By Kiran Gandhi for Tom Tom Magazine photos by Ben Robbins
When I started touring with MIA in July of 2013, I was offered a sponsorship by Istanbul Agop Cymbals. Their history is extraordinary and all of their cymbals are hand hammered and handmade in their factory just outside of Istanbul.
This January, I had the privilege of visiting the factory, meeting some of the Agop family members and sampling dozens of cymbals in their showroom.
The tour began watching molten hot copper alloy being poured into pots of water based on specification and weight for the cymbal order at hand. For example, if the cymbal was to be a 22″ ride, a certain amount of copper alloy would be poured, but if it was just an 8″ splash, a much smaller amount would be poured into the pot. The disks of copper are then cooled, and sent to the roller.
From here, the disks are heated once more, and put through the rolling machine several times until they are flat and more closely resemble the base of a cymbal to be made.
I watched each dark grey cymbal then be polished, unearthing the brassy copper color that I know and love.
The highlight was then watching a team of 6 men go to work hand hammering these copper disks into the shape of each unique Istanbul Agop cymbal. Wow. They refuse to wear ear protection even though it is offered, and the pace and tones that come out of the 6 of them hammering profusely formed a percussion ensemble in and of itself. Even the strokes required to dent the cymbals require the skills needed to play rapid percussion – you hit the surface of the cymbal but have to rebound carefully, rapidly, to control how much of a dent is created and to make sure that you don’t actually crack the surface of the cymbal. It was meditative to watch.
The final step of the spectacular process is shaving the cymbals down. Each machine is operated by one worker who inserts a cymbal into position, sets it spinning, and carves out gradations into the face of the cymbal. They each then shave off the rough edges around the side. What remains is a flawlessly shiny cymbal, ready to be shipped to its lucky owner.
After we watched this process, it was time to play. I went to the showroom and picked out nearly 20 cymbals, of different sizes and series. There were many special cymbals invented by Istanbul Agop that I had never seen in the US let alone their US warehouse, so it was exciting to be able to play such cymbals such as ice bells and little splashes with jangly nails attached that created a chainier sound.
I jammed with some of the guys who worked there, Burak and Cezar, and at the end they generously gifted me with the jangly bell-shaped cymbal that I loved so much.
Being close to the production process of the cymbals I play made me appreciate the delicacy of their sound even more. How incredible to know that someone, in the world, in the course of their lifetime, worked endlessly on these various cymbals, crafting and recrafting to get the sound that can touch lives, hypnotize people and really transform the act of writing and performing music forever. I felt blessed to be a part of that history, in that moment.