architecture-as-a-technology, and massless digital objects) and specific modes of human-
technological interaction and intra-action (Barad 2003) structure the nature of intercultural
encounters
1
. My approach to analyzing interculturality in Turkey’s recording studios is inspired
in part by a comment by architectural historians Sibel Bozdoğan and Gülru Necipoğlu, who
suggest that interculturality in the former Ottoman Empire can be defined as the sharing of
architectural thinking across a wide territory one that today would be described as crossing
national borders (2007: 4). Heeding Chandra Mukerji’s warnings that we should avoid “the
disappearance of the material world behind language” and instead “approach material culture
without reducing objects to instantiations of discourse or realizations of cognitive
representations” (Mukerji 1997: 36), I utilize ethnographic work within the science and
technology studies (STS) subfield of user studies, as well as critical organology, in order to
investigate how, through their direct use, indirect use, and strategic non-use, objects “may
themselves be constitutive of a certain social relation” (Miller 1987: 122).
Since 1991, recorded music has provided the primary publicly circulating media form
where consumers encounter cultural practices articulating Kurdish, Zazaki, Lazuri, Hemşince,
and other Anatolian languages not officially recognized by the state. This results from very
limited print publishing in non-Turkish languages, linguistic prohibitions concerning domestic
radio and TV, and foreign satellite stations being frequently blocked or shut down at the urging
of Turkish authorities (Hassanpour 1998). But Istanbul’s recording studios had not historically
been sites for making musics in Anatolian languages other than Turkish. Between 1983-1991,
Law 2932 effectively banned recording and broadcast in “minority” languages, especially
Kurdish and Zazaki, so recording/broadcast transpired across the border in Syria or Iraq, and in
European exile communities (Reigle 2013). Even outside that period, police had broad authority
to seize recordings and arrest performers they deemed problematic, and to this day all recordings
must be approved by RTÜK, the government-controlled censor bureau. Starting in 1991,
loosening restrictions contributed to a surge of interest in producing non-Turkish popular musics
and to the growth of the Kurdish-language kom (group) movement (Aksoy 2006). Several
1
Throughout this essay, I echo Karen Barad’s insistence that many phenomena we often describe as interaction are
perhaps better characterized as intra-action. While I do not have enough space to do justice to her derivation of this
idea from the quantum physics of Niels Bohr, my main intent here is to note both that the alleged autonomy of the
two or more actors that are “interacting” needs to be questioned, as does the idea that they are “untouched” by the
encounter.
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ensembles founded on university campuses (e.g. Zuğaşi Berepe and Kardeş Türküler) or who
drew much support from university students (e.g. Grup Yorum) started a trend of recording
multilingual albums (Akkaya 2008). Concurrently, many Turkish citizens who had comfortably
assumed they were “Turks” discovered that their families had once been Armenian, Laz, Greek,
or one or more of the several dozen Anatolian ethnicities. This music, which explicitly or
implicitly articulated a discourse of multiculturalism (çokkültürlülük), became financially
successful for record labels (especially Kalan Müzik Yapım), resulting in the style known as
etnik müzik. However, in both production and circulation many etnik müzik recordings
influenced each other, leading to inter-ethnic fusions that would not have happened organically
through performing musician collaborations.
In preparing for my own field research in 2004, I had read so much from scholars
concerning debates around “Turkishness” that it figured significantly in my own initial
prospectus; I assumed that everything I would experience in the studios would be framed around
the presence, or contestation, of this identity trait, the only question being the extent to which
Turkishness was conceived of in national terms or in ethnic/cultural terms (on the musical front
see O’Connell 2000, Markoff 1990, Değirmenci 2006), which mirrored similar work in social
sciences. The notable dissenting view in social anthropology at the time was Yael Navaro-
Yashin, who denied that there was indeed any coherent thing called “Turkish culture” at all
(2002: 10).
What I encountered whilst working as an audio engineer and (occasional) studio musician,
whether the music being produced was Ottoman or early Turkish Republican art music, the
aforementioned “ethnic” music, the protest folk-rock of Grup Yorum, Turkish-language baby
lullabies, a percussion instructional CD, the industrial dance music of Neoplast, “ethnic tinged”
TV series soundtracks, indie rock, or just “good old” Turkish-language folk music, had little to
do with these debates. Turkishness was simply a non-issue, the accompanying vocabulary (e.g.
Türkçülük) never uttered in the studio, and absent even in the marketing/packaging of most
commercial recordings. I found no evidence that most of the studio professionals in the sessions
I engineered or observed would regard it as accurate that they were “performing Turkishness”, or
“performing Lazness” or whatever, although some soloists might have when on stage. There
certainly was performativity, though the performance of social relations, technical knowledges,
and Anatolian repertoires but it didn’t map onto discrete ethnic/national demographic
categories.
Besides the album artist and perhaps one specialist studio musician, for all studio
professionals involved with production, their social identities did not correlate with the purported
identity category ascribed to the music, or their multiple ethnic identities, compounded by all of
the other kinds of cultural identifications, made it impossible to say which of those identity
categories was being performed in any moment
2
. Neyzi had noticed something similar in 2002
2
Although I would probably not have been asked to sing or play oud on an album of Turkish folk or Ottoman art
music as there was sufficient local talent specialized in that, I was asked to contribute an oud part to one song with
an Iraqi subject matter, and I sang backup vocals on Lazuri language songs. In both cases, there were no known
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when discussing the music of Metin-Kemal Kahraman, brothers from the city of Dersim whose
plural identities encompassed Dersimli (of the city of Dersim), Zaza (a linguistic ethnicity),
Kurdish (a related linguistic ethnicity), Alevi (a religious ethnicity), and of course Turkish (a
citizenship). Musicians with whom I worked possessed similar multiethnic identity
configurations. In social encounters, if they emphasized an identity, they chose one in relation to
the perceived identity of others they interacted with (i.e. Alevism might be foregrounded when
talking to Sunni Muslims, Zazaness foregrounded when talking to Kurds, Turkishness
foregrounded when talking to non-Turkish citizens). This situational, negotiated tendency
suggests something akin to Swidler’s concept of culture as a strategic tool kit (1986), or as Yıldız
(2018) notes, can be productively framed through Podur’s concept of polyculturalism. Even in
strategic/polycultural form, this doesn’t get at the main ways that culture was articulated in the
studio on a daily basis.
By focusing on the reception or indexicality of products, and ignoring the details of the
production of culture, we gain a misleading understanding of the thing itself that comes to
constitute Laz music, Hemşin music, etc. The sociotechnical aspects of Istanbul studio life
complicate the neatness of describing such productions as actually being indexical of a particular
ethnicity. Many of the same musicians, audio engineers, arrangers, and producers involved with
the representation of Turkish language repertoires for local markets are equally active with
producing divergent ethnic representations. But rather than dismissing such works as inauthentic
due to their multiple contradictory influences, my interest is to take their production and cultural
valences seriously. As I will show, the normative division of labor, which largely regulates how
different kinds of actors are able to engage with the materiality or technicality of the studio,
automatically frames Istanbul’s recording studios as sites of intercultural encounters. By
studying how studio professionals working for record labels create productions intended to be
Anatolian and ethnic but not Turkish, we gain new insights into the normative modes of
production in Turkey situating production within a century of Turkification (Türkleştirmek) of
non-Turkish Anatolian musics (Hasgül 1996, Bates 2016).
