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Entries in Turkey (3)


Istanbul's Spice Bazaar

In October 2011, I went on a trip to Turkey and brought along some field recording gear to capture some of the sounds of the country.  I have already blogged about recordings of paramotors at The international Air Games in Ölüdeniz, as well as the Islamic call to prayer.  This post is going to be about the Spice Bazaar located in downtown Istanbul.

The "New" Mosque is on the left and the main doors to the Spice Bazaar are on the right.

Istanbul is an old city, something North American's can have a hard time wrapping our heads around since our historical landmarks pale in comparison.  The building containing the Spice Bazaar is part of the large complex of the Yeni Mosque.  This mosque is known locally by the colloquialism "The New Mosque", because there are so many much older mosques in the area.  Construction on this "new" mosque began in 1597.  1597!  That's 23 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock...... and that's the NEW mosque! 

The construction of the Spice Bazaar began in 1597 and continued until it was completed in 1664.

Bazaars are some of the main pulls for tourists in Istanbul, imagine a high end flea market housed within a 400 year old building and you start to get the idea.  The Grand Bazaar is the busiest and most famous and is impressive in its size and diversity. Yet I much preferred the Spice Bazaar.  It is much smaller, maybe one tenth as big as the Grand Bazaar, and also feels a bit less like a tourist trap.  The Grand sells everything under the sun in its massive maze of shops, while the Spice Bazaar concentrates mostly on edible delights.  My favourite part was the amazing colours of all the various foods, spices and powders for sale. 

The people working in the shops had a schtick where they would try to guess where you were from, based on your accent.  I was consistently asked if I was American, and they were always disappointed to find out they had not guessed correctly, and I was Canadian.  When one of the sellers did guess Canadian I had a weird national pride well up and I ended up purchasing some snacks from the fellow.  They were very delicious, as was everything purchased at the Bazaar.  

Another interesting ploy that is used to keep you from moving on to the next shop is free tea.  Each shop will try to get you to accept a free turkish tea, or apple tea, to drink while you look around.  Since each shop is not much bigger than a small bedroom, once you accepted a tea you were in for the full pressure sales pitch as there was no where to hide.  The tea was made somewhere in the bowels of the old building and at the push of a button, in a few moments a boy would come flying out of the hallway with a tray containing little glasses full of tea for you.  These tea boys were very entertaining to watch as they navigated the busy halls at rapid speeds balancing the hot beverages.  I was constantly expecting them to crash or slip and send scalding tea all over an unsuspecting tourist, but these kids were pros and never spilled a drop. 
This is an example of the kind of tray the tea would be carried on through the busy corridors of the Spice Bazaar.
Another thing very different than in North America is the lack of music in every shop.  I was shocked to find the Spice Bazaar had almost no music playing in any of the stalls and shops.  This made for the possibility to record a great clean ambience of the environment.  So I got out my Sony D-50, with the rycote grip and windjammer, and did some semi-stealth recording.  Although the Bazaar is under a roof, the large ancient doors are left wide open and the wind can blow softly through the long halls making a windjammer handy to have.  I got a few strange looks as I roamed around with my recorder, but for the most part no one paid me any attention at all.
Along with me for this trip was my wife, Ehrin Albright, who was diligently snapping off some fantastic pictures with her camera.  Instead of just posting an audio clip with the ambience I recorded of the Spice Bazaar, I made a slide show of her photography.  Having it play alongside my ambience recording, it will also ba a virtual tour of the Spice Bazaar.  
There are a few places in this recording where you can hear glasses rattling, that is the sound of the tea boys whizzing past with the trays full of hot tea.  Also keep an eye out for the "Turkish Viagra" which we were told was a walnut & date based, all natural erotic stimulant?!?!  
Take a look and a listen:



Sounds of Istanbul: Call To Prayer

This  is the second in a mini-series of posts covering sounds I recorded at various places in Turkey in the fall of 2011. Check out the previous post to hear my recordings of para-motorists in the coastal town of Ölüdeniz.

Toronto, the city I call home, is always boasting that it is the most multicultural city in the world. Just about every country and culture lays claim to it's little section of the city. For instance, I live in Greek Town... which is just north of Little India and to the west of Little Ethiopia. In fact, in 2006 the census found that just over half of the residents of Toronto were born outside of Canada. I've been immersed in this cultural mish-mash all of my adult life, and I find when I'm traveling in other parts of the world that I'm somewhat prepared for what I encounter.  Turkey was another story - my recent trip to Istanbul threw me for a bit of a cultural loop.

