Lost And Found
koyumuze ve yasanmazligimiza" (Let's go back to
our village and our lifelessness) wrote Ilhan Mimaroglu
in one of his articles. He didn't return to Istanbul
and his new autobiographical book is anything but lifeless.
This year will see a series of performance, conference
and exhibitions in Istanbul to celebrate his artistic
career spanning 75 years. We salute Ilhan Mimaroglu
with the following interview that was conceived and
realized in New York at the turn of 2001.
recent autobiographical book (backcover):
" I've Born, I've Saw, I've Passed, I've
MIMAROGLU (photo by David Gahr)
Midtown Manhattan. To many people it epitomizes what
New York is all about with its lavish shopping stores,
larger-than-life Broadway musicals, astral tower buildings
and surreal Times Square. On this chilly pre-Christmas
day, notwithtstanding all the shopping frenzy, I make
my way to the Western side of the City, the district
awkwardly called Hell's Kitchen. I'm meeting Ilhan Mimaroglu,
the eccentric personality with a handful of different
business cards: Mimaroglu the composer, Mimaroglu the
writer, Mimaroglu the radio program producer, Mimaroglu
get one thing straight from the start: I'm not here
to interview him. He objects one-on-one interviews,
and rightly so, for her wants his comments to be published
as is. Therefore, he only accepts written interviews.
I had heard about his modus operandi before, so tonight
I'm only taking my distilled prejudices with me. This
is a pre-arranged meeting through a mutual friend, a
kind of a meet-n-greet, though not with your average
rock star. To meet Mimaroglu, someone who strayed away
from conventional thinking, is a treat for me, to say
not at home. His wife Gungor Hanim ushers us into her
studio and serves us tea and gorgeous pistachio imported
from Turkey. The view is breathtaking. In the midst of
high rises decorated with sporadic lights that are at
par with background props for late night shows, I feel
like I'm in a movie or on the set of the David Letterman
Show for this matter. The bell rings, Mimaroglu arrives.
He's sporting navy blue All Star Converses that strike
me at once. Gungor Hanim briefly introduces us. He takes
out his Lucky Strike and lights a cigarette, one of his
delights, perhaps not so Turkish. As the ethereal smoke
of his cigarette joins our conversation, so does his presence.
Mimaroglu was born in 1926, during the turbulent yet soaring
years that marked the beginning of the young Turkish Republic
founded in 1923. He studied at the prestigious Lycee of
Galatasaray and later attended law school in Ankara. He
began his career as a radio program producer and writer/critic
in 1945. He was first invited to New York in 1955 by the
Rockefeller Foundation and took classes at Columbia, primarily
in musicology under Paul Henry Lang and Douglas Moore.
A few years later he returned to New York to establish
residence and further his studies in electronic music
at the Columbia - Princeton Electronic Music Center. Throughout
his career in electronic, he worked with world famous
composers Edgar Varese and Vladimir Ussachevsky, whom
he cites as his mentor. He worked at public radio WBAI
New York for seven years producing electronic music programs
with a political and social twist. He is also recipient
of the Guggenheim Fellowship.
We go over the questions, he picks on a few and contemplates.
I am beginning to think this interview will not happen.
Fortunately, he says he'll send in his answers. Not too
long thereafter I get them. As I look at his responses
I feel like I have found something I lost, but strangely
Photography by Ilhan
MIMAROGLU, New York City
You were educated at Galatasaray and went to college in
Ankara. Can you take a step back in time and describe
us the kaleidoscopic environment of the day and your circle
- A step back in time will not lead me to my days in Ankara.
Therefore memory has to serve to write a history book
on a period of nearly fifteen years of my life in that
city, a project I am not ready or willing to undertake
at this time, regardless of the fact that I do not own
a kaleidoscope. As to my friends (and acquaintances) there,
their names would read like a list of missing persons.
- Your latest album Outstanding
Warrants contains early electronic sounds that
sound dated in today's age of technology. Haven't you
had a chance to record these compositions with more
refined/updated sounds or even with an orchestra, which
would have been very expressive and expansive?
