The soundscape of Istanbul is a relief to discover. To close one’s eyes from their frenetic, but overwhelmed speculation of the urban landscape and open the ears, refreshed with an intuitive lease on the specific.
The banks of the Bosphorus rise steeply here and the road we’re on is the busiest pedestrian street in Istanbul with an estimated three million people wandering its length of shops on a weekend. At this point it’s more like an open topped tunnel reverberating with voices, shoes on stone and construction noises, a surface effect, flattening out its tones, occasional subtle depths.
Above in the sky and rooftops the layering of sounds is altogether different. Swallows ping in a ranging space, large gulls gliding or standing on chimneys push out a goose like tone, and the family of sparrows in a hole in the opposite wall chirp like a static receiver.
Ten days in the city have left me somewhat stunned. The churn of daily life, old ways, new conditions, swollen feet and immense activity everywhere that creates an almost somnabulist will to walk. But it’s not an effective exercise of discovery in the urban replication. It simply makes one too tired to do anything but take in the ambience and sometimes this is the more effective interactive register.
I’m thinking about what I’ve been receiving from the things we’ve visited recently and what appreciation I can make of them. Yesterday’s walk to the Chora Church is a case in point. Chora means outside, it was originally outside the city walls, but is also thought to refer to Mary as the container of the uncontainable. It’s a small brick and stone building developed around a central dome. In the gentle interior light one picks out frescoes and mosaics made in the Byzantine period. After looking at them for some time I became interested to see how I might understand El Grèco better in the light of this his native style.
Most of the imagery is not on flat walls. It doesn’t present with the clarity of a single viewing position but forces one to twist and crane under arches, across angle adjusting spandrels and modelled domes. The painters and mosaicists abruptly ended scenes according to these forms. Adjoining scenes are visible hovering in space and the architecture almost camouflaged by pattern, line and colour.
What’s produced are sculptured juxtapositions of weight and shape out of which the symbolic illustrations such as Jesus lifting Adam and Eve from their caskets take on a probing specificity. They worked on me because of the scale which I couldn’t reduce to a single speculative gaze, but which required smaller additive glances leaving me with a residual effect.
My appreciation of El Grèco is by a similar separation of parts as if, like closing the eyes, I am looking at /listening to truly separated things and engaged in parsing them together.