Sidika Özdil

Posted on February 6th, 2010 by

Sidika Özdil-Winter Ceramics (extract)

Live Performance Ankara 2002
Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin
Aaron Shorr-Piano
Whole work. Live performance, Esekeshir (rough audio rip from VCD) 2002

Playing 'Winter Ceramics' (Kashihi attached) at the Brighton Soundwaves Festival. 2007. Photo: Richard Bram

Aarton Shorr prepares to play Winter Ceramics. Photo: Richard Bram


Sidika Özdil
Aaron and I were wondering around the Pozar at Bursa. I noticed that the stalls were piled high with sultanas, spices, peppers, herbs, tea, indistinguishable from those thousands of miles away, at the other end of the Silk Road, in Urümchi. Bursa, the western end of the Silk road, was the Ottomann Empire until 1402, when it moved to Adrianople, or Edirae, for fifty years until Mehmet completed the great drive to the west with the conquest of Constantinople and the final humiliation of Rome. Music was emanating from between two sculptural vegetable stalls, where fiery chillis, green and red, vied with radiant oranges and lemons in towers of vertiginous pigments. ‘Try! Try!’ called the proprieters, pressing the ‘Bursa Sandwich’ on us, which neither the eponymous Earl nor his feckless followers in business suits wouod recognize, consisting of a dried fig squished between  two dried apricots. We were gradually laden down with saffron, rose-petal infusion,  lime, camomille, henna, chilli paste and powder, oregano from Mount Olympus, which towers over the city. But the music remained a powerful magnet and we went int. In a smoke back room in a dark corner of the Pozar, a group of older man were sitting singing, smoking and playing musical instruments. The melody that floated out on the morning breeze was a mournful one, and the all the men hummed, nodded, and sung along to the playing of two Saz,the traditional Turkish lute, or clapped their hands like the flapping of the pigeons in the kulliye at Seyitgazi.

Sidika with Students and the Heichele piano. RAM Photo: Richard Bram

We went in an introduced ourselves. I simply  had to try the instruments and find out why such a plangent intonation emanated from them. ‘ I am a violinist, teach me how to play’, was greeted with slaps on the back and we were waved to chairs in the middle of the charmed circle of music.

In the previous few days, we had been playing S?d?ka Özdil’s surrealist fantasy ‘Kis Ceramiki’ all over Turkey. In fact, it turned out that we were the first foreigners to ever play a complete recital of Turkish music in Turkey. S?d?ka’s piece completely redefines the sound of our duo. The violin is played with kashishi, in folk-like microtones in wild extremes of colour and piled up, expressionist chords. One of the movements ends with the violin bowing the bottom string of the piano, tremolo, which results in not only a bizarrely ghostly sound, but also an oddly disconcerting visual effect.. After playing the piece for a number of years, I came to find that with the lightest of bow strokes, I can keep the longest string on the largest pianos humming for minutes, using far less articulation or force than would be necessary to produce a sound on the violin.

Seyit Gazi 2003

We played ‘Kis Ceramiki’ to a large group of music students in the conservatoire in Ankara. The Ankara Conservatoire was actually founded by the German composer Paul Hindemith in collaboration with S?d?ka’s teacher Adan Saygun, and Bartok served as an adviser when he visited the conservatoire soon after its foundation in 1936.  Despite these origins, contemporary music has all but vanished from the students’ consciousness. When I pressured them to tell me why this might be, some of them said that they found new music confusing.; certainly a moot point.

However, it was clear, from the moment that I began to play them a section of S?d?ka’s piece, the second movement, which begins with the pianist banging out a rhythm of 5’s and 3’s inside the lid, with pencils, that this was music with which they could identify. The composer cross-rhythms with which Stravinsky anointed the western avant-garde in 1913, not only had their source in ‘Eastern Music’, but are fundamental to it, just as the 2-4 rhythm of the march is fundamental to the north. Danish audiences retain this sensibility. If one plays them something vaguely militaristic, such as the Verbunkos, the ‘Recruiting March’ from Bartok’s ‘Contrasts’. And their feet and heads will begin to nod and audibly tap in happy recognition. Applause always morphs into rhythmic clapping, exactly together, at exactly quaver equal to 180 beats per minute. The Ottoman armies did not march, for all of the martial ferocity of their music, but swayed ; the rhythms in the blood of the Turk are the eastern, Slavic, Circassian, the compound swirlings of Le Sacre du Printemps.

