Artists in Conversation:Bilen Işıktaş

With the ‘Artists in Conversation’ series drawing to a close, its fifth and final instalment, featuring Oud-player Bilen Işıktaş, took place on the 28th July 2020. Moderated by Rachel Beckles Willson, who is also an oud-player and researcher, this talk garnered interest from across the UK. This series was jointly organised by Yunus Emre Institute in London and Leighton House; and aimed to introduce and promote traditional Turkish arts to the British community.

Işıktaş attended Istanbul Technical University’s Turkish Music State Conservatory, reading Musicology and Musical Theory. Here, he claims he not only tried to develop as an artist but worked into discovering the inheritance left behind by the great masters. He stressed his admiration for the musical masters he studied, citing their importance and influence on his own work as well as the music passed down generations.

With a thesis title ‘Şerif Muhiddin Targan: Modernisation, individualisation and virtuousness relationship during the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic‘, Işıktaş completed his PhD in 2016 but his exploration into traditional Turkish music was not close to finished. Alongside attending a number of symposiums across the world, his research stretched across the realm of music, from the sociology of music and the effect of modernisation on music to Ottoman/Turkish musical change.

Işıktaş went on to detail his musical pursuits outside his research. Delving into, for example the 3Dem Ud Trio, the band he formed with Bekir Şahin Baloğlu and  Dr.Sami Dural, as well as releasing his album, ‘Geç’. With his passion for traditional Turkish music evident, he talked through some his performances and detailed the musical events he attended across the globe including Belgium, UK, France, Holland, Germany, Italy, Macedonia, UAE, Chili, Indonesia and South Korea. He even spoke on his performance for Yunus Emre Institute in Malaysia where he stressed the importance of heritage continuation.

Ever active in his field, Işıktaş  talked through some of his achievements over the past decade, mentioning, for instance, coming second place in the international Oud playing competition run by Arab Academy of Musical and the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (USEK) based in Beirut in 2009. He also showcased his books by reading short passages of “The Travels of Letters and Sounds in the Soul: Mehmed Âkif Ersoy and Şerif Muhiddin Targan” and “The Prophet’s Genius Grandchild: Şerif Muhiddin Targan, Modernisation, Individualisation, Virtuousness”.

Before ending with a soulful performance,  Işıktaş briefly talked through ‘maqam’, a system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic and Turkish music. He spoke of the history and heritage of Turkish traditional music focussing on the cultural cross-pollination between Arabic, Persian and Turkish music. He touched on Turkish traditional music’s wealth of history, stressing how each oud-player will improvise but still remember and make use of what was passed down from the masters stretching back to the 16th century. As each artist in the ‘Artists in conversation’ series alluded, Turkish Traditional arts are culturally rich and complex, meaning there is always more to learn and explore. These five talks were to introduce Turkish traditional arts to people across the UK, to stoke the fires of curiosity within people and open the gates towards more cultural exchange and cooperation.