In order to arrive at a suitable conceptualization of interculturality, my approach involves
navigating through a map of interrelated domains. I begin with the introduction of the word
kültür to the nascent modern Turkish language, comparing competing nationalist discourses with
failed attempts to incorporate Anglophone social science thinking, and considering popular
anxieties about the role of materiality in inculcating detrimental cultural change. One domain
that has been especially fruitful for culture theorization amongst Turkish scholars is architectural
criticism, and in addition to my hopes to amplify certain discourses that have broad sociocultural
relevance but have circulated mainly within architectural criticism, I hope to contribute to this
literature a consideration of recording studios –reconfigured spaces that haven’t received much
attention. From architecture-as-culture I turn to technology-as-culture, examining formative
questions within the STS (science and technology studies) subfield of user studies with recourse
musicians “of those cultures” who could be called on in short notice to do the work, and ultimately, all of us in the
studio milieu were equally foreign to the representations being made.
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to the specific technologies of the studio. I then present a more involved case study on how
architecture, technologies, discourses and embodied practices come to construct Istanbul’s
studio-based professions as somewhat discrete cultures. In conclusion, I compare a site-specific
definition of interculturality with extant uses of the term, examining the term’s utility for music
studies.
Culture to kültür
Culture-thinking does not just transpire in Anglophone discourse, and we should not
assume that English-language conceptualizations, or by extension derivative concepts like
multiculturalism and interculturalism, will be wholly applicable when transported to a different
linguistic context where culture has a differential relationship with neighboring terms (Wieviorka
2012). Kültür, in Turkish, became a loan-word in the few years leading up to the formation of
the secular Republic in 1923
3
. It was intended to replace but ultimately resided alongside several
preexisting terms of Arabic origin: hars/ekin (referring to the cultivation of fields) and irfan
(knowledge, discernment) (Lewis 1999: 112). Some of the earliest writings come from Ziya
Gökalp, one of the key ideologues of the Young Turk and early Republican era. Gökalp was
particularly taken with the sociology of Durkheim and drew upon it (as well as somewhat
contradictory inspirations from Rousseau and Bergson) to fashion his own conceptualization of
the dichotomy between culture and civilization, defined here in national versus international
terms (Parla 1985, Gökalp 1959: 104-112). He is inconsistent with his definitions and by
extension the ontological nature of culture, except with his continuing insistence on culture’s
national nature (Davison 1995: 203). Culture, accordingly, is a characteristic denied to those
without nations, which may explain why there’s a considerable amount of Turkish writing on
“Turkish culture” but almost none on “Kurdish culture”
4
.
In Turkish academic publications, typically the narrative ends with the Gökalp-inspired
culture/civilization dichotomy, even though Gökalp’s definitions don’t match contemporary
usage, to the extent that using Gökalp’s preferred term of hars (with all its agricultural and farm-
sowing baggage) in conversation is more likely to provoke giggles than to arouse feelings of
nationalist sentiment. Following the publication of Mümtaz Turhan’s (1951) book on cultural
change, Anglophone definitions of culture, especially those of Tylor and Kroeber, began to
circulate amongst Turkish social science students. Therefore, Tylor’s oft-cited formulation: “that
complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other
capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (Tylor 1920 [1871]: 1) became
well known, although typically dissociated from Tylor’s broader concerns with cultural
evolution. However, such formulations never replaced earlier approaches to defining
culture/civilization in national/international terms, again, inspired by but not wholly invoking a
3
According to the Güncel Türkçe Sözlük published by the official Turkish Language Foundation, kültür comes from
French, perhaps due to Gökalp’s interest in Rousseau, but the word has Latin origins.
4
Although Gökalp was ethnically either Kurdish or Zaza, this didn’t curtail a line of thinking that was one of the
greatest ideological inspirations on Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s subsequent cataclysmic military actions against
minorities, including what has been termed by many scholars the genocides of Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds and
Zazas, and Pontian Greeks (Akçam 2004, Üngör 2011).
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selective reading of French-language philosophy and sociology.
Kültür has come to be used in quite different ways than the Gökalp-Atatürk paradigm. In
secular-leaning forums such as the social dictionary Ekşi Sözlük, several contributors describe
kültür as residing in the primary relation between maddî (material) and manevî (psychological,
spiritual, and/or moral, depending upon context). This echoes the first two official definitions of
the term kültür in the Güncel Türkçe Sözlük, which hinge upon “material and
psychological/spiritual/moral values” (maddî ve manevî değerler) and “artistic works” (sanat
eserleri) not their incommensurability or disjunctures, but the intersection/overlap between
these categories. The maddî ve manevî diptych predates the importation of the word kültür,
surfacing in the work of another Turkish nationalist, Yusuf Akçura, who himself was quoting
Azeri nationalist Hüseyinzade Ali Bey on the material and moral/spiritual development of a pan-
Turkic nation (Akçura 1915).
This becomes strikingly adapted in the works of populist, non-academic writers, who go to
great lengths to argue that culture, again framed in terms of nation-states, is unchanging (despite
the very recent formation of nation-states). In Kültürümüzün Kimliği, such a proclamation was
immediately preceded by this lively passage:
Drink Coca Cola or Persi [sic] Cola [...] Akşama buyurun fakirhaneye, yerli yemekterden
atıştırırken Philips teypten, Grundig TV den yararlanabiliriz [Drink Coca Cola or Pepsi
Cola… at night well look here you are in the poor-house, while you gobble local foods you
use Philips tapes and Grundig TVs] (Işık 1990: 19).
It is unclear why these particular objects (maddî) were selected, although all are products
of transnational corporations headquartered in the USA or Germany
5
(and therefore part of what
Işık terms “culture imperialism”), or why Islam, which after all was a foreign import and is of
more recent origin than the purported many-thousand-year history of Turkic peoples, is
somehow an innate and therefore unchanging part of Turkish culture (this book ultimately
becomes a work of Islamist propaganda). No mention is made of Turkey’s transition away from
indigenous herbs, fruits and vegetables and towards foreign imports that were popularized during
the Ottoman era, including tomatoes and peppers (from Central/South America) and citrus and
eggplant (brought by Arab traders from China), not to mention the “Turkish tea” with Russian
origins, which would likely constitute much of the “local foods” being referenced. While texts
such as this fail to provide a transportable or fully coherent concept of culture, they do index
some of the anxieties around the term, and also suggest that culture, in this local and popular
configuration, is entirely bound up with the relations between people and the material world,
whether that concerns questions of the provenance of some objects but not others, or the extent to
which the adoption of such objects may negatively alter local beliefs and practices and the
psychological/spiritual of mane. Later in the book, we find the concern with foreign culture
and imperialism is not a worry about symbolic or representational aspects, but rather about the
tangible effects that engaging with such objects has on Turkish subjects, primarily regarding
5
Ironically, Grundig in 2007 became a wholly Turkish-owned subsidiary of the Arçelik A.S. group.
