2232) Mystery of Istanbul's Traditional Agop Bells

Istanbul Agop Traditional Bells has a secret formula. The secret in manufacturing bells carried the brand to the top of the world music market. They sponsor 250 artists in 45 countries and 30 Turkish artists

The mystery in the formula of the Istanbul Agop Traditional Bells, one of the giants of the world music arena, has carried the firm to the top of the world music market. When the elusive formula, passing from father to son, came together with hand craftsmanship, the ground was set for a unique, indispensable brand for world stars to be born. .

Arman Tomurcuk, owner of Istanbul Agop Traditional Bells, spoke about the secret formula of his company's success to the Turkish Daily News.

Agop Tomurcuk, the founder of the company, taught his two sons Sarkis and Arman all he knew shortly before he died in a traffic accident in the early 1990s. The Tomurcuk brothers use the unique process of manufacturing of to make about 25,000 bells each year. They are handmade and sold around the world.

Secret manufacturing process

Information about the manufacturing process is kept so confidential, even the company staff does not know it. The manufacturing crew of the Istanbul Agop Traditional Bells consists of the same people for many years. When a new staff member is to be selected, the basic criterion is his talent in hand craftsmanship.

He is first given a hammer and asked to shape the bell in its raw form. The successful apprentice is accepted to the company and begins to receive special training.

Istanbul Agop Traditional Bells's biggest rival is an Armenian company: The legendary bell brand Zildjian, based in the United States.

The Zildjian Company was founded by Avedis Zildjian with the permission of the Sultan Murat IV in the Samatya neighborhood of Istanbul in 1623. Samatya was renowned as the Paris of Istanbul at the time. Zildjian was the Ottoman Empire's first company, which established a factory abroad thanks to the support of the state. Its exports carried the brand name ‘Made in Turkey, Istanbul' and it served in Istanbul until 1924. Then it moved its head quarters to the U.S. in 1929.

The bells were manufactured in the Ottoman Empire first for the Mehteran, the janissary band of musicians. Long before the bells became a symbol of the Mehteran, they were an indispensable part of Armenian Church music since the acceptance of Christianity. The bell is still one of the significant instruments of Armenian Church music today. It was used in the works of famous composers Mozart and Hayden toward the end of the 1680s. Thus, an instrument from Anatolia exceeded its borders and reached to West. Many figures rose from the Zildjian Company, growing the principle of qualified hand craftsmanship.

One of these names was Agop Tomurcuk, who later found the Istanbul Agop Traditional Bells. Agop, who used to work as the master in the company, opened his first company under the brand name “Zilciler” in the late 1970s. Arman Tomurcuk said the brand name was changed into Istanbul Agop Traditional Bells after objections from the Zildjian Company because the names were similar.

Being the third among the world music companies, Istanbul Agop Traditional Bells gives sponsorships to 250 artists in 45 countries, including Matt Chamberlain, Pearl Jam, Peter Gabriel, Tori Amos, Elliot Smith, Poogie Bell, Idris Muhammad, Jeremiah Green and Joe Plummer, Jeremy Gara, Matt McDonough, Aki Hakala, Jim Eno, Brian Vodinh, James Culpeper and Terry Baker. The number of artists it gives sponsorships to in Turkey is 30. These artists include Kerem Görsev, Cengiz Baysal, Turgut Alp Bekoğlu and Alen Konakoğlu.

Handmade versus mass production

Tomurcuk said the handmade bells are higher quality than those produced in factories. The world's most prominent jazz artists prefer the Istanbul Agop Traditional Bells. That's why they are also called “jazz bells” throughout the world. The company manufactures bells for the pop music market under the title of ALKEMI (Alchemy) series to reduce this perception, Tomurcuk said.

Despite the fact that Istanbul Agop Traditional Bells is one of the world's prominent brands and contributes greatly to the advertising and promotion of Turkey abroad, it is not supported enough by the state, he said.

“When we apply for support, they reply that we are just manufacturers, not custom manufacturer for abroad, that's why they do not support us,” said Tomurcuk.

Besides the hand craftsmanship, raw materials are also very important. The bells are manufactured out of a combination of tin and copper and small amounts of other metals. That is where they mystery the Istanbul Agop Traditional Bells comes from.

The success of the bells is a secret thanks to a special mix of these metals. The two brothers enter the atelier alone during the process of the manufacturing of the bells and mix the mysterious mixture into the bells. Being a family secret, the formula will be the secret of the Tomurcuk family, perhaps for many generations.

Stages of production

The first stage is shaping the bells by forging with a hammer in hand. This helps grind the molecules inside the metal, thus resulting in a better timbre. Every master has his own style of hammering and forming the bell, said Tomurcuk. The form given by the hammer determines the sound quality of the bell. The most important point here is to have strong hammer forgings.

If the bell receives many strikes during the manufacturing process, it becomes dented and this causes problems in timbre, Tomurcuk said. The bells, each of which is handmade by a few different masters, have the same musical quality despite their differing forms.

“Each bell acquires a specific identity and character peculiar to itself,” Tomurcuk said. “Thus we get a deeper timbre with higher quality, which is different from the fabricated bells.” The size of the bells ranges from 20 to 65 centimeters

Differing from jazz bells, the pop-rock and funk bells are higher frequency ones. Musical intensity and deep voices are the main characteristics of the jazz bells, he said. The company exports its bells to 45 countries ranging from Japan to New Zealand.

The Istanbul Agop Traditional Bells was the only firm representing Turkey abroad until 1997. The company is preparing to put on the market a new product without making any concessions to its quality and hand craftsmanship, he added.

The company follows the music world closely and new products will meet music market needs accordingly, Tomurcuk said.

Manufacturing phase: The metal is melted and poured into the injection machine to be melted at 1,200 degrees centigrade. Formerly, the metals were melted in huge hearths heated by coal. The metal composed of tin and copper is molded as a circle of five millimeters width. The circle form is called the Fodola, which is later subjected to a phase of rolling out under 700 or 750 degrees centigrade. Then, it is baked again and left for cooling off on the ground. The very sharp edges, are rasped through a special method.

ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News
Dec 5 2007