I have dated them, so they are dated. If they also
sound dated, then I am in good company. Those with ears
that want "more refined/updated sounds" will
just have to walk away. Doing them again with an orchestra?
That would be like asking a painter to notate his paintings
for orchestral performances.
- What kind of reactions did you get for Outstanding
- The reaction I got for
Outstanding Warrants consists mostly of well-intentioned,
encomiastic reviews, the majority of which written quite
- What is your theory on music? How do you conceive your
bedrock of listeners?
- There have been (and still are) numerous theorists of
music. I have no intention of joining them. Bedrock' meaning
'lowest or bottom level,' I do not find anybody there.
- Do you think 'musique concrete'
is still relevant as it was in the 50s and 60s?
- Musique concrete and electronic music are one and the
same thing. Its relevance is for those who are in the
- Are you catching up with the latest developments in
music, more specifically a variety of derivatives of
modern electronic music such as IDM (Intelligent Dance
Music) and Ambient whose creators cite Stockhausen,
Cage and Glass as their influence?
- Leaving aside very many ballet scores of the past and
the present (inclusive of electronic music for dance),
which are indeed intelligent in various degrees, what
I have been hearing all along in the field of dance
music can be termed as MDM, moronic dance music, that
is. As such, "intelligent dance music" is
a typical contradiction in terms and its relevance to
electronic music is beyond my comprehension.
the matter of pronouncing the names of those three composers
in one breath, if I had tried to do that I would suffocate
and spit out Philip Glass.
- Where do you see electronic music in 50 years time?
- Having no oracular pretensions, I do not try to see the
future of electronic music.
- Are the any composers or albums that have influenced
- I wanted to steal from this composer or that, from this
album or that, but, as the Turkish saying goes, he who
steals a minaret must prepare a suitable cover for it.
The task was too much for me, so I gave up.
- Are there any new generation Turkish composers that
have impressed you?
- I had the occasion of hearing the music of Tolga Tuzun
and was most favorably impressed.
I have been hearing all along in the field of dance
music can be termed as MDM,
moronic dance music, that is.
doesn't speak so often, it seems his subtle cynicism
silently speaks instead. When he does, his subdued voice
fills the space, roaming in the form of perforated bubbles,
while the repercussions echo in our heads. Gradually,
we metamorphose into the thick residues of his MO.
explained to him that this interview will be published
on the Internet he gets uncomfortable. "That's
a problem," he says emphatically. He dislikes the
Internet claiming that it holds too much information
and that most of them are in books already. He points
out that if you misspell a web site address that you
will not be taken to that site, whereas snail mail with
a slightly misspelled address still makes it to the
right place. He eventually agrees, and that's how this
lost and found interview surfaces.
You also worked as a producer at Atlantic Records. Could
you tell us more about your work there and your relationship
with the Ertegun brothers?
- I spent nearly thirty years of my life at Atlantic.
To tell about it calls for another history book, again
a project I cannot undertake. In short, I recall my
years at Atlantic most positively, inclusive of my work
with Nesuhi Ertegun in particular, and also with Ahmet
- When did you found Finnader Records? What was your
goal and what is its status today?
- It was in the early seventies that I started Finnader
Records with an LP of my electronic music, and continued
throughout the years, primarily with recordings of contemporary
compositions (including my own), with a view also to
offer to the public performers who should be better
known, among which Turkish pianists Idil Biret and Meral
Guneyman. Finnader does not exist today.
- How many records have you released so far? Are they
- Listing all the LP's and CD's of my music is to no avail,
because they are not available, except the last one,
Outstanding Warrants CD, which can be ordered
directly from Southport, 3501 N.Southport, Chicago,
thing I learned at Law School was that I would obey
only laws I could have made myself.
This applies to my music, too.
- You have been using three different mediums for
your creative output. Visually your photographic work,
sonically your electronic compositions, and literally
your writings. What was the drive behind these three
different avenues of creation?
