Emin Yağci: Tulum A Sound from the Black Sea Turkish musical Traditions by Emin YageiBy:
The tulum of North East Anatolia is a drone-less,
double-chanter bagpipe, equipped with single
reeds. The identical chanters are of reed cane
each with 5 finger holes. They lie parallel in a
wooden yoke (usually of boxwood) terminating
in a straight sided rectangular “bell”. Each pair
of holes is covered by a single finger, allowing
both chanters to be played in unison, or, by cov-
ering just one of the pair, a double stopping ef-
fect can be achieved. In a typical performance
the melody constantly shifts seamlessly between
unison and harmony. Some players “prepare”
their instruments by stopping one or more of the
holes on one pipe with wax, which gives rise to automatic double stopping when certain fingers are lifted. In the most common arrangement of this type the top 2 holes of the chosen pipe are blocked. In the right hands music performed on instruments prepared in this way can appear dazzlingly virtuosic.
One such pair of hands are those of Emin Yağci, a very well known tulum and kemençe player from Rize-Pazar, one of the most important musical centres of the Black Sea Region. This album, which was released in March of this year, forms part of a col- lection of Turkish Music recordings on the Felmay label. The sleeve notes state that the album has been made from a musicological standpoint and as such it occupies a happy middle ground between field recording and commercial folk release. It is shame given such a standpoint that the organological details contained within have suffered so much in translation and are at best confusing and at worst misleading.
It is difficult to avoid using superlatives when describing this wonderful collec- tion of traditional songs and dance pieces performed on tulum, kemençe, voice, saz and percussion, where ten tracks featuring every possible permutation of this ensemble are bookended by two stunning tulum solos. The opening piece is a beautifully restrained, melancholy, yet arresting improvisation. On the second track we are treated to a song from Çamlihemşin-Rize, a call and response between tulum and voice, with davul ac- companiment. The call and response structure is executed in the style of a biniou and bombarde performance in that the tulum plays constantly, whilst the voice sings only alternate phrases; what is remarkable here is that Mr.Yağci performs the vocal line whilst using the air he has accumulated in the bag during the previous phrase. Track 3 opens with a short but intricate saz/davul introduction, displaying the sensitive virtuosity of the e two musicians which is evident throughout the album. By the fourth track we are introduced to the final member of the ensemble, the kemençe, a three string bottle shaped fiddle. There are just three tracks where the tulum is replaced by its bowed sister. These two instruments are finally heard together in the penultimate track, a truly intoxi- cating combination.
Music from this region is characterised by asymmetric time signatures such as 5, 7(3,2,2) and 9 (2,3,2,2 and 2,2,2,3) all of which are represented here, along with more regular pulses (such as 4) and improvisations of a free rhythmic nature. Structurally the pieces are often composed of short traditional melodic cells which are used as building blocks for a larger melody. In performance an improvisational style of composition is sometimes used in which the choice of cells and indeed lyrics are instantaneous. Though it is difficult to say whether any of the pieces here are truly spontaneous, the sleeve notes suggest that much of the material has been arrived at in this way.
It is impossible to select specific highlights from this consistently rewarding al- bum, in which there is so much to recommend. All the instrumentalists on this recording display a very high level of musicianship endowing it with a true sense of ensemble. The production is clean and tasteful, whilst the variety and structure of the album as a whole take it well outside the realms of a purely musicological document, to create an album that is as exciting and moving as it is informative and fascinating.