The city is amazing.  My wife and I navigated our way surprisingly easily through endlessly sprawling neighborhoods where everything seemed to be pulled out of distant history, from the cobblestone streets to buildings six and seven hundred years old.  In North America almost nothing is older then a few decades.  We tear things down as fast as we put new things up; it's impossible to appreciate any kind of history. But in Istanbul you can feel it.  

Wikipedia lists the city's population as just over 13 million but we were told many times by the locals that the population recently topped 15 million.  There were crowds everywhere we went: the streets seemed to be boiling over with the kinetic energy of all those people.  It felt like every new neighborhood, street and alleyway offered up a new source of adventure.  Overlooking all this activity were the hundreds of mosques. It seemed like there was one on every block.  And several times a day all these mosques suddenly pipe up with the Islamic call to prayer, broadcasting over the city from loud-speaker horns set high up on the minaret towers.  You can usually hear the call to prayer coming at you from multiple mosques in all directions.

The first call to prayer is early in the morning.  There were no easy sleep-ins for us vacationing tourists when the first call blared out before 6 a.m. 

In Toronto, I live a couple of blocks from a large mosque but there are no amplified calls to prayer in my neighborhood, so I had no previous experience of this practice other than in the movies.  I became interested in the variations of the calls; some were extremely monotonous, sounding to me like the vocalist was simply going through the motions.  

Downer Call To Prayer by azimuthaudio

While other mosques featured soaring renditions.  

High Call to Prayer by azimuthaudio

I found myself traveling around the city with my portable recorder always within reach so as to capture as many different versions of the call to prayer as possible.  The frustrating thing was that I was always missing the first few seconds of the calls because they would catch me off guard and I would rush to power up my Sony D50 as fast as possible.  As a result I have only the last three quarters of many, many of the calls from various places in the city.

We were leaving Istanbul the next day, so I decided I had to make it a priority to get a call from start to finish. I asked some locals if they could tell me exactly what time the calls happen and was directed to a website where you can type in where you are in the world and it will give you an exact schedule of when the calls should ring out.  The times would have been something like this:  5:51 a.m., 7:29 a.m.,12:09 p.m., 2:31 p.m., 4:49 p.m., and 6:22 p.m.  We didn't have much time to spend in town before heading to the airport, so I decided that the best plan would be to get up really early and get the very first call of the day. Another advantage, I figured, would be that it would be nice and quiet so early in the morning - no traffic or crowd noise to get in the way of my recording.

My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. and I headed out into the darkness of the empty early morning.  I made my way to the famous Sultan Ahmed Mosque, known better as the Blue Mosque built in 1609. I hunkered down on a bench near one of the high minarets that surround the mosque, where the loudspeakers are mounted.  I started recording about 10 minutes before the posted time - there was no way I would miss the beginning of the call this time.  While I was waiting a stray dog trotted up and settled in for a lie-down against my feet. As long as he agreed to be quiet, this was okay with me. Then a man appeared and came over to where I was sitting. He tried to explain to me that the mosque did not open for many hours; he seemed very confused when I tried to explain that I was not waiting to enter the mosque but only to record the sound of it.  I guess he assumed I was a stranded tourist with no place to sleep but this bench, because he then kindly listed off some some hotel recommendations. During this whole exchange I just kept thinking the call to prayer was going to start and he'd be talking all over it. Finally he gave up on me and left me to wait in peace, which I did for what seemed like a long time.

View of the Blue Mosque while sitting waiting for the first call to prayer of the day.  

More and more time passed... but the call never rang out.  After about 40 minutes I finally gave up and got up to head back to my hotel, tired and frustrated.  To my surprise, the dog who had been at my feet this whole time got up and followed me.  As the two of us sauntered back through the city suddenly the all the mosques started belting out the early morning call to prayer.  At first I heard only faint distant mosques but in a minute all the ones nearby started up as well.  Despite my hours of preparation, there I was, scrambling again to get the recorder powered up and missing the beginning of the call.  Argh!!  

Defeated, I continued my walk back to the hotel, with my new canine friend alongside.  As we turned a corner onto a new street we came upon a whole pack of stray dogs scavenging in the garbage bins.  My buddy snapped into action and charged the pack of smaller dogs, chasing them away, barking the whole time.  Well, what do you know? I was still rolling and got the whole thing. It was not the sound of Istanbul I had set out to capture, but nevertheless, a unique snapshot of this surprising city. If you listen really closely, in the background of the dog barks there is a distant call to prayer.

