Music Seminar - Hearing Rural Creativity: The Idea of Anonymity in Turkey’s Folk Music

7 December 2021, 4.30 PM - 7 December 2021, 6.30 PM

Dave Fossum, University of Arizona

Online (Zoom)

This talk examines the theory of anonymous, folkloric creation that dominates Turkish musical folkloristics. After decades of media programming and folkloristic publications that romanticize anonymity, imaginings of this creative process have filtered into popular consciousness as a widespread creativity myth. Building on the semiotic anthropology of Alfred Gell (1998) and Webb Keane (2007), I argue that this vision of distributed, collective, and anonymous creative agency mediates how listeners hear and value folk music. The paper enumerates a series of ways that this creativity myth works to locate creative agency beyond the individual rural actors who produce folk music. Commentators recount elaborate narratives about the origins of folk songs, imagining the people who first spin these verses as patients of the external affective force of the events that inspire them. Much discourse surrounding folk music further asserts that it reflects the feelings and thoughts of a collective rather than expressing the artistic vision of an individual. Many Turkish listeners tend to hear in folk music not the expressions of individual performers but rather regionally distributed musical qualities that mark folk songs as the products not of authors but of geographic regions. My analysis shows how this listening positionality (Robinson 2020) orientalizes the anonymous people imagined to create folk music even as listeners identify with them. But I also reflexively examine my own hearing of folk music, according to which I have sought to problematize the idea of anonymity by valorizing individual creators or by demonstrating its ideological bias, an approach equally grounded in a specific listening positionality. 


Dave Fossum is an assistant professor of musicology at Arizona State University. He has published articles about musical creativity in Turkmenistan’s traditional music, and he is currently writing a monograph with the working title Copyright Consciousness: Musical Creativity and Intellectual Property in Turkey. 


Contact information

For the Zoom link please contact Professor Michael Ellison: 

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