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Islamic beliefs/practices, and secondarily on the flood of money leaving Turkey due to
unreflective consumerism (Işık 1990: 24). Another domain where we see related anxieties
routinely discussed in cultural terms is in architecture.
Architecture as culture
One site where we can understand architectural culture as culture is in situations when
buildings fail to work in their intended way or even fail to work at all. Discussions of
architecture in Turkey often focus on the long history of monumental architecture (Bozdoğan
and Necipoğlu 2007: 2) in the Ottoman Empire, despite similarly long-standing traditions of
urban workplace and rural domestic architecture. With the nineteenth-century decline of the
Ottoman Empire, especially with regards to the low production of export goods, Ottoman elites
enlisted German and French architects to design European-style factories in order to increase
productivity. But as Bozdoğan notes, many of these failed since the placement of machinery and
workers in factories was not conducive to normative modes of work (2010: 21). Yet, a century of
ideology about the “civilizing mission” of industrial architecture continued unabated, and even in
1937 “the industrialization of towns was geared towards building a moral and social institution
of culture and civilization” (Bozdoğan 2010: 26). Concurrently, experiments in incorporating
Soviet-style social condensers (Bozdoğan 2010: 29, see also Murawski 2017 on condensers in
other national contexts), or in transforming village homes through a rejection of Ottoman relics
and promotion of European-style modernism, especially in the designs of famed early
Republican Era architect Sedad Eldem, largely failed at their stated missions. As Nalbantoğlu
notes, “the rationalist discourse gives precedence to architecture in attempting to locate a
projected cultural discourse and practice within given forms. Architecture takes the backseat in
the nationalist discourse in which forms are justified in the name of culture” (1993: 73).
Recording studio architecture in southeastern Europe and west Asia has attracted far less
attention from architectural critics, perhaps since few extant studios entailed a ground-up build
of a new building, relying instead on creative reconfigurations of existing architecture. Yet we
can trace similar issues when comparing the many Turkish-designed studios I worked at with
one big-budget, high-profile studio that was foreign-designed. During my research in 2004-9, the
MİAM Stüdyo, located within Istanbul Technical University, was widely lauded as Istanbul’s
“best” facility, and was in-demand for doing Western art music and jazz recordings. Yet, most
professional studio musicians, arrangers and engineers I knew refused to work there. It had been
designed by British acoustician Roger D’Arcy and his firm Recording Architecture, and the
attention to detail in the acoustic treatments resulted in a room sound that avoided the
problematic resonances and room modes that were characteristic of nearly all other Istanbul
studios. However, interviews with several dozen studio professionals I worked with revealed that
they found the studio design, and its effects on the social aspects of studio work, made the studio
incapable of being inhabited in culturally appropriate ways for the creation of indigenous folk
and art musics. Instead, the studios where we worked were local redesigns of concrete
substructure homes and former light industrial workplaces that were visually inspired by
imitating certain acoustical treatments from the West including the wooden diffusors that
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D’Arcy had installed at MIAM and later at Studio Babajim– although the treatments were used
in rooms of different construction and dimensions and as such did not acoustically work at all
like foreign-designed rooms (Bates 2012b). Despite what could be perceived as the “failures” of
such rooms to properly function as, say, RFZ, LEDE, or non-environment rooms (Newell 2017),
they consistently enabled the concrete containment shell on which treatments had been applied to
impart a distinctive sound on recordings. Only one local acoustician I encountered, Sorgun
Akkor, attempted to use acoustic measurements and more deliberate acoustic treatments to
attenuate what elsewhere might be described as audible defects, but his rooms still fell within the
broader acoustical conventions I’m describing. I wasn’t the only person to comment on Turkish
acoustics, as interviews with audio engineers veered towards unprompted complaints about
çamur (muddiness, meaning excessive buildup of the low-midrange frequencies), and how low
frequencies yok oldu (disappeared) due to room modes. In addition to audible features, elements
like the striking and idiosyncratic color schemes, some of the specific construction materials
(e.g. luxurious local green velvet fabric on the walls at Stüdyo Sistem, or the bluish-brown
laminate fake hardwood floors that are sold wholesale by an industry cluster located directly
underground from the central industry cluster building of the Turkish recorded music industry)
articulated a distinctly Istanbul material culture.
Starting with architecture, but working outwards to related domains such as nationalist
ideology and material culture in the form of durable goods, Bozdoğan ends up framing culture in
six ways: first, architectural culture (inspired by Roy Landau) and architectural culture’s relation
to the materiality of “nature” (2001: 259); second, domestic culture (2001: 193); third, culture as
representing “national” characteristics (e.g. Greek culture, Turkish culture) or transnational
forms of belonging (e.g. Islamic and Ottoman culture); fourth, culture as representing an era (e.g.
20th century culture); fifth, culture in the form of a political project (specifically, Kemalist
culture); and sixth a “visual culture of modernity” (Bozdoğan 2001: 13). As she argues, these are
not discrete or unrelated kinds, and she provides many examples of when ideas about
architectural culture led to political ideology or language politics. For example, one justification
for the now discredited Sun-Language Theory (Güneş-Dil Teorisi), an argument for the existence
of a pan-Turkic nation encompassing most of Asia, drew upon allegations of similarities in how
Hittites and Central Asian Turkic peasants made rural homes (Bozdoğan 2001: 246). As she
concludes, elaborating on an argument by Günkut Akın, “the architectural culture of the early
Turkish republic amply illustrates how high modernism as an ideology appealed particularly to
planners, engineers, architects, scientists and technicians who wanted to use state power to bring
about huge, utopian changes in people's work habits, living patterns, moral conduct and
worldview” (2001: 6).
But one deficiency with architectural criticism concerns a tendency to treat buildings as
intact entities in and of themselves, with less attention to how they end up getting inhabited,
populated with technologies, and remade over the years. The considerable social and cultural
effects attributed to buildings-as-workplaces (Gieryn 2002) result not just from the architecture,
but rather architecture in tandem with non-architectural technologies, both infrastructural ones
(e.g. wires, furniture, mic stands) and directly engaged ones (e.g. technologies of audition,
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computer digital audio workstations, musical instruments).
Technological objects as culture
Where, specifically, is culture situated within the act of and sites of producing recorded
music? Making recordings is first and foremost an act that depends upon many kinds of
technology: in the case of the recordings I analyzed, which were built upon new multitracked
digital recordings of acoustic and electric instruments (rather than existing pre-made samples),
the essential studio technologies consisted of transducers (microphones, speakers and
headphones), electrical technologies, a digital audio workstation (DAW) that enabled the storage
of digital data and subsequent processing and visualization of it, and additional infrastructural
technological objects. Therefore, in studios it makes less sense to conceive of culture primarily
as a set of symbols and representations, since doing production work relies less how people
perceive their relation to an abstract external world, than it does on how people engage with
each other and with technical objects (including “recording,” instrumental, and architectural
technologies) and moreover how technical objects engage with each other. After all, if you
record a guitar through a microphone, while human input helps activate the strings and adjust the
string length by fretting, ultimately what is captured is the interaction between a vibrating guitar
string, a resonating guitar body, air, an idiosyncratic acoustic environment, and microphone not
the guitarist and microphone. During production people find divergent ways to engage with a
fairly predictable set of technologies (alongside regional variations like local instruments and
acoustic treatments), and the same technologies attain different sociotechnical positions within
different production networks. These divergences and differences become codified in the
workflows of particular production networks, supporting the presence of variables we can
productively conceptualize in cultural terms.
