We went to see the Omar Faruk Tekbilek ensemble last night at the University of Texas.
Listening to Turkish music is one of those odd habits of our middle age. There is something about it that is very Paul Bowles-ish. Bowles’ typical Westerners, nervous, intellectual, self-absorbed, and (all unknown to themselves) wrapped in such layers of babyfat egotism that they are permanently distanced from experience, usually gain experience in a sudden and fatal shock, all at once. It comes out of nowhere. It leaps at them as they become curious – for these people are always curious. In fact, they have made a virtue out of curiosity. They come from a culture in which curiosity has merged with entertainment. And experience does come to them. It comes from a sandstone landscape for which they are absolutely unprepared. It comes from a kidnapping, it comes from the collapse of all of their presumptions. It comes as a great slap from some archaic strata of being that they are unaware of – think, in fact, to have overcome by succedaneum – since their ancestors, they imagine, overcame it. And are no longer worth thinking about, having completed their task. And then the experience is there. A smelly canvas sack, the cutting off of a tongue, a branding, a selling into slavery. For Bowles’ characters, history is everything that has been put between themselves and such fates – history is the progress that has made such fates unimaginable. Progress has made a world in which all contacts are, on principle, chosen.
This world is in direct opposition to the world of fate. LI has chosen the world of choice. We are liberals, here. But we have the dialectical longing for our opposite that always appears where liberalism appears. Turkish music is the very music of the world of fate. Listening to the Faruk (a man with an amazingly broad face that he shakes so, while singing, that it seems to have become permanently wrinkled in transverse bands, instead of the usual up and down direction of wrinkling ) play the zurna, a raucous pipe that emits a sound that both mocks yearning and evokes it, it is hard not to feel that the Western form of life – that swaddled, babyish life of the mouth and the dick and the screen entranced eye -- is going to disappear. The zurna, which is short, and has a blaring, flanged spout at the end of it, seems to come to life in Faruk’s hands – to be playing him, in fact. Yes, it was as if that slightly mocking sound, that stunted, blaring horn, was possessed of a spirit that in turn possessed the player. The zurna seems to be the master – and a vaguely devilish one.