Millie Chen and Arzu Ozkal’s Silk Road Song Book Project is a collaborative reflection on the ways lyric and score are crafted to embody and elevate shared aspirations among communities living along or originally from the so-called and Orientalized Silk Road region. Minerva Projects is honored to publish under its imprint Minerva Press this experimental iteration of a creative output that harnesses optimism in service to longstanding resistance movements across this culturally and politically vital region.
Many contend that songs have the capacity to channel sorrow and rage into social cohesion and action. Chen and Ozkal have focused their research and alliance building among songwriters, some freely able to express their concerns in song, others who are constrained by oppressive regimes, and others forced to leave in order to recall what was passed down to them through communal, ancestral exchange. Chen and Ozkal’s research led them to track aural threads along a complex system of Eurasian trade routes from Istanbul to Xi’an. They have met and interviewed using audio and video songwriters there as well as songwriters in the Americas and Europe who are from the Silk Road region but for political reasons cannot return: Building a complex network of artists. With the communities connected to this route, Chen and Ozkal harness music and song in ways radical conservators might address a mangled ancient map. The land reigns supreme as the unifying common denominator people from different ethnicities, tribes, religions, and classes know, remember, mourn. With their project they create a third space, where the stories through songs from the Silk Road are set together as a mechanism for noting what remains shared among people living in the region and those in the diaspora. These lands have always been contested, desired, an occupied by a long list of imperial powers. Across time and in this case truly space, populations rooted along this artery have through song recorded and transmitted visions of nature, community, ritual, spirituality and tradition.
The power of this project lies in these artists’ capacity to articulate and blend vantage points. They apply a process of close looking as the means and ways of composition and writing, thinking about nostalgia / memory / distance, alongside the complex processes of othering our own. Conceptions of place, landscape, and song are put forth in this book through visual experiment drawing on both medieval songbooks and contemporary conceptual scoring practices. The Minerva Press book containing lyrics and song notes, research and travel records, and the stories of participants, is one element of their much larger multi-media project.