I remember first coming across the music of Ilhan Mimaroglu on a Turnabout LP of electronic music in the 1970s. The unusual sounding name stuck in my head. And as I continued exploring and collecting contemporary music I would occasionally run across his name.
In the 1980s I came across tantalizing descriptions of his work in various record catalogs like one which stated that the music included a recording of Che Guevara’s autopsy (To Kill a Sunrise). I remained intrigued.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that I resolved to get a more comprehensive take on his music and to obtain as much of his it as I could find. At that time I had to rely on e-bay where I was able to find a couple of CD compilations and a copy of the anti-war LP “Sing Me a Song of Songmy”, a collaboration of sorts between Mimaroglu and the Freddie Hubbard Quintet. A good representative selection of his work can currently be found on the Ubu web site as well as the Avant Garde Project. And according to the discogs web site (which lists about 58 albums in which he was involved) his LPs are selling for any where from about $10 to about $80.
Born in 1926 in Istanbul he earned a degree in law before coming to the United States. Mimaroglu studied with (among others) electronic music pioneer Vladimir Ussachevsky at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, the prominent east coast workshop where Milton Babbitt created some of his masterpieces and where Edgar Varese, Luciano Berio, Mario Davidovsky, Charles Wourinen and other luminaries worked and studied.
Through his work at the venerable Atlantic Records, along with fellow émigrés Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun he produced jazz and blues albums, most notably with Charles Mingus. Here he was able to establish his own record label, Finnadar. He released his own music and that of other avant garde composers such as Luciano Berio, Anthony Braxton, Henry Cowell, Morton Feldman, Pierre Boulez, Frederic Rzewski and others. One of my favorites and a classic, in my humble opinion, is The Adoration of the Clash, a recording by pianist Doris Hays of music by Hays, Feldman and others. In short he strove to promote some difficult listening by avant garde composers of the day.
He had an interest in agitprop, art that expresses political views. (The term is a portmanteau of agitation and propaganda and was coined in the 1930s in communist philosophical circles.) Indeed much of Mimaroglu’s work has overtly political themes. In a 1975 interview with Charles Amirkhanian he expressed his distaste for folk music, particularly that of his native Turkey and that region of the world, because he says it supports oppressive regimes.
In addition to his work with Charles Mingus he is noted for having some of his music grace the soundtrack of Frederico Fellini’s ‘Satyricon’. But his music understandably reached a limited audience. His music can be harsh and is intentionally disturbing dealing with disturbing themes. But it is well crafted and has a distinctive sound. Fans of the avant garde should definitely seek out his work.
In the course of collecting his music I came to learn that Mimaroglu was also a writer along with being a composer, producer and teacher (Ingram Marshall is among his students). He died July 17th of 2012 in Manhattan. And, though anyone’s passing is a time for sorrow, it is a time for reflection and frequently resurrection by renewed interest. I hope that more of this important figure’s work will come to light in the months and years to come. RIP.