Living In Vinyl

28 July 2016

Music fans, time to make a trip to Kangar, where Galeri Seni Piring Hitam is located.

There was music blasting out from behind the glass door and heavy curtains. The door opens and a charming man with a beard of an ustaz greets us. Mushtari Mohamad runs the little known Galeri Seni Piring Hitam Perlis in Kangar.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the collection; the number of records and the way it is all carefully arranged, with every record exactly where it should be. Hundreds, if not thousands, of them. At the back of the gallery is an entire wall of cassettes and on the other, compact discs.

There are familiar names and albums on display: U2, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, The Alleycats, P.Ramlee, Sharifah Aini, Pink Floyd …the hall of fame of music was right here. Mushtari doesn’t just collect music, he genuinely appreciates them as works of art, their intrinsic qualities, and the craft of their creators. He goes through great pains to source for entire discographies of musicians, both international and local, even if he has to ship them from across the world.

“Money is the biggest obstacle. It’s not cheap. There were many days when I wouldn’t really eat so I could buy records. If I had the money I would go to New York and bring a few containers of records back.”

He started appreciating records when he discovered his father’s modest collection of about 70 records. Fortunately, he found someone who could repair his father’s record player and he still uses it today.

“I’ve been collecting for quite some time but this place only started in 2010. Used to collect train models as well, then as my vinyl collection grew, I needed the space so my mother let me use her office. Without her support none of this would be possible.”

A small room that used to be his mother’s office is kept exactly as it was. Every other inch of the space is covered with records. This was a venture born not of commercial interest, but of passion, and the desire to share that joy with anyone who cared for it.

“When I first started, it was open to the public, you could just walk in. But people started stealing items and even breaking the records. So now visitors come in by appointments only.”

The best part about visiting the gallery is really the chance to actually listen to the records on display. Unlike museums where artefacts are kept out of bounds, Mushtari is more than happy for visitors to actually listen to and not just look at records on a wall. Within the gallery are three separate listening areas with different types of speakers and seating arrangements.

“Sometimes you feel like listening to the whole album, sometimes only a single track. But then you start playing one track and feel like everything sounds nice. The music that comes out of these records, they have a certain character. It has soul.”

And like any being with a soul, the collection needs to be attended to.

“You can’t expose them to heat. Dust. And water ruins the cover. They all need regular cleaning.” 

We walk through the gallery many times over, picking out our favourite albums and singles. Mushtari chooses to play his favourite track, “Days Are Numbers (The Traveller)” by The Alan Parsons Project. With the gentle turn of a knob, the record starts spinning and as soon as the needle found its groove, the cool, silent air of the night comes alive.

The song spoke about the traveller who is constantly moving, doomed to life of constantly searching and “only passing through”. The end of the track came with the familiar crackle and pop of analog sound. Is there any reason why he likes this track?

With a smile, he replies, “Maybe I’m also a traveller. Just passing through…”

And through his passion, Mushtari has travelled the music world many times over, in the company of great musicians long since departed, leaving behind their heart and soul on a shiny black disc.

Galeri Seni Piring Hitam is located at 5 Jalan Sena Indah, Taman Sena Indah, 01000 Kangar, Perlis. Visits are by appointment only. Contact Mushtari Mohamad at 017-577 2005.


 By Mahen Bala

Photos by Mahen Bala

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