Sound Matters: The SEM Blog

The official blog by the Society for Ethnomusicology


Evrim Hikmet Öğüt – Soundscape of a coup d’état

F16 jet istanbul 7-15-2016

F-16 jet flying low over Istanbul, 15 July 2016


Editor’s note: What follows is the author’s translation of an article that appeared on 17 July 2016; the original Turkish version is here.

It was an extraordinary, traumatic 24-hour period. We do not have a full grip on the details of what happened, but it is highly possible that it will result in bringing more authoritarianism and stronger polarization, fear, anxiety, and intervention in the lifestyles of almost half of the people in Turkey, along with many other catastrophes that we fear to think and say aloud.

The oppression of the coup d’état attempt has already turned into a collective and summoned frenzy where attacks on Alevites, Syrian refugees, and people drinking alcohol outside started to occur.

There will undoubtedly be a great number of analyses of 15 July 2016 and its aftermath. My intention is not to add another one to the list; instead, I will strive to describe those 24 hours through their soundscape, which, I believe, presents highly fertile ground for sociological analysis. Some of the sounds I mention below have entered our lives for the first time and in a very striking manner, and we have been constantly talking about sounds for 24 hours whether we realize or not.

Although this time we did not see Hasan Mutlucan on the screen, and the coup did not come with the “sound of combat boots”, what heralded the events to follow was sounds. On the night of 15 July a social media post by a friend in Ankara about F-16 jets flying over the city gave the first hint of something going on. Of course, what enabled her to notice the fighter jets was the loud sound they made: a sound that we, living in the western part of the country, are not used to hearing. After a short while, upon noticing the sound of a helicopter over my apartment in Istanbul, I joined those sharing posts on social media in an attempt to make sense of the commotion outside.

As the night went on and the sounds of the coup become varied with sirens, ambulances, clashes and blasts, these sounds enabled us to learn about what we could not see as well as bringing forth the emotions of surprise, fear, and anxiety. For us, the newest and the most striking one was possibly the explosion-like noise coming from the jets that break the sound barrier—a sonic boom.


Jets and sonic boom


The opposition to the coup did not stay silent during 15 July and its aftermath. The strongest sound against the coup attempt came from mosques. From mosques, which use the ezan (adhan) sound to designate the spatial limits of their community, this time came the sala to invite the citizens to the streets. The sala, which serves to notify the community of an all-concerning event in an Islamic context, was used in line with its purpose, defining the ideological content of the news as well.


Sala and bombs


In addition to the sala, untimely ezans and announcements inviting people to reclaim the motherland, posts indicating the recitation of the fetih sura and other parts of the Quran from different mosques—even a call for jihad from a mosque in Ikitelli—circulated on social media.

While citizens responded to the call by taking to the streets chanting the tekbir and slogans, the oppression of the coup instigators started to be celebrated with honking, the salavat, the Turkish National Anthem and the mehter anthems coming from cars. (Mehter music is an incredibly influential tool for the current government in shaping the space of public struggle.)


Salavat and tekbir


Our conversations, which incessantly continued in both public and private spheres, constitute another auditory aspect of this 24-hour period. That the conversation among children playing in front of my apartment focused on the opposition between the soldier and the police indicates the reach of vocabulary and the world of meaning surrounding the coup.

Sounds/noise play an influential role in creating a space of public struggle and strengthening the hegemony of both the government and the opposition over masses, regardless of their ideological orientation. Sounds are far more effective than verbal expressions in their appeal to the collective memory and ability to reach across wider space. Thus, while reading 15 July through sounds, we should keep in mind that neither the choice of these sounds nor their impact on us is coincidental.

No coup attempt brings democracy. The idea that a coup attempt can be oppressed by public reclamation of democracy, and people’s own willpower, is important. However, the fact that this willpower in the current example is far from a real, all-encompassing discourse of democracy emerges as a startling reality.

If we describe it through sounds, the mehter music and the audioscape of the street protests in the aftermath of 15 July point to a cultural and historical context that is far removed from providing democracy for us (as phrased by by Erdoğan Aydın in the TV program Türkiye’nin gündemi on 16 July). We do not have the option of leaving the demand for democracy to these sounds and giving up the struggle for making ourselves heard. That is, we have to speak up.


