martes, 16 de febrero de 2010

Amir Pasaribu : a brief encounter

I start this with a confession : I am a (classical music) pianist and composer, and I also don't know much about Amir Pasaribu. I use the word "also" since we know how unknown is Amir Pasaribu in his own country. But that's quite understandable; I mean, if you go to the streets of Copenhagen and ask the people who Carl Nielsen was, most probably 50% of them won't be able to answer either. It's a totally different case with Jean Sibelius, since the Finnish government has built a Sibelius Park, Sibelius Academy of Music ....and any composer would know his name from the computer program : Sibelius.

The worst thing about the anonymity of Amir Pasaribu is that he is unknown to the classical music society in Indonesia who in fact owes him a great deal. Even in Medan, where he was born (and died on the 10th of February last week), I remember mentioning his name to the music students at a music academy, and most of them didn't know who he is. Now with facebooks, twitters etc, most of those cyber-fan clubs of classical music showed a kind of indifference upon his death. I think it is because the classical music society in Indonesia has established a strange criteria for composers who "deserve to be recognized" : they are usually white and dead. Well Michael Jackson isn't exactly the guy who fits this criteria ; I mean long dead, and really white-skinned, you know, like Tschaikovsky or Beethoven. Amir Pasaribu realized this too well to be able to advise me during our first and last meeting : "Stay abroad. In this country artists are not appreciated". He meant local artists, obviously. Local pop or rock musicians have managed to flourish in Indonesia, but classical musicians and composers still have to face the resistance of our own colleagues.

OK, OK, Pasaribu hasn't written so much music (in a span of a few years, I could say I've written more music than him, but I also have a much better life quality than him back in the 1950s), but what he has done was entering new territories of music which no man in Indonesia has gone before. He was the first Indonesian composer who explored the polytonality, polyrhythms, new scales and modes etc.; yeah it was discovered by Stravinsky and other Europeans, but he was the first to apply those techniques to music which has an Indonesian character, therefore manifested that the Europeans don't have an exclusive ownership to those techniques. I guess it was because he was an adventurer and a groundbreaking composer that he couldn't write so much music (in quantity) ; he had to work out many new things so that they could stand "the test of time". Other composers like me are having all those served on a golden tray. I do admit that I owe a lot of compositional ideas and methods from people like Pasaribu (and Stravinsky, Britten and others, naturally, but I do think Pasaribu has established a new sound, only possible written by an Indonesian composer) : methods that THEY have proved to function properly in musical compositions therefore is ready to be used by "lazy" composers in the future (like me). And yeah, composer don't have to be a pioneer or a groundbreaker (like most of us are not), so if he or she is one, they should be given merit for that. It is thanks to those pioneers that my and other Indonesian composer's job (and life) are now easier !