This article discusses the relationship between music, sound, writing, and power in the early modern Ottoman Empire. It focuses on a description of a musical gathering at the court of Murad IV (r. 1623–40) in the Seyahatnâme (Book of travels), written by the courtier and musician Evliya Çelebi (1611–ca. 1685). The article draws on literature from historical anthropology, sound studies, and Ottoman cultural history to produce a multilayered reading that underscores the importance of music and other sonic practices in Ottoman courtly culture. Shifting between micro and macro perspectives, the article discusses the role of ceremonial music, Qur’anic recitation, the call to prayer, and patronage networks in the projection of imperial power. It then discusses the social implications of debates about the religious permissibility of music and the distinction between elites and commoners. Elite music-making is situated within a larger context of kin relations, patronage networks, and intimate male companionship. Themes of sensual pleasure, intoxication, and eroticism are discussed as poetic and philosophical tropes that are embodied in the intersubjective space of musical performance. Finally, the article highlights the role of textual practices in the construction of Ottoman music as a discursive formation. A situating of Evliya’s writing practices within the larger textual archive of Ottoman music raises methodological and epistemological questions about the relationship between aural experience and inscription, and about notions of historiographic and ethnographic truth. These questions are connected to current disciplinary debates about writing, sound, and power, particularly in the context of empire.

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