Recollecting a Shared Polyphony – Interview with Diana Abbani and Yektan Türkyilmaz

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics: Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the EUME workshop, “Recollecting a Shared Polyphony: Popular Culture, Media Technologies and Heritagization of Music across the Mediterranean”, which will take place at the Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin, on 23-24 January 2020. We talked to the conveners, Diana Abbani (EUME Fellow 2018-20) and Yektan Türkyilmaz (EUME Fellow 2017-21) about the upcoming event. More information on the workshop, including the full program, can be found here.

You are the organizers of the workshop “Recollecting a Shared Polyphony” that will take place at the Forum on 23-24 January 2020. How did you come up with the idea for this event?

Coming from different disciplinary backgrounds, we share a deep interest in the emergence of recording technologies in the Eastern Mediterranean. We both have the desire to explore the far-reaching implications of this forgotten media revolution that promptly spread across the globe around the turn of the 20th century. Our interest in the topic is indeed not only about history but also about our contemporary times, as the appearance of shellac music discs in this period had fundamental and long-lasting consequences up until our day. Among other things, recording technologies have helped to create a sound archive that has been repeatedly reinterpreted, muted or selectively recollected by state authorities, by musicians, by collectors and by the culture industries vis-à-vis their changing agendas. So, it would be appropriate to suggest that our research projects inevitably engage with the issues of cultural politics, memory-making and heritagization.

On April 4-5 2019, we held out first workshop where participants debated the social, cultural and political impacts of emergent media technologies in the Eastern Mediterranean cities during the first half of the twentieth century. More specifically, during this gathering, we discussed the changing role of music in reshaping – even creating – the public space, as well as how people historically approached the music industry and sound technologies. After this workshop, it was clear for us that we needed to investigate broader methodological and conceptual horizons to address the transregional, inter-disciplinary and contemporary implications to the study of music. This week’s workshop, thus, is a follow-up convention that aims to explore the limits and opportunities of recording technologies. The panels will envisage and deliberate on alternative approaches to researching, archiving and curating the East-Mediterranean audio-repertoire – alternative approaches that would facilitate interconnected, accommodating and democratic representations of a polyphonic shared heritage. We hope that this upcoming workshop, which brings together researchers with different interests in geographic area and time period, and coming from different academic backgrounds, will be another important step towards developing a multi-perspectival understanding of the century-long struggles for cultural and musical heritagization in the region of the Eastern Mediterranean.

In the call for papers, you say that the workshop aims for an archaeology of sound recordings. What can sonic artifacts and sound archives tell us about the history of media and societies?

Sound recordings have neither disseminated only music, nor were their influence limited to their respective music scenes. Indeed, audio recordings provide invaluable material for researchers in all fields of humanities and social sciences. This repertoire plays a particularly key role in understanding social history, as it provides a detailed depiction of everyday encounters, changing cultural tastes and the transformation of music scenes, as well as offering alternative sources, that is, musical and/or oral narratives, on social conditions and political developments. In other words, sound recordings allow us to carry out a genealogy of various ‘musical traditions’ in a Foucauldian sense, that is, in a fashion that renders unexpected (dis)junctures, (dis)continuities and confluences audible. Hence through the prism of the recording we see heritagization not only as an effect of music-making itself, or of its circulation and mediatization, but also as a process shaped by ideological interventions, authoritative blueprints and transregional contact. Thus, a sonic history-writing, which looks at society through the very materiality of the music record, enables us, as researchers, to make new connections and incorporate new narratives. Further, the historical audio repertoire displays the ways in which musical heritages have been sustained, muted or interrupted. In short, it is our conviction that the audio turn expands opportunities for reframing music, society and politics.

Ultimately, our study of the processes through which recorded sounds as artefacts were approached, conceptualized and represented, could also offer ways of rethinking everyday material culture and the cultural history of the Eastern-Mediterranean region. This will enable us to revisit the experiences of unheard voices marginalised by official narratives.

What are the perspectives that will be discussed during the workshop, and what would be an ideal outcome?

Our major perspective is to think of new methodologies and ways to address and read the sound archive, and to hold engaging discussions about music, heritage and digital humanities, examining the major question of what is worthy of being remembered. We are particularly interested in addressing the use of recording technologies today, tackling the questions of how to preserve, digitalize and remember it, how to engage a wider audience in this intellectual approach to it, and how to create histories from it.

The emergence of commercial recordings was a global revolution with profound implications. In this respect, we hope to contemplate on an interconnecting methodological ontology that would inform archiving practices. That is, we aim to critically rethink intellectual and political efforts of collecting and curating audio materials, in order to appropriately capture transforming local imaginations, conceptions and experiences, and the idea of musical creativity, and its transmission and mediatization, as well as the broader global network and conditions that were both the condition and an effect of this revolution. In short, this workshop will also be a venue to engage in a dialogue about alternative, inclusionary and participative approaches to heritagization.


Diana Abbani received her PhD in Arabic Studies from Sorbonne University with a dissertation entitled “Music and Society in Beirut during the Nahḍa Period”. She holds an MA in History from Sorbonne University and an MA in Political Science from Saint Denis University, Paris. Her work focuses mainly on the social and cultural life in the Levant, particularly on Beirut, at the turn of the 20th century. In her dissertation, she draws a social and cultural history of Beirut’s musical scene in the first quarter of the twentieth century. She offers a historical rethinking of the cultural and musical history of Beirut by looking at the relation between music, technology and society through the analysis of a set of primary sources. During the academic years 2018/19 and 2019/20, Diana is a Fellow of Europe in the Middle East – the Middle East in Europe (EUME), a research program of the Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien, and associated with the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies at Freie Universität Berlin.

Yektan Türkyilmaz received his PhD from the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. He taught courses at University of Cyprus, Sabancı, Bilgi, Duke, and California State Universities addressing the debates around the notions of collective violence, memory making and reconciliation, and politics of music. He is working on his book manuscript based on his dissertation, Rethinking Genocide: Violence and Victimhood in Eastern Anatolia, 1913-1915, that addresses the conflict in Eastern Anatolia in the early 20th century and the memory politics around it. He has been a 2014/15 EUME Fellow and returned as a EUME Fellow for the academic years 2017/18, 2018/19, and 2019/20.


Citation: Recollecting a Shared Polyphony – Interview with Diana Abbani and Yektan Türkyilmaz, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 20.01.2020, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/21680.


You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.