“When I die, I don’t want people to say that my music was good or bad, but just that I did it, that I tried. And even if I’m lucky enough to create something new or different, I’m really just continuing the music of my ancestors.”
– Nano Suratno (Indonesian composer)
The music I prefer to listen to as a direct action, rather than as a background distraction from street noise or the ‘infotainment’ bellowing from the TV, is new to my ears. It surprises me, maybe because it’s a new take on a genre, a personal statement not created for its entertainment or commercial value.
I have spent a lifetime gathering new sounds. Initially I rummaged through bargain bins, record and tape exchanges, but they are few here in Indonesia. For a while I had pen friends and we’d would post CD compilations to each other. But then came the internet, and piracy.
Record companies could find little answer to that apart from conglomerating. So-called smart phones and digital players arrived and offered expensive downloads of single tracks. Thus attention spans have dropped and critical listening has largely been reduced to ‘Likes’.
But not here in Jakartass Towers.
A particular music interest of mine has always been jazz, the creativity of the moment, the stretching of boundaries. and the mutual awareness and teamwork of the players. A particular joy at live gigs (and videos) is observing the mutual understanding and synchronous teamwork as a basic theme is explored to boundaries beyond the rehearsals. Recorded works can only serve as a record.
But that is what this blog is about, and this particular post is not about jazz per se, but there is a key jazz aspect – exploration.
We sometimes see the world’s music as static, locale-identified fossils that demand purity or restraint. So it is good when someone comes along and shatters those preconceived notions, not with some east-meets-west or north/south fusion, but with brand new music for and by the locale it comes from.
That quotation comes from a review of Asmat Dream, a specially commissioned (pdf) album released in 1989 on the Lyrichord Discs label, an album which appears to be out of print. It is a collection of performances by four outstanding new composers from the Sunda region of Indonesia (i.e. around Bandung, the source of much fine music).
As I could only find four of the six tracks ((via YouTube), I’ve added two tracks from the Free Music Archive by Senyawa, a duo of vocalist Rully Shabara and Wukir Suryadi who wields a homemade instrument known as the ‘Bamboo Spear’. Both from Yogya, the “Cultural Cradle” of Indonesia, their music has its roots in Javanese mysticism, is primeval, yet punk, and utterly absorbing because you don’t know, or understand, what’s happening, or where they’ll go next.
Set this video to full screen, imagine you’re in the audience, and try to write a better description.
Better yet, watch this half hour film by Vincent Moon of Senyawa arriving in parts of Yogya, including the central sacred banyan tree, and the city’s environs and then playing – for themselves?