Istiklal Avenue on 16 July (includes mehter music)


Evrim Hikmet Öğüt earned the Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at the Centre for Advanced Studies in Music (MIAM) at Intanbul Technical University with the dissertation “Music in transit: Musical practices of the Chaldean-Iraqi migrants in Istanbul”. She currently works as a teacher and research assistant at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University. Her website is here.

Catherine Grant – “They don’t die, they’re killed”: The thorny rhetoric around music endangerment and music sustainability


In a recent edition of the SEM newsletter, Robert Garfias reflected on the issue of music endangerment:

[L]ike biological diversity, species are disappearing, languages are disappearing. And in a sense cultures are disappearing. Every few years some­body dies who was the last person who knew how to do something or other; the last person who did this or the last person who knew this tradition dies. And when that species dies, you can’t reconstruct it, you can’t bring it back. So I’m concerned about the things that are being lost forever. . .it’s terrible to lose something. (in Rice, 2014, pp. 7–8)

As the viability of music genres features increasingly as a topic for (applied) research in our discipline, it is important to keep a close eye on the way we characterize the issue. The words we choose—the rhetoric, the metaphors and analogies—reflect and reveal certain values and assumptions, and for this reason warrant careful consideration. Perhaps even more critically, they affect whether and how we take action against a perceived threat to, or loss of, music genres (for example by supporting communities to reinvigorate intergenerational transmission, secure funding, grow governmental support, or engage the media or music industry).

To begin, consider how linguists talk about the parallel problem in their field: the threat of extinction, within this century, to fully half of all the world’s 6000+ languages (Crystal, 2000). Language endangerment is a term—and a concept—so widely accepted that it refers to a whole sub-discipline of sociolinguistic research.

The rhetoric and the metaphors get significantly more uncomfortable than that. Some of them are shocking, like the terms language death (e.g. Crystal, 2000), language suicide (e.g. Beck & Lam, 2009), language murder, and language genocide (both Skutnabb-Kangas, 2000). When these terms are employed, they are used in an effort to convey strong messages about the agency and urgency of the problem of language loss. “I cannot regard people being coerced—no matter how subtly—into abandoning their languages as anything other than a form of violence”, writes David Harrison. “It represents an erasure of history, of creativity, of intellectual heritage” (2010, p.177).

Arguably, if (as Harrison believes) even subtle coercion is an act of violence, then failure to respond where a response is possible could be considered complicity in violence. This is as true of musical as it is of linguistic expressions of culture. Communities can undoubtedly be coerced—however subtly—into abandoning their music practices, and power imbalances (such as those arising from the ongoing effects of colonization) are a major force in the viability of music genres too. In a TED Talk on endangered cultures, Wade Davis reasons, “It’s not change or technology that threatens the integrity of the ethnosphere [“the myriad cultures of the world”]. It is power, the crude face of domination” (14:50-15:54).

Wade Davis on endangered cultures (click for transcript)

Yet far from using terminology like genocide or death, ethnomusicologists still tend to be uncomfortable with even the rhetoric of endangerment or loss: it’s too romantic, too colonial, too Eurocentric, too paternalistic (Grant, 2014, pp. 3-4). Perhaps the specter of “salvage ethnography” (Calhoun, 2002) looms large when, anxious about having such charges laid against us, we revert to talking about “change”, or find other ways of speaking about (or around) the problem.

But while loss is indeed a kind of change, speaking in such terms fails to fully acknowledge that specific traditions are simply no longer being practiced, against the will of the communities concerned. Nor does it adequately acknowledge the crude face of domination, or the grief of individuals and communities at the loss. As Ampush (Lucas) Ayui Chayat puts it: “If I lose my culture I’m no longer Achuar”.

One kind of rhetoric critiqued at length in our discipline is that of UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage and the concomitant notion of safeguarding it. As Jeff Todd Titon and various others have convincingly argued, such terminology, while it has its uses, embodies and invokes a defensive and preservationist approach to music genres.

