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Faculty of Music

Dr Jacob  Olley


Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow
Research Associate, St John's College


I studied Ethnomusicology (BA and MMus) at SOAS, University of London, before doing a PhD in Music at King’s College London. My PhD thesis (2017) is a cultural history of the first widely used notation system in the Islamicate world, which was a reformed version of Armenian church notation (“Hampartsum” notation) that was also adopted by Muslim musicians in nineteenth-century Istanbul. From 2015 to 2020 I was a research associate on the edition project Corpus Musicae Ottomanicae: Critical Editions of Near Eastern Music Manuscripts, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and based at the University of Münster. Within the scope of the CMO project, I completed a two-volume critical edition of one of the earliest known manuscripts in Hampartsum notation. Together with other researchers, I also helped to develop the scholarly and digital infrastructure for CMO, including an online source catalogue and an encoding framework for Ottoman music based on the Music Encoding Initiative (MEI) schema. In 2017–19 I was a temporary Lecturer in Ethnomusicology at the University of Kassel.

My current research project is titled “Debating Music in the Ottoman Press, 1876–1928,” and focuses on discussions about music in Turkish-language periodicals during the final decades of the Ottoman Empire. The project explores how musical debates became a site for social and historical critique amongst Ottoman intellectuals, and how they were connected to wider debates about progress, science, Islam, and nationalism. The project also aims to offer a new critical perspective on music and global history during the long nineteenth century. Rather than concentrating on the impact of European colonialism, I consider how Ottoman intellectuals developed alternative visions of musical universality that resonated with the emerging political ideologies of pan-Islamism and pan-Asianism.

Although I originally studied classical guitar at Leeds College of Music, since 2009 I have studied the Turkish ney (reed flute) with teachers including Ömer Erdoğdular and Salih Bilgin. I lived in Istanbul in 2011–12, and spent extended periods there during my PhD research. As a performer, I am interested in the interpretation of historical sources of Ottoman music from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, as well as the modern Turkish classical repertoire.


Key publications: 

Edited Book

With Zeynep Helvacı and Ralf Martin Jäger. Rhythmic Cycles and Structures in the Art Music of the Middle East (Würzburg: Ergon-Verlag, 2017).


Critical Edition

Codex TR-Iüne 203-1: Peşrevs and Saz Semâîsis Notated by Hampartsum Limonciyan (1768–1839): Transcription and Commentary. 2 vols. (Münster: Corpus Musicae Ottomanicae, 2020). Available here (vol. 1) and here (vol. 2). 


Articles and Book Chapters

With Aslıhan Gürbüzel. "Approaching Ottoman Cultural History: Affect, Performance and Aurality," in Alexis Norman Wick, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Ottoman History (forthcoming).

“Natural or Neutral Third? Locating Segâh in an Ottoman Armenian Notation System,” in Dahlia Shehata, Stefan Hagel and Andreas Haug, eds., Tonal Systems and Musical Notation in Mesopotamian and Related Cultures (forthcoming).

“Remembering Armenian Music in Bolis: Komitas Vardapet in Transcultural Perspective,” Memory Studies 12/5 (2019), 547–64. Available here.

With Anna Plaksin. “Creating an Encoding Workflow for a Critical Edition of Ottoman Music Manuscripts: Challenges and Solutions,” in Giuliani Di Bacco, Johannes Kepper and Perry D. Roland, eds., Music Encoding Conference Proceedings 2015, 2016 and 2017 (Music Encoding Initiative, 2019), 119–30. DOI:  

“Towards a New Theory of Historical Change in the Ottoman Instrumental Repertoire,” in Rachel Harris and Martin Stokes, eds., Theory and Practice in the Music of the Islamic World: Essays in Honour of Owen Wright (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2018), 22–41.

“Some Notes on the Manuscripts in Hampartsum Notation in the Hüseyin Sâdettin Arel Archive,” in Fikret Turan, Emine Temel and Emre Kurban, eds., 2017 Arel Sempozyumu Bildirileri: Uluslararası Hüseyin Sadettin Arel ve Türk Müziği Sempozyumu, 13–14 Aralık 2017 (Istanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Türkiyat Araştırmaları Enstitüsü, 2018), 351–91. Available here.

“Rhythmic Augmentation and the Transformation of the Ottoman Peşrev, 18th–19th Centuries,” in Zeynep Helvacı, Jacob Olley and Ralf Martin Jäger, eds., Rhythmic Cycles and Structures in the Art Music of the Middle East (Würzburg: Ergon-Verlag, 2017), 179–88.

“Modal Diversity in Early Ottoman Music: The Case of Makâm Sabâ,” Near Eastern Musicology Online 1/1 (2012), 39–54. Available here.

Other publications: 

Online Article

“Towards a Global History of Music? Postcolonial Studies and Historical Musicology,” Ethnomusicology Review (Sounding Board) (2016).


Encyclopedia Article

“Maqām,” in Janet Sturman, ed., The SAGE International Encyclopedia of Music and Culture (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2019), 1387–8.


Book Reviews

Iranian Classical Music: The Discourses and Practice of Creativity by Laudan Nooshin,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 79/1 (2016), 173–4.

Theory and Method in Historical Ethnomusicology, ed. by Jonathan McCollum and David G. Hebert,” Music and Letters 96/3 (2015), 496–8.

Mixing Musics: Turkish Jewry and the Urban Landscape of a Sacred Song by Maureen Jackson,” Ethnomusicology Forum 24/1 (2015), 129–32. 

Alaturka: Style in Turkish Music (1923–1938) by John Morgan O’Connell.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 77/3 (2014), 594–6.

Teaching and Supervisions


Music and Global History