viernes, 26 de marzo de 2010

To ban or not to ban, that's not the question

It's been a habit all over the world throughout the history of mankind to ban intellectuals and artists. It had happened to me too several times (and needless to say, in my own country ; there is no point in banning immigrants' works of art, right?) although not in a grand way like the case of Stalin and Shostakovich. I remember there is a private music school who prohibits its students even only mentioning my name, let alone playing a note of my music there. And another "artistic" company have done (and are doing) that too in similarly pathetic ways, so if once in a while accidentally my name (and even my music) popped up there ... well ... if you are not as powerful as Hitler or Stalin it would be difficult to ban someone, my friend. If my music, due to mysterious forces happen to sound in their community then the easiest thing is try to hide the composer's name. "Oh, it's just some sounds coming from ...the sky?". Exactly, my friend. The name's Skywalker. Andy Skywalker.

Artists write books, make paintings or write music, so even if you cut off our heads, somehow our names (and products) still hang around. Uff, difficult business, eh? And now with our big brothers such as facebook, websites etc the banning business gets even more complicated. I just get on with the old way of doing business : write my music and let the audience decide what they like. And if they wanna judge who's music or who plays the piano better, well it's their problem, not mine. I am what I am, my music sounds like what it is. And I am too busy to ban my friends. And too lazy.
Another composer in Indonesia having been banned (at that time by a political party) was Amir Pasaribu. Now THAT was quite ugly was extensive and intensive up to a point that he had to leave the country, otherwise he'd have faced prison sentence.
Usually the banning of my name or existence has nothing to do politically ; it's more of artistic views. You don't understand that? Well, I'll tell you in a simpler language in four letters : envy. So, usually I was banned by my fellow artists, or "artists", usually in the world of music (a painter or writer would make no point in banning me, right?).
But to be honest, being banned does give me a tiny boost of pride. And as Herodotus said, it is better envied than pitied. I mean, if someone envies you, that means they consider you "better" than him/her, right ? Whether it is true or not, he thinks that way. And if someone thinks you are better, there are two obvious responses : either he/she admires you or hates you. Admiration (and love) and hatred are just two sides of a coin as we always say. In fact, I'd like to be banned in a grand way. Therefore I feel grand. No, no, don't send me to a concentration camp or shoot me. Just ban me, write in the newspaper headlines "The music of Ananda Sukarlan is complete trash, and he plays the piano like an idiot, therefore he should be banned." And write a loooong article about my mus.. I mean trash. I'd love it ! In fact, the easiest way to ban a composer is to program his music. If it's really trashy, then the audience will automatically ban it by not wanting to come to the concerts or listen to his music anymore. But this advice wouldn't make my banner friend happy, eh ..? I don't think it's quite effective ....
"Such men as he be never at heart's ease
Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,
And therefore are they very dangerous."
(W. Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar")

And therefore Caesar was murdered, my friend.

miércoles, 24 de marzo de 2010

5 husbands .... and no babies yet

This time this entry is for my friend, the fantastic guitarist Miguel Trapaga, by whom I have the honour and great pleasure to be commissioned my first piece for guitar solo. I have written for guitar in the past, but none for a solo instrument, and quite an elaborated and virtuosic one. This is only possible thanks to him, his support, his continuing efforts to give me a thorough insight of the instrument, its wondrous sound world, its delicacy and huge possibilities which I wasn’t aware of until then. I don’t think that a composer should be able to play every instrument, but in the case of the guitar, I thought I had to so I did learn its basic exercises by myself. Its finger positions, rich and strange colours should “fall into the fingers” as we say. And I must say, I have never worked together with an instrumentalist as intensively as I have with him, and boy, it's very inspiring and useful!