More aligned with current ethnomusicological understandings of the way music works is the rhetoric of ecology and sustainability (as reflected in the Garfias quote opening this post), which has been very useful to our discipline, as Titon’s blog makes abundantly clear. Among other things, it reminds us that the maintenance of culture is a matter of future justice, of responsibility to next generations. Schippers (2015) argues in favor of the term music sustainability, which he believes “has the best chance at transcending ‘tradition under siege’ associations”, suggesting as it does “a more gentle process” playing on music genres.

The video for the SoundFutures research project draws on the ecosystem metaphor to argue for the need to support music sustainability

But what of those cases where the process is anything but gentle? Where cultures are indeed under siege? The years of war and oppression under the Taliban; the devastating ongoing effects of colonization in Aboriginal Australia; the genocide in Cambodia (1975–79), when an estimated 90% of artists were killed and 50% of musical traditions were lost?

Sok Duch_22-02-13 copy

Master-musician Sok Duck, 87 years old and one of the very few artists to survive the Khmer Rouge regime, continues to make efforts to pass on his skills to younger-generation Cambodians.

Photo by the author, February 2013

In these cases, sustainability may still be a useful concept through which to gauge the various complex factors at play. But categorically avoiding terms like endangerment, loss, or extinction downplays the harsh realities of force, coercion, violence, power, and domination acting on many genres. Worse, it may also fail to mobilize action in the way that using stronger language could.

What would it mean, for example, to talk about the genocide or murder of music traditions? Perhaps most of all, such language would underscore in no uncertain terms the agency at play in many situations. Anthony Seeger is one of very few ethnomusicologists to use courageous language like this to speak about issues of sustainability: in his words, many traditions “don’t die, they’re killed, in a sense, they disappear for a reason—they’re disappeared.”

In a lecture at UCLA on February 22, 2012, Anthony Seeger talks of music genres “being disappeared” (from 1:16:50-1:18:16). Audio from Ethnomusicology Review (Vol 17, 2012).

I am not necessarily arguing for our adoption of terms like music death, extinction, or genocide. There are indeed problems with this rhetoric too. Some linguists argue that such forceful terms, applied to languages, “make it too easy to blur the difference between language shift and violence. This either makes the former seem worse than it is, or cheapens our moral language for talking about the latter” (Levy, 2003, p.230). Another problem with these terms is their finality; even if music genres are no longer living traditions, the existence even of a single recording leaves open the possibility of revival at a later date, as various recording repatriation projects have shown.

Instead, what is needed is greater acknowledgement in ethnomusicology of the reality, seriousness, urgency, and agency of the problem facing many communities trying to keep their music practices strong. Careful choice of rhetoric will go far here, because “naming realities is owning them” (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2000, xxxii). In situations where it is more appropriate to talk about endangerment than change, for example, let us have the courage to do so.

Only once we ethnomusicologists fully acknowledge—in our language and in fact—the real and imminent threat to many music genres across the world will we be impelled to mobilize consolidated local and global action in collaboration with the communities directly affected, as linguists have done for around a quarter of a century now.

Catherine Grant

University of Newcastle, Australia


Beck, David & Lam, Yvonne. (2009). Language loss and linguistic suicide: A case study from the Sierra Norte de Puebla, Mexico. In Sarah Cummins, Brigit Janoski, and Patricia A. Shaw (eds.), All the Things You Are: A Festschrift for Jack Chambers, 5–16. Toronto: Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics.

Calhoun, Craig J. (2002). “Salvage ethnography”. In Dictionary of the Social Sciences. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 424.

Crystal, David. (2000). Language Death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Grant, Catherine. (2014). Music Endangerment: How Language Maintenance Can Help. New York: Oxford University Press.

Harrison, K. David. (2010). The Last Speakers. Washington, DC: National Geographic.

Levy, Jacob T. (2003). Language rights, literacy, and the state. In Will Kymlicka and Alan Patten (Eds) Language Rights and Political Theory, pp. 230-249. Oxford: Oxford University Press .

Perley, Bernard C. (2012). Zombie linguistics: Experts, endangered languages and the curse of undead voices. Anthropological Forum 22(2): 133-149.

