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Re:konstruKt: New Music Online from Istanbul

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The online independent label re:konstruKt was founded in 2008 by Umut Çağlar, an Istanbul-based guitarist and leader of the konstruKt quartet. The label was formed few months after the band's first rehearsals. Its initial purpose was to document the evolution of the Istanbul experimental scene.

Çağlar's development as a musician is a good example of the way Turkish improvisers have paved their own way: "We can talk about 'constructions' and 'constructed parts,'" he says. "I first started to make music by playing avant-garde, jazz, punk and noise stuff"—asked for some references, Çağlar cites the early work of saxophonists John Zorn, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane and composer Heiner Goebbels and improv musician Steve Beresford]—"with no technical knowledge but playing by instinct."


From left: Barlas Tan Ozemek, Korhan Futaci, Marshall Allen

At the beginning, Çağlar knew very little about harmony, melody or any other aspects of music theory. "When I started university I was interested in electronic music and I worked as a DJ. I was involved in some experimental projects with electronics, computers and this stuff. But when I started to play guitar I was able to mix and melt together my knowledge of electronic music with free guitar playing. Sometimes I feel like I'm playing a loop on my guitar, not looping it electronically but playing the loop myself. It's not common, there's something similar in the music of Terry Riley and in other experimental things, but in free jazz it's kind of strange to some people."

Even if Çağlar cites instinct as his first ignition, a look at the overall Istanbul scene shows a surprising degree of coherence. To get some context, listen to percussionist Okay Temiz's records with multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry or drummer Pete La Roca's Turkish Women at the Bath (Douglas, 1967). A good place to start can be imagining a mix between percussionist, vibraphonist and pianist Hüseyin Ertunç's Musiki (Intex Records, 1972)—one of Mats Gustaffson's collector's items —recorded in Los Angeles in 1972 with a couple of local free jazz players, and the obscure stuff made by Alan Sondheim in 1967 for ESP—an forerunner of the AMM collective.

Ertunç, who lives in Bodrum and is also a painter, is Çağlar's close friend. He appears as a percussionist in konstruKt's Vibrations of the Day (re:konstruKt, 2010), also featuring alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, and as a pianist in a session the quartet and tenorist Peter Brötzmann recorded in May 2011. The latter, unlike the recent Dolunay (re:konstruKt, 2011) record, will be put out on vinyl on an European label Çağlar is still looking for.

The team at re:konstruKt has become international, while the pool of local musicians involved numbers more than twenty. "It's something new, according to the whole avant-garde music history," says Çağlar. "We're here doing this since two or three years right now, and I see there is a younger generation after us who have started to do similar things. It's good to have a feedback on that. Maybe we started something, and after ten years we'll see what we have done, and people can judge us for what we did, but right now we're in the middle of it. But after four years I can see progress. People look at us and say 'oh, they do strange stuff but they can handle it.'"


From left: Huseyin Ertunc, Korhan Arguden

The konstruKt group started playing locally in small bars and clubs, but festival appearances followed and in 2009-10 it picked up some useful international profile. Canadian magazine Signal To Noise gave some coverage in 2009, followed by the UK's The Wire, which added a free CD to its December 2010 issue.

Social networking and the presence of prime international movers and shakers has been helpful not only in promoting the music but in making Istanbul a new "hot spot" for improvisation. "So many people are aware of what we do right now," says Çağlar. "And Facebook and Myspace and other social networks help in spreading the name of the label and the band. When I say 'I'm from konstruKt,' or 'I'm from the re:konstruKt label,' they know of it. We are dealing with a bunch of Dutch organizations, and I think we're going to organize things, making and sharing records from Amsterdam to Istanbul and back, and also concerts and workshops.

"When I talk with musicians, they know that something is happening in Istanbul, that it is important. It wasn't a geographic center for improvised music until about two years ago. At that time, Eugene Chadbourne was coming here with Aki Takase, a month before he sent us a mail, writing 'I'm coming to Istanbul and I'd like to meet you,' and we did the recording and started to know each other." A skim through re:konstruKt's online catalogue, reveals recordings featuring guitarist Dom Minasi, singer Paul Adams and violinist Jason Kao Hwang, just to name a few international names.

Çağlar and his team have released approaching 60 recordings, an impressive number, over the past three years. "Sometimes it's not easy to live on what you dream of. You have to make compromises or something, and so many times it's hard to keep going. I know so many people who are very open minded but doing the same mainstream things for years, just to earn money, and that's a problem. Actually we were like adventurers, because we were not anything commercially and we didn't earn so much money but we did what we liked. I don't want to be a leader, to say 'I want to keep the flag.' I'm only going to do what I do, and if I can be a good example for people around to do their own thing, that's my role."