Of all the types of music technology, we have the most extensive knowledge about the
cultural power and valence of musical instruments, whether considering the gendering role of the
lyra in constituting the body politic of Crete (Dawe 2003), the anxieties surrounding the agentive
capacity of the saz in forming the Turkish nation (Bates 2012a), the ability of traditional and
robotic gamelans to produce atmosphere and affective relations amongst audiences (McGraw
2016), the relation between tabla making, global climate change and the container shipping
industry (Roda 2015), or the role of the viol in performing political diplomacy in the early 1700s
Europe (Ahrendt 2018). None of these examples are especially surprising; regionally specific
popular instruments often gain a sociocultural importance beyond their basic role as sounding
objects. But which technologies of foreign origin and/or manufacture become successfully
indigenized, to the point that they seem either less foreign or wholly Turkish in character?
Such questions necessitate an ethnographic approach that is attentive to the things that
people do, but framed in relation to the things that do things to people. We tend to linguistically
enforce an a priori distinction between technological objects, built environments, social
interactions, music, and economies, rather than understanding their intra-actions and interactions.
While leaving these as distinct categories allows us to understand their ontological differences,
neologisms such as sociotechnical, sociomusical, socioeconomic and technoculture already
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indicate that certain pairings of phenomena often cohere, if not inherently then at least
temporarily. Gilbert Simondon argues that the culture concept is insufficient due to its lack of
attention to the world of technical objects, and that our understanding of the human is
insufficient as we haven’t sufficiently examined the design and structure of technical objects
(related to what he terms the individuation and individualization of objects):
Culture is unbalanced because it recognizes certain objects, like the aesthetic object, granting
them citizenship in the world of significations, while it banishes other objects (in particular
technical objects) into a structureless world of things that have no signification but only a
use, a utility function (Simondon 2017 [1958]: 16).
While Simondon idealizes that the world would be better if we knew how to understand,
embrace and engage properly with technical objects, and if we championed technical objects that
require the user to be attentive to their very technicity rather than those that produce alienation
through inattention, others are more pessimistic about the proposition. Alf Hornborg, for
example, views global modernity as revolving around the “belief in the magical agency of
objects” (2017: 96), a belief that obscures our perception of the role of these very same
technologies in supporting global economic systems that maintain gross economic inequalities
across societies.
We can attend to ethnographic concerns by analyzing the divergent attitudes towards and
practices that involve a particular studio technology. In the case of microphones, for example,
they are obviously material things that are ontologically definable as transducers; once they are
connected to a powered mic preamp with a cable, they automatically and continuously convert
changing air pressures to electricity, regardless of whether people want them to or not. This has
cultural valences to an extent, but mics don’t just transduce, and numerous non-obligatory modes
of human-mic interaction/intra-action fall outside of transductive concerns. Microphones are
affective-aesthetic devices “with a sound,” the result of (in the case of the Neumann mics
favored in Turkish studios) a German design philosophy that “imagined” and “configured”
particular kinds of users (Woolgar 1991), and in the circulation of their broader cultural
representations can become symbolic or iconic of recorded music and selfhood themselves. Mics
are also a charged place within studios that can become the site of performance, they are
socialized with or used differentially by different kinds of studio users (including modes of
indirect use or strategic non-use), and they have the capacity to be simultaneously used directly
and indirectly in different ways.
For example, percussionist Mısırlı Ahmet insisted on recording with one very specific mic
(AKG SE300B with a cardioid capsule, an unusual but not particularly expensive mic) that had
to be positioned exactly the same, regardless of the varying acoustics of specific tracking rooms.
He developed his darbuka and bendir playing style, especially concerning the amplitude and
dynamics of individual drum strokes, to work with this particular transducer and spatial
organization of human and non-human objects in the room. Beyond audible aesthetics and
performance practice, such human-technological performances were also a performance of social
status within the networks of the recorded music sector. In contrast, some studio musicians
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attempted to ignore mics altogether, and would sit down and perform their part regardless of
where their chair or the mic had been positioned. Others, such as clarinetist Serkan Çağrı,
mey/balaban player Ertan Tekin or violinist Adnan Karaduman (Figure 1), would adjust their
bodies and the position of their instrument in relation to the mic with every phrase, playing it
“like an instrument.” Audio engineers were usually nominally given the choice of which mic to
use, but in some studios, for example Stüdyo Sound, engineers almost never touched or moved
mics, leaving the studio’s main Neumann U87ai mic in the same position in the room regardless
of what was to be recorded, even if the sound might be perceived by other participants as
compromised (musicians were free to move it, if they wanted). Other engineers, myself included
(Figure 2), took considerably more time with mic positioning and made it an integral part of their
job. Engineer/percussionist Yılmaz Yeşilyurt was more obsessed than most with esoteric and
boutique mics, and on several occasions, I brought him unusual mics from the US (ShinyBox
ribbons, Peluso CMC6 condensers), or he’d buy them when touring with Kurdish and Zaza
musical groups in Germany (his beloved Brauner VM1). Arrangers were strictly indirect users
(Bates 2016: 159) of mics while working in that capacity. Therefore, there was a variety of
attitudes and practices towards mic use and handling, ranging from thinking of them
instrumentally, to attempting to ignore them, to manipulating them to enact a certain kind of
techno-artistic labor, to only indirectly engaging with them. These attitudes and practices might
be all simultaneously in action.
Figure 1: Adnan Karaduman recording at Kalan Stüdyo. Photo by Ladi Dell’aira.
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Figure 2: The author miking up a session for Ulaş Özdemir. Photo by Ladi Dell’aira.
Within science and technology studies, related issues have been framed in different ways.
Taking a largely Latourian-influenced approach to understanding technological agency, Akrich
(1992) introduces the tripartite scripts, program, and anti-program conceptual frame to analyze
the dichotomy between the ways that inventors script uses and users through their inventions,
and the extent that users are locked-in (programs) or can deviate from these scripts (anti-
programs). Taking a social constructivist approach to similar problems, Pinch and Bijker (1987)
explore the interpretive flexibility that enables users to craft divergent uses and meanings for
technological objects. They differ primarily with regards to the boundaries between the social
and the technical; Akrich argues against any a priori distinction, while Pinch and Bijker uphold a
concept of the social that is restricted to human participants. However, returning to the mic,
neither the scripts nor the interpretive flexibility concepts explain how and why the mic becomes
a particularly charged site in the studio –a site of power. There may be many ways to “usea
mic, but they all work within what Feenberg terms a technological hegemony, “that aspect of the
distribution of social power which has the force of culture behind it” (1999: 86). In Istanbul, the
power accorded recorded music as noted earlier, in tandem with normative modes of organizing
work and workplaces, all served to nuance the scripts and interpretive flexibilities that came to
uphold a prevalent, culturally specific technological hegemony.