Rice, Timothy. (2014). Robert Garfias interviewed by Timothy Rice. In SEM Newsletter 47(4), pp. 1-8.

Schippers, Huib. (2015). Applied ethnomusicology and intangible cultural heritage: Understanding “ecosystems” of music as a tool for sustainability. In S. Pettan & J.T.Titon (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Applied Ethnomusicology, pp. 134-157. New York: Oxford University Press.

Seeger, Anthony. (2012). “What is it all for? Applying Scholarship Outside the Classroom: Indigenous Rights, Archiving, Folkways Records, and Professional Organizations“. Lecture at UCLA, February 22, 2012.

Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove (2000). Linguistic genocide in education – or worldwide diversity and human rights? Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Titon, Jeff Todd. (2008-2015). Sustainable music [blog].

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Ana Hofman – SINGing, SOCIALizing, SELForganizing: An insight into an engaged Viennese music collective

It is the evening of 11 December in Vienna’s 15th district, and I am sitting with Jana, Lejla, and Šarlot, eagerly awaiting the screening of a documentary about a unique community choir on the occasion of its fourth anniversary. We are in Brunnengasse, known as a migrant district of Vienna, at the AU Gallery, which is starting to crowd with men, women, and children of all ages and various ethnicities, all of them warmly greeting each other. In this setting, through the documentary and a public rehearsal that soon began, I became acquainted with a most interesting Viennese singing collective, the 29th of November Choir. Vienna is a city known for its music, and one can expect many different musical networks, organizations, and professional bodies. And yet the choir members, many of whom I met at the documentary screening, do not perceive themselves as musicians at all. Rather, they claim radical amateurism, musical self-education, and self-organization. Why?

hofman 1Performance of 29th of November in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in support of Asylum seekers, 3 October 2012

An experimental sonic collective

Members of this self-labeled “punk choir” use collective singing to “shout” social problems, “scream” social anger and discontent, and “give voice” to those who are suppressed. The choir cherishes a diverse repertoire including partisan songs, worker songs, revolutionary songs, pop music and folk pieces from former Yugoslavia, as well as the so-called repertoire of the “global left”–the most popular songs of various social movements ranging from the Spanish civil war to recent social movements.

The choir was created by Saša and Alexander, both second-generation Viennese-born Yugoslav gastarbeiters (guest workers; a full definition is here). Its name was chosen to mark the founding date of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which symbolically associated the choir with both the legacy of socialism and the Yugoslav idea.

Initially founded as a short-term artistic project dedicated to the neglected histories of guest workers from the former Yugoslavia, the choir has grown into a self-organized music collective with international membership and a strong dedication to self-learning, street performances, and flash mobs. The choir practices a strong inclusiveness in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, language, and musical genre.

While from the very beginning the repertoire did not consist only of the songs from former Yugoslavia, as the Austrian members were joined by ones from other parts of the world (such as France and Ghana), it became even more internationally oriented. The members will say that they perform in “various languages and constantly expand the repertoire,” as stated in the promotional video Bastards of Yutopia, which displays their goals and portrays their main activities–debates, rehearsals, and performances.

Bastards of Yutopia

None of the members have musical training or previous singing experience (with the exception of the conductor and most recent member to joined the choir, Jana). The internal structure of the choir does not imply fixed membership, but rather one that is relational and fluctuating. As a collectivity, it is characterized by temporal discontinuities–some singers reappeared after having been absent from rehearsals for weeks, months, or even years; others appear only at performances.

That non-centralized and self-organized nature in which music is a central link in new forms of organization, socializing, and decision-making is also visible in the fact that anyone can join the collectivity at any time and “everyone chooses his/her own level and intensity of involvement. Still, there is always a danger of transforming it into a more structured organization or disappearing,” Milan explains. The choir thus embodies the potential for sound itself to increase the ability for individuals to act collectively, also through the specific productive instability associated with the temporal nature of both the collective and its sonic actions.

In their undertakings, the choir members employ the generally rediscovered social and political productivity of utopia and the politics of hope. Particularly in the case of migrants from former Yugoslavia, it serves as an outlet for therapy and healing, enabling singers to legitimize their emotional continuity with the personal and historical past. The members of 29th of November mobilize the unique power of the sonic collective to promote idealism and believe in a better world as a “utopian rethinking of art’s relationship to the social and its political potential” (Bishop 2010: 3).