The result of our collaboration is my piece, “The 5 lovers of Drupadi”. It's in 4 movements. Eh?? It doesn’t add up, right? Well, it is based on a very small episode from the epic “Mahabharata” from India, where Drupadi was --by natural force (and a long story behind it) and not by sexual temptation!— married to the 5 brothers of Pandava. And 2 of them, Nakula and Sadeva were twins. Now, it’s quite a contradiction I must say, that Indonesian culture in general, and Javanese culture in particular could embrace this mythology quite naturally, since by historical background we are quite, let’s say, “right-winged”. Even until now. I mean, you can talk to any people there in Java and they’d tell you that homosexuality is a disease that could be cured, for example. There are even some extremists who would go as far as telling you that it is a sin to have a facebook account!

Back to my guitar piece, I ask for scordatura for the VI, V and IV strings. They are tuned to F, G and C respectively. So, I was very thankful to Miguel Trapaga that he would made a version of the score with what is played, not what sounds. The poor guy had to learn the piece as it sounds, not as it is written! If you can’t imagine what he went through, well, imagine that you are playing the piano and half of the keyboard produces different notes than what you usually play. Yes, half of it, since I re-tuned 3 strings of the guitar, which are half of the 6 strings of the instrument. I admit that my knowledge of the guitar is not advanced enough to be able to write the fingerings and the scordatura notation. And now that he has finished editing the score, my my, all those strange symbols and numbers could be misinterpreted as a secret message from the KGB!

Miguel Trapaga has given the world premiere of The 5 lovers of Drupadi on the 10th of March at Juan Bravo theatre in Segovia in a concert of the Philharmonic Society. He will tour it to Asia & New Zealand starting next June.

viernes, 19 de marzo de 2010

Ariadne Rescued ... in Spain

Next month my friend from our conservatory days --and now a reputable flutist living in Cordoba-- Wendela van Swol will give the Spanish premiere of my flute and piano Rescuing Ariadne, accompanied by pianist Emilio Jose Garcia. One of their concerts will be during the Spanish Flute Convention in Madrid where it will be a concentration of flutists around the world with 3 full days of concerts, discussions and masterclasses. And they made me realize that with several performances done in the past, I haven't written any program notes on the piece, so this entry is dedicated to them.

Rescuing Ariadne was inspired by a painting by Titian at the National Gallery of London. I don't know why that particular painting was particularly inspiring to me, among the other fascinating paintings hanging there. Its luscious colours certainly triggered some of the harmonic progressions in my piece, and I also had in mind the story behind it while composing. Therefore the piece was divided into 3 continuous sections :

1. depicting both anger and sadness of Ariadne being alone in the island of Naxos. There are many short flute cadenzas here.

2. the arrival of Bacchus. As one can expect when a handsome god meets a beautiful goddess, they immediately fall in love, and thanks to this process we get the story of him rescuing her out of the island. I especially like the beginning of the "love tune" where the piano repeats a figure twice and then the flute answers with the same figure : it's so kitch! As if one asked "Do you love me? Do you love me?" and the other answered : "Yeah I do love you". If you have this dialogue in mind, you'll get the exact rubato that's needed.

3. obviously their adventure of escaping from Naxos. I use my favorite meter of 10/16 as the ending.

I don't think one should bear this story in mind while listening to the music, since I hope that the music can speak for itself without any programmatic background, and I do realize that both Titian's painting and the story are too big for my 5-minute little piece. Some people have asked me questions why I didn't simply put Titian's title for my piece, hence "Bacchus and Ariadne", and my answer is that 1. Albert Roussel has done justice to the painting by writing his Third Symphony (yes, a whole symphony and not a 5+ minute piece) with that title. 2. I did concentrate on the figure of Ariadne, and not on Bacchus while writing my piece.

And somehow I had (and still have) the strange feeling that this piece would be the first movement of a kind of suite for flute and piano. It just feels that way. There are materials in the piece that can still be exploited to make it a complete piece of, say, 3 movements. But I haven't got the time, opportunity and inspiration to write another one (my "Prelude and Interlude" from my opera IBU, also for flute and piano, has nothing to do with this). Especially now, when I am extremely late in finishing my third opera. Rehearsals starting in mid-April and .. ehm .. nobody involved in the opera has received any note from me (sssh, don't tell!). Anybody got Mozart's phone number??

lunes, 8 de marzo de 2010

A beautiful mistake

Time and again, I am inspired by Hasan Aspahani's poem. But this time it's not what he wrote, but what he didn't write. To be precise, what I considered a mistake. A beautiful mistake, that is.