In a related vein, Louise Meintjes (2012) provides a paradigmatic account of the fetish-
nature of studio technologies and environments within South African recording studios.
Harkening back to Hornborg, studio technologies are magical objects with power; certain
individuals (typically white engineers) are entrusted to control/operate the technology, while
others (typically black musicians) work indirectly with non-instrumental technologies. Meintjes
doesn’t define the term fetish, but in my reading it seems that her work creatively plays on the
ambiguity between the original fetish concept in sub-Saharan Africa, where the fetish was a
modern technology created to resist colonial power (Pietz 1987), and Marx’s notion of the
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fetishized commodity. Hornborg (2014) has persuasively argued that both kinds of human-
technological fetish relations articulate contemporary political economies.
Istanbul’s Recording Studios
The primary studio I worked at in Istanbul, ZB Stüdyo, was built by Zuğaşi Berepe co-
founder and Laz rock artist Kazım Koyuncu as his personal studio but was used for commercial
projects too. It became a major node for etnik müzik production. Following Kazım’s tragic
passing in 2005 from cancer, the studio management changed hands, but ZB continued to be a
place where many albums in Karadeniz rock/pop styles (arranged etnik müzik specifically from
the Eastern Black Sea Region) were produced. Few Istanbul studios are style-specific places,
meaning we also did a Grup Yorum protest album there (Bates 2014), straight-up Turkish folk
music productions, and soundtracks to feature films and TV drama series (Bates 2018). As
mentioned before, session personnel were amongst the most sought-after studio musicians within
the broader Turkish recorded music industry regardless of musical style or the language of
music being created.
As I visited other studios as a participant and/or observer, and over the next seven years
talked with engineers, musicians and record label personnel about their production experiences,
it became clear that normative ways of working and socializing that were specific to Istanbul’s
commercial and project studios in part resulted from the broader cultures of work in Turkey,
including inherited structures from Ottoman era craft guilds, and locally-specific ways of
engaging with technological objects. The Turkish record industry, headquartered in a single
purpose-built complex in the Unkapanı neighborhood of Istanbul next to several other clustered
guilds (Figure 3), enforced a standardized division-of-labor and workflow for making recordings
one which depended upon professional studio musicians, album arrangers, and audio engineers,
and where the named artists featured on the covers of albums were typically kept distant from
the bulk of production labor. Despite shared spaces for engaging in production work (the studio,
the record label office), each recorded music industry profession was distinct regarding things
like apprenticeship/training, social/conversational norms, ways of interacting with various kinds
of technologies, and status/power within broader industry structures.
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Figure 3: The music industry at Unkapanı. Photo by Eliot Bates.
I recently discussed the studio-sited “culture question” with Burcu Yıldız, an Istanbul-
based ethnomusicologist and specialist in Armenian-language singing, and her husband Aytekin
Gazi Ataş, a renowned composer of TV/film music
6
. In fact, the two met whilst they were both
members of the Boğaziçi University Folklore Club, the organization that had germinated the
aforementioned Kardeş Türküler ensemble, and their introduction to stage/studio music-making
was initially within what I’m calling the etnik müzik scene. As Burcu noted, from when Kardeş
Türküler began in the mid 1990s through the mid-2000s, the very act of singing in multiple
languages was a revolutionary act, a form of multiculturalism that contrasted with liberal
multiculturalism as a mode of political discourse. Starting around 2005, though, many more
musicians previously outside the etnik müzik scene started to incorporate songs in Kurdish and
Arabic in their stage repertoires. According to Burcu, discussions within Kardeş Türküler
extended beyond questions of multi-lingualism, however:
Especially at the concerts where dances were staged, in addition to the question of the
representation and exhibition of different languages and cultures, [Kardeş Türküler]
discussed how these cultures had been in dialogue with each other, how they conflicted, and
how similarities needed to be emphasized alongside their differences, and in this manner
designed the core of their performances. For example, while they played a song with
versions in different languages in succession, differences in the song arrangement would be
observed
7
.
But by 2016, stemming from the swift political consolidation that followed the attempted
coup d’état, things had reverted back to the pre-2004 formation. Mainstream musicians were no
6
Personal communication, April 27, 2018. This and all subsequent interviews and personal communications were
conducted in Turkish.
7
Personal communication, May 7, 2018.
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longer singing in minority languages, and the etnik müzik industry’s particular brand of musical
multiculturalism was radical once again.
We then talked more generally about how a term like intercultural might apply within a
studio setting. The first “culture” as part of the intercultural configuration of the studio that came
to mind for Burcu and Aytekin was what are typically termed Roman(i) string ensembles or
sometimes alaturka string ensembles. For them, it wasn’t primarily the Roma identity of the
participants that culturally defined the group as intercultural participants, but rather the way that
musicians within these ensembles did what they did in a studio setting, which included elements
of musical-performative behavior and social behavior (both during recording and in casual social
interactions). Groups like the Kempa Yaylı Grubu (or before them the Şenyaylar family), whose
sound grew to prominence during the 1990s-early 2000s period of post-arabesk Turkish pop
music production, are legendary within Istanbul’s recording industry, and attain a distinctive and
inimitable sound that is highly desired within and outside Turkey. However, if an arranger
desires a string ensemble sound that is, say, more reminiscent of Hollywood film music
underscoring, it was impossible until recently to accomplish this with Kempa and other
Roman/alaturka string ensembles both with regard to musical aesthetics and the required social
negotiations. If you hire Kempa, you provide them with a song melody, and one of the musicians
in the group does the string arrangement and rehearses the ensemble. The recording workflow is
a standardized one (for them) entailing a lot of overdubbing with strategically designed (but not
discussed) nonstandard bowing techniques (Bates 2016: 136). In contrast, other non-Roman
string ensembles for hire in Istanbul engage in a different workflow, utilize bowings appropriate
to Western orchestral music, and might be open to different or more experimental kinds of
requests on the part of arrangers. When deciding who to hire, an arranger has to choose the
production workflow, the desired musical sound, and the extent of input the arranger is allowed
into influencing playing technique. Thus, these other string ensembles could be said to constitute
a different culture within Istanbul recording studio intercultures. As Aytekin noted, there has
been a partial change since 2010:
After groups like Kempa and Şenyaylar a young generation of musicians created a group
(that could be also labeled alaturka) called İstanbul Strings who began to become
increasingly popular and play a significant role in studio recordings. One of the most
important features of this group (possibly because of their conservatory education) is that
they can use either Roman/alaturka or western bowing techniques
8
.
String ensembles were an exception, though, as everyone working as a studio musician
was required to perform in a wide variety of local and regional styles, in many cases expected to
play multiple instruments within an instrument family (for example, Eyüp Hamiş would bring
upwards of 100 end-blown flutes and double reeds to a session)
9
. Additionally, studio musicians
needed to be able to play in tune with any of the standard tuning systems (e.g. the
8
Personal communication, May 7, 2018. Note that İstanbul Strings, despite showcasing younger musicians, also
includes several veterans of the aforementioned Kempa and Şenyaylar groups such as Baki Kemancı.
9
Interview with Eyüp Hamiş, November 17, 2006.