- Everybody does something and many do more than one thing.
Beyond that, I never gave any thought to what I am doing.
- What is your starting point when you want to give
your creative output a tangible form?
- Simply to start, then continue, and finally conclude.
Have you ever thought of exhibiting or publishing your
- Projects of exhibiting my photographs never materialized.
As to publishing them, a book is supposed to come out
in Istanbul within a few months.
- Can you tell us how long it took you to write your
new biographical book?
- Having overlooked to take notes when writing my new
biographical (actually autobiographical) book, I cannot
say how long it took me to write it, nor when I started
writing it. Same goes for my two previous books in similar
veins. They all are not entirely retrospective, but
become so once what's not retrospective is written.
That is, once the day it is written becomes a day past.
You majored in law. How would you describe the interplay
between law and music (provided there is one)?
- One thing I learned at Law School was that I would obey
only laws I could have made myself. This applies to
my music, too.
- You shared the same art circle with names like Laurie
Anderson and Nam June Paik in the 70s. Are you still
in touch with them? What do you think of the art world
vs. the music world?
- In the mid-seventies a French painter, Jean Dupuy (another
missing person today) organized in Greenwhich Village
a series of events he called Grommets, consisting of
"simultaneous art performances." To one of
the events I contributed an electronic composition.
Today I am not in contact with the artists you named
or the others who participated in the said events.
to your question on "art world vs. music world,"
while the two worlds are not "versus," i.e.
against each other, there seems to be a virtual impasse
including myself, are certainly not under control."
- When did you settle down in New York? What was the
situation like then in Turkey?
- I first came to New York in 1955 on a Rockefeller Fellowship,
then in 1959 on my own to settle down here permanently.
Although, previously, I had never thought of living
in any country other than my own, it was the Menderes
years in Turkey and things were getting worse and worse.
Menderes is no more, but the downward trend continues.
Would you agree with some people that you have a very
pessimistic point of view?
- The world we are living in is like a ship sinking in
a bottomless sea. This is not a pessimistic viewpoint,
but only an observation of a basic fact.
How do you feel about the most recent events and the
disclosure of Islam extremism seen from the eyes of
the Western media?
- Whether it is Islam or any other, all religions are domains
of the devil.
- Once you've stated that your existence is justified
having written Utopia. Can you elaborate on that? Ursula
LeGuin believes "Utopians are under control."
What is your take on the notion of Utopia?
- Having written about an ideal society the way I conceive
it justifies my existence more than anything else I
did. Utopians, including myself, are certainly not under
control. If they are, then by whom? Who's afraid of
a Utopian? Furthermore, any Utopia is unrealizable and
that's why it is called Utopia. Incidentally, who is
What is it that you dislike about the Internet? What
do you think of the fact that you are an electronic
music composer and the medium itself is electronic?
- In this world of cyberspace calamity, we now have Khyber
Pass calamity over again.
question urged me to write a book on computers. It will
be a funny book and I shall not have to try to be funny.
All I have to do will be to transfer information from
any computer book or dictionary. For instance, what
does this mean?
It means "I'm Charlie
Chaplin". No, I'm not joking. Just look it up.
Internet? Isn't that what's amidst the worldwide spider
- - - - -
Who is Ursula LeGuin?
Science-fiction and fantasy novel writer Ursula
LeGuin, (born in Berkeley, CA in 1929) have won
a wide audience, especially in the late 60s and
early 70s with truly amazing novels such as "The
Left Hand Of Darkness", "The Dispossessed",
"The Earthsea Trilogy" and "The
Lathe Of Heaven". In her science fiction
she examines contemporary problems by restating
them in terms of other imagined worlds, such as
the possibility for perfect anarchic society and
life in an androgynous world. LeGuin is also the
author of a fantasy series for children has received
many awards, including the Boston Globe-Hornbook
and the National Book Award.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Mrs.
Gungor Mimaroglu and Ms. Bircan Unver, without whose
help this interview would have not have happened.