Can Atilla recounts the story of İstanbul with ‘Golden Age’

I thought this was interesting. Not listened to much of his music but this one is a You Tube hit.


Finally, the much-anticipated moment has arrived for fans of Can Atilla this week. The prolific symphonic new-age musician whose name has become synonymous with the historic image of İstanbul has this week released his newest album “Altın Çağ,” or “The Golden Age.”

The 40-track double-CD “Altın Çağ,” the 15th album by Atilla, follows in the footsteps of his Ottoman Trilogy, made up of the albums “Cariyeler ve Geceler” (Concubines and Nights, 2005), “1453 — Sultanlar Aşkına” (For the Sultans’ Sake, 2006) and “Aşk-ı Hürrem” (The Love of Hürrem, 2007).

Like Atilla’s previous albums, “Altın Çağ” is inspired by and recounts an earlier period in İstanbul’s history, as its name suggests — the early years of Byzantium, the time of the construction of the Hagia Sophia, for example.

But the songs on the album also make “many references to the contemporary musical life of modern İstanbul,” says Atilla in an interview with Today’s Zaman. “This is the most comprehensive album that takes İstanbul as its subject matter. Thirty different stories are told in 30 different tracks on the album,” he says.

“There’s a secret bond between the past, present and the future in the album; indeed, this bond is the language of my music,” the 41-year-old Atilla explains. “I composed all the themes which influenced me a lot and which I could turn into music for this album, and there came out an album which lasts for more than two hours.”

As a contemporary musician, Atilla’s stance — in terms of themes — has always been a little bit closer to history: history almost breathes in Atilla’s music and thanks him for being recalled in the millennium. “I’m always interested in ancient history and the past,” says Atilla. “You can find photographs, documents and some objects related to recent history but the ancient history includes some advantages, especially in terms of artistic possibilities: sometimes the imagination is engaged, sometimes an album can be created out of the story of a war. Ottoman and Byzantine history and particularly İstanbul include a vast pile of material, events, personalities and stories to be turned into art. And this has always influenced me.”

Folkloric Turkish songs, Rumi and many other elements of Turkish culture have been themes for Atilla to reinterpret, but İstanbul undoubtedly has a unique place for him. “What I like about İstanbul are all the structures and history related to the past. You sometimes forget to look, to notice the city you live in because of the daily rush but sometimes a different outlook can see the same things in a clearer, different and deeper way. When you try to look at İstanbul through the eyes of foreigners like Pierre Loti, you might think you were living in another city. I have always felt İstanbul to be a more mystical and mysterious city than it seems.”

“‘Altın Çağ’ is a concept album like [my] other albums,” explains Atilla. “In terms of musical integrity, I have used some pieces from my previous albums with new arrangements. The arrangements are far more modern now.”

A grand musical ensemble accompanies Atilla on this album. “There’s a 30-strong group of soloists,” says Atilla. “Most of them are playing authentic Turkish musical instruments. Besides the musicians with whom I’ve been working on the previous albums, there are three violoncello soloists, two oriental violinists, a muezzin and two rock guitarists.”

“These ages are the golden ages because these civilizations and ages created today’s İstanbul,” indicates Atilla, explaining why he has taken into consideration the eras of Byzantium, Genoa and of Sultan Fatih. “I believe that these were the real golden ages of the city. Today İstanbul attracts the interest of the whole world and is significant because of what these civilizations contributed to the city.”

Apart from the musical pieces, the video clips of Atilla are well worth watching: Every one of them is a film-like, epic story accompanying the music. “In fact, all the video clip songs are like a kind of summary of the entire album,” says Atilla. “Actually, when I’m working on the album, I prepare the video clip songs in a way that gives an idea of the rest of the album. Thus, a person who has never listened to the album can get an idea of it by watching the video clip. But not only the video clips — all the pieces on all the albums have a story. I think music must open a door to the unknown. You must present new lives to your listeners. When I’m working on my albums or when I’m composing, I usually decide on the subjects first.”

In this regard, the first video clip is for “Yıldızların Kulesi Galata” (Galata, the Tower of Stars). “Galata Tower is one of the most remarkable buildings with its unique aesthetical architecture and its history,” says Atilla. “Galata Tower has a very important place in the album. In the video clip, the building process of the tower and the stories of all the civilizations related to the tower are narrated. And Ayça Dönmez, who does the vocals on all my songs, sang the song.”

More than music

“I never considered what I do solely as music,” notes Atilla. “In our country, a rather popular and commercial meaning has been imposed on music. For me, in order for music to be accepted as an art form, it has to influence and trigger other branches of art as well. I’m aiming to reveal a curiosity for the unknown rather than raising awareness.”

Trying to lift the veil on the unknown, Atilla always tries to learn more and more about history. “If I’m ever unsure of what I’ve read, I consult historians,” he says, explaining how he prepares the conceptual background of his music. “When I’m in the preparation process of the albums and, of course, even before that process, I research and delve into the subject thoroughly in order to be able to choose the best and most suitable themes for my music. And for that, I make use of anything: books, research, theses, documentaries…”

So, it is not hard to guess that all this effort is not just for entertainment. “Of course, I also consider the cultural message,” Atilla emphasizes. “My works are the products of a modern, classical and contemporary composer. The booklets inside the covers of my albums include all the information in English as well. The previous albums and ‘Altın Çağ’ will be released in all European countries soon.”

“There’s a very wide audience listening to my music,” he says. “Different types of audiences, those of classical music, opera, Turkish music, Sufi music, rock, jazz and world music listen to my music, and this is a good thing because it is hard to address different musical tastes with one thing.”

Summer concerts

“We are now planning concerts, even tours,” says Atilla, “but performing my music on stage requires high-technology, and this necessitates serious work in terms of finding suitable concert halls. There are some places that we are currently making decisions about, so there will be concerts in the summer.”

Atilla is a hard-working musician. Apart from the album, he is working on different projects. “I’ve just completed music for the plays ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘A Place in the Middle of the World,’ which are being staged by the İstanbul Municipal Theater. Currently, I’ve been working on the music for a theater piece named ‘Cervantes in Katalina Sultan,’ a co-production between Spain and Turkey, which will be staged on June 31 in İstanbul. In addition, I’ve been working on the music for a great dance project named ‘Türkler’ (Turks) organized by the Fine Arts General Directorate of the Ministry of Culture. The project is about the whole Turkish world, from shamans up to the present, and will be performed in May.”

First published in Today’s Zaman

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About proverbs6to10

Interested in Byzantium and Patrick Leigh Fermor
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