Recording with Sidika 2002 Ankara

The rhythms that S?d?ka’s piece hammers out, echoing around the cavernous pedaled spaces of the piano, are the stamping of Turkish folk and pop music. When I asked the students what else they understood in the piece, they uniformly responded Maccam, the mode. Despite S?d?ka not having used one recogniseable folk melody in the piece, her home audience were receiving clear emotional, maybe even narrative symbols from her choice of mode. I wrote in my diary:

‘Every Turk that we meet talks about the moments of recognition when listening to new Turkish cmusic; even if they feel that they do not understand the piece, whatever thay means, they are hyper-aware of the modes, rhythmns and melodies of their own folk tradition). For some reason, I was peculiarly aware of this whilst playing the the Tura sonata yesterday, and found myself working conscientiously to present the melodic material in as direct a way as I could, so as not to ‘get in the way’.

This all became clearer when I sat down with the musicians in the Pozar at Bursa. One of their number seemed particularly keen to meet me: ‘ I am a violinist too…if you can play the violin, then you can play the Saz. ‘ He handed me long necked instruments and a plectrum. The Saz iw strung with wire strings grouped in pairs, like a mandolin, tuned in unison. Colin Huehns, the Royal Academy of Music’s resident Erh? ‘guru’, pointed out to me that the move from organic to metal strings in the 20th century western music was mirrored by like technological developments in eastern instruments. Traditionally, the Erh? would have been strung with woven silk, which, whilst light on the fingers, is almost impossible to tune exactly. Perhaps the Saz on the most westerly reach of the Seidenbahn had also originally been strung thus. However, its similarity to the Neapolitan mandolin gave me a moment’s pause. At the end of the 18th century, the great Mandolin virtuosi, in particular Beethoven’s friend Krumpholtz, were already stringing their double-strung lutes with brass; perhaps the introduction of wire strings also came to the Saz at around about the same time.

Like the Mandolin, the Saz proved to be a fretted instrument, but there the fascination increased. A western fretted instrument be it a viol. A lute of guitar is most normally now fretted in half-steps or semi-tones. It was immediately apparent to me that the frets of the Saz were somewhat subtler, laid out in a manner which would certainly tend to circumscribe the music. The frets are laid out alternating between the normal western ‘semitone’ and microtones, an approximate division of the semitone into roughly approximated to ‘quarter-tones.’  However, to my ears, these divided intervals sounded a lot more ‘colourful’ than that. So the long fingerboard was divided up thus; semitone, quartertone, quartertone, semitone, quartertone, quartertone and so on.

We talked about the song that the men had been singing, whose mournful character had been drifting round the market for the ten minutes previous. ‘ Ah, but this is the Sabah Maccam. It tells the story of a man who is in love with a beautiful girl. And she, you know, she is very much in love with him too. But his family will not allow him to see her, never again, and she is to be married to someone else. So he sings, the sad young man, of how terrible it is to be far from your love, and to know that you can never be together again.’

‘Teach me this tune,’ I asked. The happily acquiesced, and we talked about where best to strike the strings with the plectrum, and whether my left hand should go over the frets or next to them. Eager hand pushed my suddenly clumsy fingers into the right places on the neck. I was surprised at the large distances it was necessary to cover in order to achieve a change of pitch on this relatively high instrument; in order to play the Sabah Maccam, whose range is at most a sixth, my hand had to traverse the entire length of the neck. The men smilingly began to singthe mode of Sabah to me, and I groped all around the elegant instrument like one newly blind, and completely hobbled by the necessity of using the plectrum.

However, it was immediatelt clear to me that a tune, and the tune’s meaning, its story, were most closely tied up with the particular mode ot music itself. Anyone hearing such a mode, whether or not is be used melodically, in the the context of any piece, if they know the mode’s original allusion, will have a dialogue with the Urmeinung imparted, whether it be in agreement or counterpoint with the modern usage and context.

S?d?ka’s piece also uses quarter tones, which she expresses as the note ‘ between’ two semitones, rather than an actual pitch. As ,my clumsy fingers notated the neck of the Saz, I began to feel fantastically inept, especially surrounded by these relaxed guys singing and smoking. It dawned on me that for these musicians, the quartertone, is not a narrow interval, and it would be ridiculous to refer to it, as we often do in the west, as an inflection. For the singing, non-notating musician, intervals are simply as long or as short as they are, and seen thus, on the long neck of the ‘Turkish Lute’, they seem to be far from exotic, but the everyday part of an everyday language, along with the glasses of tea and the tobacco smoke.