The poem starts with this phrase : "Pada mulanya ialah bunyi .." (In the beginning it was sound). Now ...really ? Yeah perhaps, but in the very beginning ... there was ...silence, right ? Now, how do you compose silence, without copying John Cage's 4'33" ? The answer, my friend, is blowing in Hasan Aspahani's poem. It is a mistake, but it poignantly rectifies itself. And it is the rectification which is so inspiring to me.

So, I have officially started my work on his poem, "Stanza Suara". This poem and my work on it are commissioned (for the third time for me) by the ITB Choir for the festive opening of their big International Choir Festival in Bandung next July (I know, I know, time is running out). Now, the words "festive" and also "monumental" (which they use to describe my yet inexisting piece) are very dangerous to me. My second cantata, LIBERTAS was supposed to be like that too, and see what came out of it ! Slow and brooding loooong melodies. Dead bodies, bones, loss, lamentation everywhere ...
For now, I just paste you Hasan Aspahani's breathtaking poem here. No more comments about it until I finish my music, with God's will. And with the travellings of this and next month, it will be quite some time ...

Stanza Suara

PADA mulanya ialah bunyi
kita memandang pada pecah
cahaya, terang yang seketika
terentang di semesta suara

Pada mulanya ialah bunyi
kita mendengar lagu jiwa
mempercaya pada pesona suara
menyebut diri, mengucap dunia


Sunyi melirih, O, sunyi bersih
menepi tangis sampai ke sepi
Sunyi menyisih O sunyi letih

Sunyi merintih, O, sunyi pedih
membawa mimpi sampai ke sepi
sunyi menyerpih, O, Sunyi perih


Pada mulanya ialah bunyi
di bumi raga, di angkasa sukma
kita meninggi pada harmoni
terbang di sayap-sayap suara

Para mulanya ialah bunyi
kita mengada karena suara
kita mendunia karena suara
kita mengangkasa karena suara


Dengar kata mendengar kita
menyimak bunyi bisik bumi

Dengar kata, mendengar kita
semesta kata, harmoni kita

Dengar kata, mendengar kita
sukma kata, jiwa suara kita

Dengar kata, mendengar kita
Mengepak tinggi sayap suara

sábado, 6 de marzo de 2010

Study on sunsets

I always say (and believe) that I love nature, but can't be inspired by it. Usually other works of art inspires me : paintings, poetry and other "artificial" things made by fellow humans. I am not like Debussy who can be at the beach and start to jot down some notes. But apparently some sounds start to pop up in my head these last few months being in a nice place during my favorite period of the day : during sunset. I do love the color of the sky, the modulations of the colours and light and the crepuscular process of entering darkness; they all provide good materials for music. And so, for Alicia's Second Piano Book I have decided to include some short pieces (no, no, I still am not capable of writing La Mer or a 20-minute piece just by watching it!) based on sketches on sunset.
Apparently, in some of the sketches I've made during these months there are ones inspired by "artificial" sunsets as well, such as the painting of Aert van der Neer (Landscape at Sundset) or even that scene during the first kiss in the film "Titanic". But there are some which are inspired by real sunsets. I remember one day in December last year, at the house of the art patron Mrs. Pia Alisjahbana in Jakarta, we witnessed a spectacular sunset in her garden. I jotted down some chords and modulations there at her place, and made a short piece out of it today.
I am quite surprised how incapable is music being objective. I think, by nature, music is impressionistic even without having that "impressionistic" atmosphere. I mean, I made one today based on sunset, but in fact I was writing what I was feeling today. Those modulations and gradations of colours are just merely excuses !