Korhan Argüden / Umut Çağlar / Özün Usta

Rehearsals Pt. 3

2008

It's valuable to hear the first wails of a scene, the better to track its subsequent development. While Rehearsals_Pt. 3 is available on the re:konstruKt website, the first two volumes are still downloadable in the Internet Archives. Post- rockers such as Stormandstress or John Zorn's improv-grindcore Painkiller project can be a good reference as far as interplay, with the musicians mostly independent while interacting. The thick, sharp and melodically 'open' sound of the guitar creates a good contrast and varied texture with the interspersing dense drums and percussions, testifying also to the influence of electronic contemporary music, with the likes of Alvin Curran's MEV or Keith Rowe's AMM as primary examples.

The League of Xtraordinary Gentlemen Recorded Live at deFORM

2008

One of the most vital aspects of re:konstruKt has been its efforts to involve foreign musicians, well known and not so well known, from the start. This album features a guitar trio, testifying also an attitude towards unusual lineups. Irish-born Mark O'Leary comes from pianist Paul Bley's trio and his collaborations span experimental rock, industrial and Norwegian folk, and include people as diverse as drummer Han Bennink, guitarist Nels Cline and bassist Jaco Pastorius. Sevket Akinci is a founder member of Islak Kopek, the very first experimental band in recent Istanbul history, and with second Islak Kopek founder member Korhan Erel he is also involved in the electronic ambient Mugwump project. William Burroughs meets "mutant blues" gives a pointer to this music.

Selen Gülün

Selen Gülün

2009

Selen Gulun, born in 1972, is a young pianist who's trying to balance her classical studies and her improvisational skills. In her style, influences from classical and contemporary music rife: pointillism, impressionism, low pitches, clusters, modal, atonal. This recording from 2009 is fully improvised, while the atmosphere suggests composed material. Gulun has just released a trio record, rich and vibrant, full of different colors and dynamics. Her work is as good as shows another nuance of the full spectrum re:konstruKt is working on.

Islak Köpek One Year Later Two Years Ago Pt.1

2009

Islak Kopek was the first band in Istanbul to play regularly improvised music. It started as a quintet in 2005 with regular concerts at Galata Perform and Jazz Café, then at the Akbank Jazz Festival in 2006 and at the Transit Festival in Istanbul with Le Quan Ninh. Its first album with the current line-up is from 2008, while One Year Later Two Years Ago on re:konstruKt were released in 2009. With no drums or percussion, two horns, two electric guitars, violin and various electronic tools played by Korhan Erel, Islak Kopek takes electroacustic improvisation to a sort of cameristic, even if muddy and electric, level.

Meczûp Hanging from the Purgatory's Pendulum

2009

To review a record currently unavailable might seem odd, but if that record was made by a young and talented musician and comprises eight compositions on theremin in which mastery and sensibility are unquestionable, it all makes sense. Hanging from the Purgatory's Pendulum offers to the listener a bath of pure melancholy. The melodies hark back to folk tunes, almost disembodied, while still recognizable in their essence, their mood. Cihan Gulbudak, aka Meczup—"letter"' in Turkish—works on sound. He is well conscious of his possibilities, making as concrete as possible the theremin's ghostly and far away sound without giving up its nuances. A good parallel would be that of Zeena Parkins working with her electronic harps, and sometimes Z'EV and his abstract percussive canvas, while here melody takes the most part of the work on textures.



Sarp Keskiner Retrospective I

2010

Sarp Keskiner is widely known as founder member of the Istanbul Blues Company, which, since 1993, has blended together acoustic rural blues and Turkish music for baglama—a long-necked string instrument related to the Greek bozouki and Persian saz. While the IBC is still acoustic and rooted in song-form music, Keskiner's music after his departure from the band in 1997 has been influenced by different ethnic flavours—from China and Far east in general, but also from Egypt—with an attempt to use concrete sounds like xylophones, plastic shakers, cans, gongs and bottles along with a wide use of loops, echoes and electronics, giving the sound a wide, spacey tinge. The material collected in this Retrospective was recorded at Acik Radyo, responsible for diffusing experimental material through the Turkish ether. To listen to that music means to get back to the roots of both Sun Ra and modern Middle Eastern music.Experimental but deep-rooted.

Mauro Sambo ...di Origine Oscura

2010

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