Memories of Istanbul

German Documentary Unearths Turkish Musical Treasures

by Brett Leigh Dicks

When Alexander Hacke arrived in Istanbul to produce the music
for Fatih Akin’s acclaimed film Head On, he had little idea where
this cinematic journey would inevitably lead. Least of all did he
expect it to take him back in the city and place him in the midst
of another film. But as the famed bassist from German
proto-industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten leads the world on a
magical exploration through Istanbul’s rich musical landscape in
Akin’s new documentary Crossing the Bridge, we discover that just
like this musical maverick’s own wanderings, Turkish music is also
oblivious to political and cultural borders.

Did you have much experience in Turkish culture prior to
working with Fatih Akin?
I was born and raised in Berlin
Neukölln, which is the largest Turkish community outside of Turkey,
and I had the illusion of knowing something about Turkish people
and culture. But when I arrived in Istanbul I soon realized that I
really had no idea.

What was your first reaction to Istanbul? It
was certainly a cultural shock. It’s a very inspiring place as
there are so many different ethnic groups there. The city is
boiling with different influences and it’s very culturally fertile,
but there’s a great respect there and that’s what this movie is
trying to show.

What were some of the musical surprises for you in
Crossing the Bridge?
The real surprises actually came from
who recommended whom. It was astonishing how someone like Sezen
Akzu is respected by experimental rock bands or how somebody like
Erkin Koray — the grandfather of Turkish rock music — is referred
to in such high terms by hip-hop musicians. There is a great sense
of solidarity in Istanbul between musicians of completely different
backgrounds and social standings.

Is that because music is so apparent within Turkish
Music has a different value. It’s such a big part
of Turks’ heritage and culture in a much more direct way. I can’t
talk very fondly about German folk music. But that music has
influenced American music in a big way and comes around to me
through that. And music is such a huge part of people’s everyday
lives in Turkey. They buy music like we buy milk and bread.

In emerging from West Berlin during the ’80s, I imagine
your experiences in Istanbul were far removed from your own musical
West Berlin was a little village that was
completely removed from the rest of the world. It was very removed
from reality, while reality is very apparent in Istanbul. West
Berlin was more like being on an oil drilling platform than being
in a city. It was a vacuum. And when you ignite a spark in a vacuum
you get an explosion. People would invent a band and tell everyone
about it before they could play instruments. So people were running
around striking matches and trying to create their own cultural

Your latest recorded undertaking — Sanctuary — is
something of a musical journey, too, I understand?
I took
the same portable recording equipment that I use for the movie and
traveled the world visiting musician friends. I tried to make a
record like a road movie. I would go from place to place and record
with musicians and in between I would rearrange and destroy-process
the recorded material. Italian pop singer Gianna Nannini plays with
the New York free jazz percussionist Michael Evans, while on the
same song there is feedback guitar from metal legend Nils Wohlrabe
from The Leather Nun. Like Crossing the Bridge, it too is about
cultural clash.

4•1•1 Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of
screens at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Wednesday, April
12 at 7:30 p.m. Call 893-3535. Sanctuary is out now on San
Francisco’s Koolarrow Records.


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