Souvenir de Tanger is a producer of electronic music, and part of the new generation of European artists engaged in creating an imaginary land of the Orient.
Electronic music producer who draws inspiration from the culture of the Middle East
Tanger is the French name of a city in north-western Morocco. In Arabian it would be called Ṭanjah – the modern language of the founders of the city, the Berber people, uses the same name, but their ancestors who raised the town in 7th century BC used the name Tinigi. There are different versions – in English it's Tangier, in Spanish it's Tánger, and in Portuguese it's Tânger. Souvenir de Tanger is a project by Wiktor Milczarek, who explores the areas where electronic music, and especially techno, meets with the world of Arabic culture (in the broad sense of the term). He is particularly interested in the context of tourism, and this is where his pseudonym comes from – when he went on a trip to Morocco with his mother, he brought back a big folder decorated with the sign "Souvenir de Tanger", a remnant of Morocco's colonial past.
Since its beginnings, electronic music has turned its eyes to the exotic, after all, one of its aims was to come up with sounds that were fresh to the ear. And where else would you find better examples of sounds that the ear of a Westerner is unaccustomed to, if not in the music of distant cultures? Unknown and weird instruments can be found there, things which emit sounds which are like nothing else. There are strange rhythms that you will not encounter in lounges, nor in the symphonies of Beethoven, and then, on top of all that, there are the microtones, which sound peculiar and even terrible to an ear accustomed only to the equal temperament system of tuning. The artists that engage in making dance music (from disco through tropical house, to trance and industrial techno) are especially keen on using exotic references and samples. There were times when drew on the exotic in a very explicit manner, sampling old recordings and imitating them. There were also those who tried to reach deeper, and instead simply copying the sound, we were able to hear their own emulations of rhythmical structures, strange scales, and unfolding narrative in the music.
This is a phenomenon which has gained speed as the Internet become more and more of a global tool. Western producers began to have an even easier access to exotic music and they were able to choose from all kinds of forms. From research recordings done "in the field", through amateur material recorded in the streets, to pop music and even electronic music. The West was thus able to see itself in the Oriental mirror. Whatever came out of the experience depended on the approach of the listener – there are some who may laugh at the failed attempts at imitation, others will often find a treasure trove of creativity which we often seem to lack ourselves.
So, what strategy of contronting Middle Eastern music has Souvenir de Tanger taken? When he creates his pieces, he tries to base them on the Arabian makam – a model for improvising melodies which is used in Arabic music, and which often contains quarter-tones. In search of a similar concept in Western music, one could use the term "scale". He also employs scores that he comes across in Internet archives, such as the ones published on the Polona portal.
There are also sounds that he takes from samples of various Arabian instruments, which are strongly distorted by him, making it hard to determine their origin – they could just as well be synthetic sounds. We can also hear voices and chants, or rather, what used be voices and chanting before all the modulations. Sometimes they are street songs takes from YouTube, the chants of imams, or even political declarations, fragments of messages, or a speech by the mother of Mohammed Bouzzazi, who set himself on fire to protest against the rule of Tunisia's president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Apart from that, he also uses an Italian string machine, an analogue synthesizer, the sound of which tries to evoke that of a string orchestra.
In brief: most of the sounds we hear are significant, but how are we supposed to know this? Souvenir's albums don't come with little pamphlets explaining the message behind his music, and there are no lectures given before his concerts. It's more that the listener has a sense of something, because the music is dark and heavy, and it's accompanied by a specific chant known either from documentary films, or the news. There is also imagery that we associate with the Middle Eastern region.
When asked if his music carries a political message, Wiktor responds that it doesn't really. (Here, it seems important to emphasise that many artists who draw inspiration from Middle Eastern culture advocate some very decided political declarations.) He does not want to take either side in the conflicts, because he has no means of verifying information transmitted by the media, not only those of the West, but also social media. The only kind of message that his music could carry is a message of peace.
You (Flaubert's mother] ask me whether the Orient is up to what I imagined it to be. Yes, it is; and more than that, it extends far beyond the narrow idea I had of it. I have found, clearly delineated, everything that was hazy in my mind. Facts have taken the place of suppositions—so excellently so that it is often as though I were suddenly coming upon old forgotten dreams.
- 'Souvenir I' (3'' CD, Oficyna BDTA), 2014
- 'Souvenir II' (MC, Oficyna BDTA), 2014
sources: Edward W. Said, Orientalism, London: Penguin 1977; Excerpt from Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour translated by Francis Steegmuller in Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility, Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1973), p. 200, interview with Souvenir de Tanger conducted in July, 2014.
Author: Filip Lech, 16.07.2014, translated by Paulina Schlosser 21/07/2014