Balat from a balcony


Soundscape is sea gulls, conversations, and cutlery

For our stop in Istanbul, let us enter the city through its soundscape. In this city, where "remains of a glorious past civilization are everywhere visible," history is constantly being reconstructed and reimagined, and the beat of the past is present in every current harmony.

As Orhan Pamuk describes, let us imitate the "rich, westernized, secularist families" who "light a cigarette, give their attention to the music on the radio, and return wordlessly to their inner worlds" (185). We can put ourselves in the mindset of hüzün– "a melancholy that is communal rather than private"– as we sit in our armchairs, browse the soundbytes, withdraw within ourselves, and only in this way truly experience the transcendence latent in the sights and sounds of the Istanbul (89).

Balat is described by The Guardian as "Istanbul’s new creative hub retains Ottoman flavour." Similarly, Gencebay is widely known for bringing Ottoman arabesque musical tropes to Turkey, though he was portrayed in Fatih Akin's "The Sound of Istanbul" documentary as trying to resist that reduction of his music. Indeed, the degree to which Istanbul reclaims "the East" or emulates "the West" is a recurring contention in this particular straddling city largely influenced by the West's Orientalist constructions.

The queen of Turkish pop, Sezen laid the groundwork in the 70s for an endemic version of the genre that stars like Tarkan have since built upon. As an LGBT and women's rights activist, Sezen is at the thick of Turkey's identity politics.

An Istanbul travel guide instructs us to drop in on the "Golden Mile" stretch along the Bosphorus for the hottest nightlife in the city. Tarkan, a world-famous Turkish pop singer, will be sure to have at least one song pulsing on the dancefloor.

Along the Bosphorus, the Cihangir Mosque faces the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (or Blue Mosque), and the two calls to prayer often occur simultaneously, a naturally stereophonic harmony. Other sounds of the city also filter through; my friend's annotations in his copy of Pamuk's Istanbul tell us about "Maroon 5 blasting outside a Cihangir window @ 11pm."

The following exhibits feature timelines that capture the polyphony of memory and culture resonating through various sites of the city.

"When he hears the happy roar of the current and notices with apprehension the gleaming white foam that seems to have come from nowhere... he cannot help but wonder... whether the Bosphorus has a soul" (56).


Girl in front of blue door


A photo of the Bosphorus and the Cihangir mosque included in Pamuk's Istanbul