Turkish Musician Shows How to Play the Yaybahar, His Mesmerizing, Newly-Invented Instrument




Once upon a time, a handsome man was trapped in a tower overlooking the sea. To amuse himself, he built a magical instrument. It was constructed of wood and metal, but sounded like something one might hear over loudspeakers at the Tate, or perhaps an avant-garde sound installation in Bushwick. The instrument was lovely, but so cumbersome, it was impossible to imagine packing it into a taxi. And so the man gigged alone in the tower overlooking the sea.

Wait. This is no fairy tale. The musician, Görkem Şen, is real, as is his instrument, the Yaybahar. (Its name remains a mystery to your non-Turkish-speaking correspondent. Google Translate was no help. Perhaps Şen explains the name in the patter preceding his recent TEDxReset performance…music is the only universal here.)

The Yaybahar looks like minimalist sculpture, or a piece of vintage playground equipment. It has fretted strings, coiled springs and drum skins. Şen plays it with a bow, or a wrapped mallet, nimbly switching between spaced out explorations, folk music and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”.

After many years, a passing prince or princess was bewitched by the beautiful music that reached his or her ears from the tower. He or she braved the brambles to free Şen and his instrument. 

It’s also possible that Şen enlisted a couple of pals to help him muscle the Yaybahar down the steps, crying out when they bumped the precious instrument into the walls, struggling to get a decent grip. No good deed goes unrewarded.

At last, they left the confines of the tower. Görkem Şen lifted his face toward the Turkish sunshine. The Yaybahar stood in the sand. A noblewoman whom an evil sorceress had turned into a dog hung out for a while before losing interest. The instrument reverberated as passionately as ever. The spell was both broken and not.

You can hear more sound clips of Şen playing the Yaybahar below:

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Ayun Halliday is an author, homeschooler, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday


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Comments (12)
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  • volongoto says:

    In Turkish:

    Yay: string (as in string quartet)
    Bahar: spring (as in the season)

  • AlltFörMusik.se says:

    This is so great! Beats anything I’ve heard for a long time!

  • Jean François Bachelet says:

    Extraordinaire!

  • Kathy Self says:

    The sea is calling…

  • Dan Peragine says:

    Thanks for sharing your amazing art. I have been incorporating the aeolian harp into my sculpture and this is reminiscent of the sound effects created by the wind. I’m sure the whales and dolphins appreciated your concert by the sea!

  • julian says:

    we’ve waited years for the invention of a cheap (within reason) portable ( maybe ) synthesizer without the unnecessary ugly electronics and here, finally, it comes…with limits but with wide open areas for advance.

  • Russell Scott Day says:

    If you scroll through Transcendian you will come across some Intendors TM. In particular if you like this thing of this guy you will like the Big Whack Ass Intendor, which I see as useful for Soundtrack work. I do use piezo cable pickups however. And I have come to put things I make through the Alesis Sound Processor.
    I will soon be releasing to CD “Beatniks and Spiders” that was made using Intendor TM number 10.
    Beatniks and Spiders defeats Hitler’s work that was done to discredit the artist as leader, and begin to put the artist back in a position of respect as a leader, in the political world.
    To do as much good as Hitler did bad, one has to finally defeat all the bad ideas that Hitler embodied and left in the society. I am the Founder of Transcendia, a Grand work of Conceptual Art. I just found out today that Game Jolt has stolen my name for use on their game. They did not give nor do they give so far Transcendia proper honor.
    I am not kidding at all when I ask all who understand the goals of Transcendia to object to the dishonorable use of the Transcendian name. You can see a segment of “Beatniks & Spiders” on Transcendian of youtube.
    You tube in fact is the best that we might expect to get as UNTV. I worked hard to attempt to make the UNTV work for us.

  • Belamir says:

    It has an amazing name!
    As it’s translated above, ‘yay’ means string and ‘bahar’ means spring. I think the word ‘yaybahar’ refers to how the instrument’s refreshing sound makes the audience feel

  • MARVELMAZ says:

    Well, YAY also translates to bow, not just string. Bahar is Spring…not a direct translation, but I think it would be fitting to name this instrument a Springbow for translation purposes.

  • Brian McInnis says:

    Nice hyphenated adverb, guys.

  • JUMPiKO says:

    I AM INTERESTED IN BUYING THIS, IF ANYONE CAN BUILD A REPLICA I WILL BUY.

  • Jesse says:

    What’s your budget?
    I’m making one now. The thing is, they are tricky. No plans exist. Even in Gorkem Sen’s videos he’s clearly evolved the design and there is no “one” Yaybahar so when you’re buying a Yaybahar, it’s only an approximation. If I built exactly what you see in the beach video, you might not be very happy with how portable it is (it’s not). But if I build you one that’s made from the steel tubing from camera rigs (per later videos from Gorkem Sen) which is very portable then you’d not be very happy with the cost. Plus, it will be exceedingly expensive since everyone who’s building one, is doing so without any plans or materials list so you’ll also be paying for all the time it takes to figure out how to make it sound amazing. For instance, how the springs are attached to the strings is mysterious. There is no video or photo that details exactly how Gorkem Sen does it. There’s one that looks like just wraps the spring ends around the strings, but using this method the springs will slip up and down the strings – unless the pulling force of the springs is EXACTLY perpendicular with the strings (which means you might be playing the instrument at a very uncomfortable angle). There’s another video that looks like he’s using tiny binder clips attached to the strings, on which the spring ends rest and the angle of the spring force pulls the springs downwards slightly, keeping them wedged up against the clips. Just finding the lightest possible clip (to minimize the dampening of the string vibration) took 5 hours. Searching for the springs took almost as long. The drum heads were cake, but the clips to hold them took a while to source. The bass guitar parts were easier, but routing out the slot in the body for the bass neck was not. No one is an expert at making these things. Even an expert guitar maker will struggle to get this to work well. You need a designer with engineering, carpentry and music skills. A truly rare combo. I’m am such a person and I’m happy to make you one, but it won’t be cheap or expert (since there is only one expert on the planet).

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