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Ottoman/Turkish 53-note system, the 17-note saz tuning, or Western equal temperament)
10
, in
any key, and without excessive extraneous noises common to many folk or art music
instruments, necessitating a collection of instruments that construction-wise were distinct from
the kinds of instruments stage, amateur or local musicians used. Studio musicianship, therefore,
was nominally defined as a profession through a combination of repertoire knowledge,
performative flexibility, and technological ownership, usage and proficiency all in relation to
the contemporary studio assemblage.
Audio engineer and bassist Metin Kalaç, in his typical humorous style, summarized his
view of a culture of Istanbul-based audio engineers as “beer-drinking descendants of tea-
makers”
11
. In the guild-based studio workplace, as in several professions within the recorded
music industry, apprenticeship may begin when one is very young (sometimes under 10),
working as a çaycı (tea-boy). Without a formalized pedagogy regarding the
technical/engineering/musical aspects of the trade, apprentices are expected to learn while on the
job through non-participant observation. The focus on tea relates to its importance, both in
lubricating the work that is done in the studio (and many other workplaces), and in facilitating
the social encounters that transpire between moments of recording work, where the social
network of the recording industry is maintained. My own on-the-job training at ZB Stüdyo was
largely in learning how to both make and serve tea, which required attentiveness to the
individual preferences of all the studio professionals in our network. However, despite the
formidable social training that happens in this apprenticeship, there is still a sense that engineers
are more on the “uncouth” side. One popular meme that circulated in the early 2000s on Turkish-
language IRC channels was the “Juvenile engineer’s handbook” (Delikanlı tonmaister’in el
kitabı), constructed as a set of proverbs written in a coarse, grammatically inaccurate Turkish
dialect. Amongst the 34 entries, nine dealt with being a technological neophyte, three with being
a luddite or using antiquated technology, four dealt with studio etiquette, and nine dealt with
faux-pas committed in certain common interpersonal relations. Many are obviously specific to
Turkish studio cultures. For example:
Delikanli tonmaister Keman grubuna; ‘Kesin giygiy etmeyi, burada ayar yapiyoz’. der.
[The juvenile engineer says to the string ensemble: ‘for sure don’t go ‘giygiy’ (imitating sound
of violin vibrato and ornamentation), here we control our tuning].
Delikanli tonmaister ‘Çay var mı?’ denildiğinde ‘Burası kahvehane mi lan?’ der. [The
juvenile engineer, when someone says “is there any tea?” answers “what the hell do you think
this is, a coffee-house?”].
Culture, here, is framed as an intersection of social class, technological use/knowledge, and
an understanding of social and communicational norms of other studio workers (especially
regarding what Metin Kalaç terms the “psychology of musicians”): maddî ve manevî.
There was an alternate interpretation regarding the culture of audio engineers, however. I
heard voiced on numerous occasions, from studio musicians, arrangers, and producers, that since
10
Interview with Engin Arslan, November 22, 2006.
11
Interview, April 10, 2007.
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all this technology we worked with came “from the West” or “from America” that it made sense
that I’d be the one manipulating it; after all, this was quintessentially “my” culture. Notably, this
is one of the few times I heard the world kültür uttered during normal studio sessions, rather than
in interviews. Never mind that the Neumann U87ai mic, SPL ProMike preamp and Klotz cables
came from Germany, the Dynaudio studio monitors from Denmark, the Cambridge Audio
amplifier was designed in England, and much of the rack-mount gear (including the Digidesign
HD96 audio interface and the studio’s Control|24 mixing surface) was manufactured in East Asia
with parts from China, Taiwan and Japan that themselves were built upon raw materials strip-
mined, extracted and drilled on every continent in the world. The software was similarly eclectic:
the Waves Platinum suite of plugins, designed and coded in Israel, and Digidesign’s ProTools
software, coded in Northern California. Despite the mistaken provenance claims (little of this
was “American”), more importantly, little of it was perceived as having been effectively or fully
indigenized.
In contrast, while I was conducting research in Turkey I witnessed some of the process
whereby the garmon accordion, an instrument typically associated with Azeri music, replaced
the tulum bagpipes in some Eastern Black Sea villages, and the perdesiz gitar, Erkan Oğur’s
local adaptation of the “western” classical guitar, became a legitimate instrument for the
performance of folk musics. In the process, both partly lost their status as “foreign” imports. In
non-studio contexts, I documented the Turkification of computers, which manifested in
sociotechnical institutions like the ubiquitous neighborhood repair shops, business clusters in the
Mecediyeköy neighborhood that sold greymarket computer parts for Windows XP boxes, and
internet cafes. But our need to use ProTools on a Mac, and the lack of Turkish-language software
localization, discursively and materially demarcated ZB Stüdyo’s computer as foreign, requiring
studio participants to improvise vocabularies and practices conducive to production. For
example, on one occasion when I was “comping” (compositing) a studio musician’s
performance, he requested “fade in up down yapabilirmisin?” This idiosyncratic phrase derived
from three linguistic sources: technical English as seen on the menu bar of software (fade in),
overheard English (up/down), and Turkish verbs (yapabilirmisin=can you do). In English
“crossfade” would have been technically accurate, but the Turkish phrase is more accurate with
regards to the multivalent construction of this studio moment. As a side point, this engagement
wasn’t with a material object, but rather with a massless set of digital objects (audio files, digital
signal processing operations) and their visualizations and parameterizations.
Provenance was one thing, but something that I learned from talking with two experienced
audio engineers and one up-and-coming engineer was the difference in how technology,
electronics, and computer use figured into conceptions about childhood development. Metin
Kalaç’s take was that Turkish teenagers “had football”, while American teenagers had erector
sets, electronics kits, and computer programming. My friendship with engineer/arranger Yılmaz
Yeşilyurt partly grew out of the limited number of people in Turkey he felt he could geek out
with about technological objects and their audible aesthetics; he was obsessed with esoteric and
boutique gear, and with the sound of ECM’s jazz albums and Norah Jones vinyl releases, but few
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of his peers shared these obsessions
12
. Ömer Avcı, an experienced engineer and percussion
arranger/performer (another musician affiliated with Boğaziçi University’s folklore clubs and the
Kardeş Türküler ensemble), similarly devoted much energy to the pursuit of an ever cleaner
(temiz) and shining (parlak) sound, and was learning English in order to communicate better on
web forums where Anglophone engineers chatted about esoteric summing mixers and analog-
digital converters that might help him realize this goal (he ended up getting a boutique summing
mixer made by Dangerous Music)
13
. But then again, Metin was generalizing, as he himself had
learned how to repair guitar/bass amplifiers and had maintained all the gear for the Karadeniz
rock band Zuğaşi Berepe –as well as being a proficient and knowledgeable audio engineer
(Figure 4). On reflection, I do believe that there is something in the way that some people who
work in technologically-oriented trades in the USA and UK (and perhaps elsewhere in Europe or
Australasia) can become obsessed with the technicity of the work and the aesthetics of the
technology for their own sake, and the presence or lack of this disposition does suggest one way
in which technological engagement becomes cultural. It’s when we mistakenly connect that
cultural disposition to questions of provenance (e.g. America’s culture is electronics, Turkey’s
culture is the saz), or assume that this culture of technicity (as an inheritance of Simondon’s
logic) is inherently part of American/European culture and by definition inaccessible to other
cultures, that we run into problems.