Radical amateurism

Could this singing collectivity in its very existence be a seed of a new society? Or, to put it in Angela McRobbie’s words, are these just glimpses, flashes, cracks, or moments within a landscape of capitalist domination, which entails new levels and forms of submission (McRobbie 2010: 70)? We should not forget that the potential of arts for social engagement has also been recognized by stakeholders, and contemporary forms of capitalist organization also demand cooperativeness, participation, creativity, and other practices of communal work (Gill and Pratt 2008: 19).

Yet what differentiates the 29th of November is their practice of radical amateurism with an emphasis on self-emancipation through musical self-learning, which is both a politicized strategy and a kind of existential experimental practice. The members share a common goal of resistance to the contemporary mechanisms of the privatized and deeply individualized, consumerist, and professionalized music industry by offering an alternative audio-social networking. Such radical amateurism is rooted in Rancière’s concept of self-education as an important vehicle of emancipation (see his “The ignorant schoolmaster”). Employed as a counter-response to market-led democratic individualism, the choir promotes the idea of abolishging art itself through practicing the loss of individuality as an attempt to argue an anonymous subjectivity that draws its capacity from the paradoxes of what political art should be in global capitalism.

For that reason, I believe that the potential of this choir should be considered in all possible experiential registers of the radical amateurism that it promotes. In their case the process is far more important that the outcome or impact; producing temporal socialites through music and sound is a contribution to rethinking the conservative idea of politics in favor of the little affective powers available in everyday life (Bertelsen and Murphie 2010: 139). The choir’s performances thus not only increase the capacity to act in the actual world, but also open up a wedge into an alternative ethic of living as a vision of a self-sustaining society of cooperation and solidarity, making room for new political forms that produce new distributions of power. This singing collective thus can be seen as one of a number of experiments of effective togethernesses (Stengers in Thrift 2008) that are currently taking place, aimed at disrupting given spatial and temporal arrangements and new political forms in this post-liberal moment.

Ana Hofman

Slovenian Academy of Science and Arts

More about the choir:

FB profile:


Short visual biography:

Story of Jana, the new conductor (in Serbo-Croatian):


I am thankful to my dear colleague Dave Wilson for English proofreading and the anonymous reviewers for their useful comments and insightful suggestions.


Bertelsen, Lone and Andrew Murphy, 2010, “An Ethics of Everyday Affinities and Powers: Félix Guattari on Affect and the Refrain”in The Affect Theory Reader, (ed.) Melissa Greg and Gregory J. Seigworth, Duke University Press, pp.138 – 157.

Bishop, Claire, 2012, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, New York: Verso.

Gill, Rosalind and Andy Pratt, 2008, “In the Social Factory?

Immaterial Labour, Precariousness and Cultural Work,” Theory, Culture & Society December 2008 vol. 25 no. 7-8, 1-30.

McRobbie, Anne, 2010, “Reflections On Feminism, Immaterial

Labour And The Post-fordist Regime,

Nigel, Thrift, 2008, Non-representational theory: space, politics, affect, New York: Routlegde.

Rancière, Jacques, 1991, The ignorant schoolmaster: five lessons in intellectual emancipation,Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

Ana Hofman received her PhD in ethnomusicology from the Graduate School for Intercultural Studies at the University of Nova Gorica, Slovenia. She is associate researcher at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research of the Slovenian Academy of Science and Arts in Ljubljana and a lecturer at the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Nova Gorica. She is currently a visiting fellow at the Centre of Southeast European Studies at the Unviersity of Graz.

Her research interests include music in socialist and post-socialist societies with an emphasis on former Yugoslavia; music and cultural memory, music and gender; and applied ethnomusicology. She has published numerous book chapters and articles, and in 2009 and 2010 she was a co-editor of the International Journal for the Euro-Mediterranean Studies. In 2011 she published the monograph Staging socialist femininity: Gender politics and folklore performances in Serbia (Balkan Studies Series, Brill Publishing), which was translated into Serbian in 2012.