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  • Digital Tradition: Arrangement and Labor in Istanbul's Recording Studio Culture by Eliot Bates
  • Brian Karl (bio)
Digital Tradition: Arrangement and Labor in Istanbul's Recording Studio Culture. By Eliot Bates. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. 344. Paperback $24.95.

This ambitious monograph succeeds in covering a lot: the development of multiple Turkish popular musical genres through much of the twentieth century; a close look at cultural values, social interactions, and aesthetic outcomes in digitally-based recording studios in Istanbul in the early [End Page 1000] twenty-first century; phenomenological studies of computer and audio recording technology use; and glimpses of Turkish ethnic political relations through the lenses of all of the above.

The author effectively deploys multiple overarching framing devices, including the central one of the book's title: that developing versions of "traditional" musical products have been innovated through new digital means of audio recording and editing, enabling a "cut-and-paste" methodology where musical fragments can be intensively rearranged—with resultantly shifting aesthetic values. Thus, the creation of "ethnic" music in the popular realm in Turkey in recent generations, while drawing on some musical elements of established customary use in certain locales, is as much dependent on arbitrary choices of other musical practices integrated into composite productions by professional studio practitioners. Bates advances other writers' notions about technologies' mediations of musical production: notably Porcello's considerations of audio recording phenomenology during an earlier analog era.

"Arrangement" in the book's subtitle signals multiple meanings, including the manipulation of preexisting musical material which comes with nonmusical associations related to region and ethnicity, but also the importance of the musical arranger in these late modern cultural processes. Bates points to how—as much or more than any other figure of cultural production in the Turkish ethnic musical realm (e.g., composers or musicians)—the arranger plays a key social as well as technical function in resolving both which musical elements and which musical performers will be brought together.

This primary thematic concern comes along with other, less-recurring but often analytically useful terms and concepts. "Latency" is one especially generative notion the author proposes in tracking "lags" across different domains—from historical cultural values and social negotiations to cognitive psychology to the physics of temporal duration in translations from acoustical to analog electrical to digital signals and back again. These phenomenological considerations are finely articulated, though some other theoretical threads trail off after their introduction in the earliest chapters.

Ethnographically well-founded, given the author's unusual degree of embeddedness in the contexts of his study, the text contains a number of shorter anecdotal instances of practices by musical practitioners, though there are few sustained ethnographic narratives. Musical reception is left as a vague, under-examined issue.

The book provides detailed accounts of twentieth-century Turkish musical folklorism and subsequent digital recording praxis as developing sets of ideologies and institutions throughout the Republican era, ultimately determining recording industry aesthetics in the late modern era. Some close attention to extended performance techniques and customizing of traditional musical instruments precedes more substantial examples of [End Page 1001] how digital audio workstations changed compositional practices and creative roles among musicians, arrangers, and engineers.

References to "leftists," gender bias, ethnic relations, and other politics ultimately offer little about the stakes for either individual musicians or other Turks. One highly questionable overreach occurs in the suggestion that music played a major part in attracting masses both to the 2007 funeral of assassinated Armenian journalist Hrant Dink or to the 2013 public occupation of Gezi Park.

There are detailed accounts of some Turkish musicians, but the sometimes-summary references among a welter of different musical actors can be confusing: e.g., the initial understated introduction of the influential group Kardeş Türküler. While a glossary of Turkish terms helps, the occasional introduction without explanation of musical terms and highly region-specific musical instruments—e.g., usul or çiftetelli—sets up a challenging mode for less knowledgeable readers. Musical analyses are well done if somewhat erratically introduced. The influences of musical cultures from outside the Turkish nation are mostly left unexamined.

The book represents a wide range of ethnicities and "arranging" of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1097-3729
Print ISSN
0040-165X
Pages
pp. 1000-1002
Launched on MUSE
2018-12-19
Open Access
No
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