Figure 4: Metin Kalaç doing editing work in Cubase. Photo by Ladi Dell’aira.
While the preceding cultural formations pertain to categories of professionals who work
full-time in studios, another category of individual is, in effect, outside studio cultures and the
recorded music industry the soloists who appear on album covers. For productions of etnik
müzik or regional Turkish-language folk music, these individuals are often the only participants
12
Personal communication, May 21, 2007.
13
Interview, April 24, 2007
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in the session who are nominally “insiders” to the culture being represented on the album. In
talking with Ayşenur Kolivar, a former member of Kardeş Türküler who became a choral
arranger for Karadeniz albums and a soloist specializing in Hemşin-language songs and Black
Sea women’s repertoires, a problematic “star culture” of album soloists emerged in the early
2000s that constituted a major social break from the way that stage musicians once interacted
with audiences in the Black Sea Region
14
. Talking in 2006, she described this star culture as a
“foreign” import from the arabesk popular music genre associated with Southeastern Turkey
(Stokes 1992). Within studio settings, industry insiders often viewed soloists as problematic,
being uninterested in their newfound star posturing (especially the conversational topics and vain
body language), and annoyed with their lack of understanding of the work involved in making an
album from start to finish. But when Ayşenur became an album soloist herself for the production
of her debut album, Bahçeye Hanımeli (Kalan Müzik 2011), she became more aware of the
techniques used to enforce the insider-outsider dichotomy of the studio setting, as she found it
very difficult to get several of the album arrangers and engineers assigned to the project by the
label to help achieve her vision for the album
15
. As a result, despite being an established industry
insider in the studio musician role, the numerous misunderstandings that arose in her transition to
a new, unconventional role (soloist with arranger aspirations) led to numerous delays in the
production process, and a lot of the work needing to be redone.
Resituating interculturality
Thus far I have discussed interculturality in the recording studio in terms of encounters
between discrete professions engineers (local and foreign), studio musicians (string ensembles
and other instrumentalists), arrangers, soloists as framed by the divergent ways that they engage
with the materiality of the studio. In actuality, this social formation, like intercultural encounters
elsewhere emerged due to “interexperience and mutual influences” (Ottosson 2010: 277). These
cultures arose not in isolation from each other, but rather through a prolonged codependence or
intra-action. This leads me to a site-specific definition of interculturality:
[…] the interaction and intra-action of differing mantık (sense, logic) towards engaging with
the maddî (material) and manevî (psychological/spiritual/moral).
My research explored a wide array of technological engagement beyond the minimum
activities required to “use” a technological object. This ranges from attempted infrastructural
non-use (the microphone that is never moved by engineers in Stüdyo Sound and ideally ignored,
or more commonly the cables, acoustic treatments and other less commented-upon obligatory
objects that aren’t usually directly touched), to architectural/acoustical features designed to
constrain or nuance the distribution of human and non-human objects in the space (e.g. diffusors,
gobos), to those actively used (Serkan Çağrı’s embodied approach towards “playing” the mic
with his clarinet, or the very quick mouse-keyboard editing work done by engineers guided by
data visualizations). It includes theatrical use designed to thwart attempts by “non-
14
Personal communication, August 24, 2006
15
Interview with Ayşenur Kolivar and Metin Kalaç, June 16, 2011.
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knowledgeable” participants to inflict detrimental changes (e.g. theatrics around the “producer’s
knob” that is not connected to anything but that enables the producer to hallucinate their input),
to indirect use (acoustic instrumentalists adapting their performances “for the computer” who
become indirect users of DAWs), to directed use (the arrangers or studio musicians instructing
engineers to do operations on their behalf). It encompasses complex chains of simultaneous
interaction/intra-action, for example the ways particular configurations of technologies of
audition in tandem with DAWs enable studio musicians to overdub a part on top of a mix in
progress but also transform a different chain of audition happening in the control room and
provoke reactions from the arranger of the session. The widespread codification of studio roles
around normative modes of engaging with specific objects leads to situations where three or
more types of studio participants are in inter/intra-action with the very same material or digital
object in three divergent ways.
Of course, many workplaces involve differential engagements with technological objects;
this much is not surprising, even as historically the category of technological non-users has been
rarely investigated (Wyatt 2003). Therefore, I believe this definition holds within Turkey
regardless of the specific site of encounter. However, the divergent demographic backgrounds of
the participants in Turkish studios (studio musicians typically having grown up in towns far
away from Istanbul, engineers typically being working-class Istanbul “natives”, and arrangers
being of higher social classes and having developed social networks whilst they were university
students) mean that these differential engagements with technologies instantiate encounters that,
moreover, demographically defined, appear intercultural. Despite working together and
developing an idiosyncratic mode of studio discourse (Porcello 2004) which is alien to studio
“outsiders” such as album soloists or stage/conservatory musicians, this never fully erases the
cultural differences, however they are framed.
My material-semiotic approach (Law 2009) towards understanding studio work entails
ethnographic and STS methods, and a ground-up theorization of culture and interculturality that
privileges studio discourses/practices and secondarily Turkish writings on material/architectural
culture. As such, it differs from standard Anglophone definitions of interculturality, whether in
political science or music studies. Interculturalism in political science typically contrasts with
another neologism, multiculturalism, and both are framed in relation to doctrines and practices of
liberalism, thought of in demographic terms. For example, Kymlicka (1995) conceives of the
“cultural structures” of multiculturalism within Canada as consisting of three kinds of groups:
immigrant groups, First Nations indigenous peoples, and sub-state national minorities (e.g.
Québécois). Expanding on this, Meer and Modood propose that European/Anglophone
multiculturalism came to mean “the political accommodation by the state and/or a dominant
group of all minority cultures defined first and foremost by reference to race, ethnicity or
religion, and, additionally but more controversially, by reference to other group-defining
characteristics such as nationality and aboriginality” (2012: 181). In their formulation,
interculturalism is distinct from multiculturalism in its emphasis on communication (2012: 182),
and on embracing cultural diversity rather than integration (2012: 189). The distinction is in
practice quite vague (Wieviorka 2012), however, as what has become known as liberal
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Dossier / Dosier / Dossiê of Istanbul’s Recording Studios.
multiculturalism (Maciel 2014) doesn’t preclude communication or an embrace of diversity, and
it is unclear what demarcates a “successful” intercultural encounter, versus moments when
people of allegedly different cultures have “communicated”.
Within music studies, outside of music education research (Siankope and Villa 2004,
Bartleet, Sunderland, and Carfoot 2016) interculturalism is not yet widely used, although two
scholars have suggested fruitful approaches to the concept in relation to musical performance
16
.
Jason Stanyek has provided an extensive account of music-focused intercultural encounters,
focusing specifically on the interaction between different US-based minority groups in creating
pan-African jazz, capoeira, and Asian American musical aesthetics. For Stanyek, interculturality
is distinct from other hyphenated forms (multi-, cross-, trans-) in that it involves face-to-face
interaction of people, and therefore has “distinct spatial orientations” (Stanyek 2004: 10) and is
“activated… through a somatic aesthetic of co-presence” (3).