So I never got an authentic start-to-finish recording of one of the calls to prayer. The calls are actually made up of repeated phrases so I can build full versions by repeating the phrases I did manage to record... but still I feel like I have some unfinished business in Istanbul... And next time I'll be sure to check that it's not the last day of daylight savings time causing all the clocks to change by an hour so I end up setting my alarm to go off at the wrong time!!


One extra little thing I really fell in love with in Istanbul - I saw these street signs all around the city:

At first I thought maybe there was some kind of national hatred of jazz musicians, but I did manage to figure this one out: "No honking of car horns in this area!"


Paramotor Recordings in Turkey

Recently I found a way to clear 10 days in my schedule in order to get a little vacation in.  My wife and I flew off to Turkey for a quick romp through the country.  It was very last minute - we hadn't done much else to prepare beyond buying the plane tickets to Istanbul. We had no idea what we were going to do once we got there and it ended up being a great trip.

Before I left I had read a great blog post that deals with field recording while on vacation and discusses if it is a good idea or not. It's worth reading over at the Dynamic Interference website.  Seeing how it was a vacation with my wife and the point was to escape work, I decided not to take a field recording rig with me like I have on other trips.  I did sneak my portable Sony PCM D50 into my bag, knowing that at some point in the trip I'd hear something unusual and want to record it. This will be the first of a small series of posts that will feature my sounds and stories from the trip.

One of the things that drew us to travel to Turkey was that the country offered history, adventure and relaxation.  The relaxation part of the trip took place at a small town called Ölüdeniz located along the Mediterranean Sea (on the map above look for Fethiye, on the south-west coast - this is the closest city).  Ölüdeniz features a truly spectacular beach and a pretty cool downtown just off the shore with lots of great places to eat.  The beach is at the foot of Mount Babadag, and we learned that the proximity to this mountain peak, 2000 meters above the sea, makes this town one of the best places in the world to paraglide.  The rising heat from the sea and trees create thermals that turn a sheer drop into a easy-going 45 minute glide down from the top of the mountain.  

As tourists, we were just flying by the seat of our pants, so we had no idea that we were traveling to a paragliding mecca. We were amazed when we arrived to see the sky filled with people floating down through the air and landing on the beach.  To add to our surprise, our stay in Ölüdeniz coincided with the 12th Annual International Air Games.  So not only were tourists tandem-paragliding as per usual, but the sky was loaded with pros and experienced gliders as well as skydivers, hang-gliders and paramotor-ers. All of the above simply fall silently to the ground - with the very loud exception of the paramotor.  Paragliding with a giant fan strapped to your back is called paramotoring.  The fan is loud, and when you are looking to simply relax on the beach, having these low flying engines whizzing back and forth over your head can be quite annoying.  Adding to the engine noise, the festival's P.A. system was cranking out party music, so I couldn't even get clean recordings of the paramotor engines.

Luck struck at the end of third day of the festival when, as the sun was setting over the sea, they started packing up the P.A. speakers. I spotted a few paramotor pilots taking off for a sunset flight.  I grabbed my portable recorder and ran off to the far end of the beach where there were only a few people milling about and recorded about 20 minutes of pass bys and engine revs as they flew back and forth only about 10 meters above the beach.  

Since the sun was going down it was too dark to shoot video as I was recording, so here is a video I made, putting the sounds I recorded at sunset over footage of the paramotors flying around earlier in the day.  

If you pitch the paramotors down they really start to sound a lot like smaller prop planes, and I know I will be using these sounds as sweeteners next time I am cutting an airplane dogfight or chase scene.  Here is an example of the pitched-down sounds.  These were pitched down 8 semitones.

Paramotor Passbys Pitched down by azimuthaudio


Here are a couple of the better pass bys.

Paramotor Passbys by azimuthaudio

The cool thing about flying a paramotor is that the engine does not need to be on on the time. The pilots only use the fan in order to get lift when they want to go higher (or for tricks as was common at this event.) With the fan off it just becomes a regular paraglider and floats through the sky.  As a result, you get a lot of short revs like at the beginning of the audio clip above.   

I took this rare opportunity to try a little paragliding myself (without the motor) when I did a tandem jump with a local pilot.  About halfway down he asked me if I wanted to try any tricks and I gave him the thumbs up... here is a video of what happened next:

All photos courtesy of my super-talented wife Ehrin Albright.