Kontra Plak is a record store just off Istanbul’s most famous street, Istiklal Avenue. The store is four steps below street-level, snug between a small market and a graffitied stairwell. The space inside is long and narrow, full of records and, at least once a month, people.
Since 2013, Kontra Plak has hosted Dinleme Odası, a monthly listening group event that brings together Istanbul musicians and music appreciators to listen to full albums, uninterrupted. This Tuesday, Hauschka’s Abandoned City was on the stereo.
Before the album played, a group of mostly twenty-somethings stood around Kontra Plak, browsing the records or talking. There were wine glasses filled with free wine, a couple berets and at least three leather jackets in the crowd.
At an announcement from event organizers, the group filed to the back of the store to the seats placed there around a phonograph. Just 5 of the 25 or so foldable chairs were left vacant. Without formal introduction the music started.
Kontra Plak owner Okan Aydın and three co-organizers of Dinleme Odası choose the featured album for the event each month. Aydın said that there are certain things he and his colleagues look for when selecting an album.
“We usually like to play albums that are fairly recent and not very well known,” he said. “We look for something interesting –– music that offers something to discuss.”
This month’s album, Abandoned City (March 2014), features German pianist Volker Bertelmann –– who records under the name Hauschka –– performing original compositions on prepared piano, or a piano with objects (forks, paper, ping pong balls, whatever) placed on or between its strings, hammers or dampers. The placed objects allow for an incredible variety of sound, percussive and melodic.
Abandoned City is true to its name. At times sparse and echoing, at others haltingly frantic, the compositions evoke a sort of emptiness and desolation. The album’s cover image –– a metal, bone-like building frame under a grey sky –– is a good visual representation of Hauschka’s latest work. In any case, it’s music that offers something to discuss.
After all 43 minutes of Abandoned City played out, there was a 20-minute discussion of the album, accompanied by free coffee. Discussions are held in Turkish, but there are English speakers available to help out non-Turkish speakers.
Istanbul-based piano and prepared piano composer Selen Gülün led Tuesday’s discussion. When they can, Aydın and co-organizers bring in musicians and experts to lead discussions of music relevant to their own fields.
“We just recently began inviting experts to lead the discussions,” he said. “I think it’s been a big plus for the events.”
Following the discussion, participants are asked to fill out a short questionnaire on their impressions and opinions of that month’s album. With their responses, Aydın or one of the co-organizers puts together a collective album review for publication on the Turkish music site, Bant Mag.
Kontra Plak’s monthly listening group is an enjoyable way to engage with interesting music and musically interested people in Istanbul. If you have an hour or two open on a weeknight that coincides with Dinleme Odası, check it out. The event is free, with limited seating. Don’t forget your beret.