Åse Ottosson researched Aboriginal country music groups based in small Australian desert
communities that aspired to perform in larger desert towns such as Alice Springs (Mparntwe). In
her study, the inter- of interculturality referred to, beyond the experience of Aboriginal musicians
performing at the white-owned venues, the reception of and participation in these performances
by members of different Aboriginal communities, and the differing motivations musicians had
for participating in intercultural spaces which exceeded the normative discourses of
reconciliation and education. In contrast to political science formulations, here interculturalism is
“a conceptual stance that questions notions of pre-existing or fixed socio-cultural boundaries and
identity, and instead prioritises interexperience and mutual influences” (Ottosson 2010: 277).
While verbal communication is part of what happened in Alice Springs, Ottosson, like Stanyek,
emphasizes bodily co-presence within specific spaces, and occasionally notes the materiality of
encounters –both encounters deemed by some participants to be “successful” or “problematic”
(for example, the white club owners’ negative responses to one musician throwing sound
reinforcement equipment around).
While Stanyek and Ottosson are critical to an extent of the conflation of “culture” with a
narrow set of demographic categories (especially race/ethnicity), either due to the lack of
attention on the role of interaction itself in constituting bounded cultures (Ottosson 2010: 296) or
the over-privileging of “structures that are coherent, isolatable, homogeneous and stable”
(Stanyek 2004: 11), both ultimately framed their discussion primarily in terms of ethnically
defined cultures and secondarily around other aspects. In contrast, my approach to
interculturalism begins with the multiplicity of ways of interacting and intra-acting with maddî/
manevî. Where we have the most common ground is through a shared concern with bodies and
spaces and the role of bodies and spaces in constituting musical practice and cultural identities.
In my research, I have attempted to extend such questions outwards to encompass the
constitutive role of technological objects material and digital in intercultural encounters.
16
The first book-length treatment that highlights the term is Hae-kyung Um’s edited collection (2005) on Asian
diasporic performing arts, but despite its presence in the title, interculturalism is never defined in the book, and not
mentioned at all in most of the chapters.
168
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Dossier / Dosier / Dossiê of Istanbul’s Recording Studios.
Acknowledgments
I thank Ladi Dell’aira, Burcu Yıldız, Aytekin Gazi Ataş, the anonymous reviewers and
Antenor Ferreira for their valuable feedback on earlier drafts of this essay, Matthias Lewy for his
encouragement in writing this, and Agustina María Checa for assistance with Spanish-language
translations of the abstract.
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Biography / Biografía / Biografia
Eliot Bates is an ethnomusicologist and technology studies scholar whose research examines
recording production and the social lives of musical instruments and studio technologies. A
graduate of UC Berkeley (2008) and ACLS New Faculty Fellow (2010), he is currently an
Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at the Graduate Center at the City University of New
York, previously teaching at the University of Birmingham (UK), Cornell University, and the
University of Maryland, College Park. He has authored two books: Digital Tradition:
Arrangement and Labor in Istanbul’s Recording Studio Culture (OUP, 2016), and Music in
Turkey: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture (OUP, 2011), and with Samantha Bennett co-
edited the volume Critical Approaches to the Production of Music and Sound (Bloomsbury
Academic, 2018). He is also a performer and recording artist of the 11-stringed-oud.
How to cite / Cómo citar / Como citar
Bates, Eliot. 2019. “Technological Encounters in the Interculturality of Istanbul’s Recording
Studios”. In Corrêa, Antenor Ferreira and Maria Westvall (eds.). Dossier: Music and
Interculturality”. El oído pensante 7 (1): 145-171.
http://ppct.caicyt.gov.ar/index.php/oidopensante [Web: DATE].
... They would studiously look at the child's chest, turn the knob, look at the display, look at the chest, and turn the knob again. This was similar to the "producer's knob" in a recording studio, not connected to anything, that would thwart "nonknowledgeable" participants from detrimental influence (Bates 2019). In experimental situations simulating the danger of combat, those recruits who remained at their post had focused on repairing a 'nonfunctional" radio needed for evacuation while those who self-evacuated had stopped working on the radio (Berkun et al. 1962). ...
... They would studiously look at the child's chest, turn the knob, look at the display, look at the chest, and turn the knob again. This was similar to the "producer's knob" in a recording studio, not connected to anything, that would thwart "non-knowledgeable" participants from detrimental influence (Bates 2019). In experimental situations simulating the danger of combat, those recruits who remained at their post had focused on repairing a 'nonfunctional" radio needed for evacuation while those who self-evacuated had stopped working on the radio (Berkun et al. 1962). ...
... They would studiously look at the child's chest, turn the knob, look at the display, look at the chest, and turn the knob again. This was similar to the "producer's knob" in a recording studio, not connected to anything, that would thwart "non-knowledgeable" participants from detrimental influence (Bates 2019). In experimental situations simulating the danger of combat, those recruits who remained at their post had focused on repairing a 'nonfunctional" radio needed for evacuation while those who self-evacuated had stopped working on the radio (Berkun et al. 1962). ...
... They would studiously look at the child's chest, turn the knob, look at the display, look at the chest, and turn the knob again. This was similar to the "producer's knob" in a recording studio, not connected to anything, that would thwart "non-knowledgeable" participants from detrimental influence (Bates 2019). In experimental situations simulating the danger of combat, those recruits who remained at their post had focused on repairing a 'nonfunctional" radio needed for evacuation while those who self-evacuated had stopped working on the radio (Berkun et al. 1962). ...
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Like many other specialty, purpose-built spaces, we tend to think of recording studios in instrumental terms, meaning that the space is defined in relation to the nominal type of work that the space is instrumental towards. While audio recordings have been made in spaces since 1877, not all of these spaces tend to be regarded as recording studios, partly since so many recordings were made in environments designed for other types of work. Therefore, the instrumental definition of studios provides an inadequate framework for understanding what a studio is and what studios are designed to do (Bates 2012), much of which exceeds the circumscribed goal of making an audio recording. Aware that many musicians find large-scale commercial studios to be alienating (both socially and creatively), and many producers and engineers find many very famous spaces to be difficult to work in due to problematic acoustical or layout features, we should not assume that all studios necessarily fully succeed in their instrumental role, at least not for everyone involved. Instead, in this essay, extending Pickering’s call to attend to the “mangle” of practice in sociotechnical milieus (1995), and Law’s argument for bringing the “mess” back into social science research (2004), I argue that we need to understand studios as a messy and uneven entanglement between four domains: the material, the spatial, the positional, and the occupational. However, these are not discrete, separate domains, and what is so fascinating about spaces such as studios is that they are sites where we can observe, for example, the material enframing the occupational domain, and the positional enframing the spatial domain. Ultimately, studios are social spaces, the term “social” here relating to a wide variety of ways in which people interact with other people and with technological objects, and what defines the unique characteristics of a studio as a social space arises from patterned relations between these four, always entangled, domains. In other words, the physical matter of the studios, the organization of objects and people in the space, the positionality of the studio in relation to the outside world, and the way in which occupations contribute to production labor define the studio as a kind of space—and constrain the social dynamics of that particular space.
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