Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Men with mustaches

Lazar Radak
13" x 9.5", oil on wood, 2014

Mukim Tahir Oturan
12" x 6.5", oil on wood, 2014
The wonderful thing about the research in the music of the past, and the research of music from far away places is that one is confronted with a humanity that is so strange yet so familiar. Considering the now widely accepted assumption that people from long ago and far away places had the same mental capacities than we have, it tells us a lot about our own identity. Through otherness, or through negation, we can see a more completed picture of what it means to be a creative human being. We can see historical connections and understand better how the culture is evolving. In the arts we conclude now that the work that was made 40,000 years ago in caves in France, Indonesia, and Australia, was as cognitively advanced as what is produced in the present. Music is more difficult because recordings only go back a little over a hundred years. Music notation has been around longer but not nearly to extent that we witness in visual art. We have to do with approximation then, which gets harder and harder in the current global culture. There is however a wealth of historic recording that provide a glimpse into what music could have been like ages ago. Early ethnomusicological recordings document societies that did not have contact yet with western civilization and whose music, it can be assumed, was relatively unchanged throughout the centuries. Early recordings also bear witness to a fast vanishing oral poetry tradition. The music and poetry from the more remote areas of classical Greece, such as Macedonia, that tradition was alive well into the 20th century. An insight in the workings of oral poetry provides invaluable information for the ongoing debate of originality, authorship, copyright, and plagiarism in western discourse. Listening to oral poetry performed by Balkan musicians strikes a chord of timelessness into the listener. In a similar vein it explains the durable character of old blues recording (that also stem from an oral tradition). The two men with mustaches depicted here come from areas with a long Grecian tradition. Macedonian Lazar Radak performs an epic poem in the Homeric tradition accompanied by the customary one-string gusle, while Mukim Tahir Oturan hails from Şanlıurfa in Southeast Turkey. His music stems from ancient Islamic traditions.

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