jueves, 17 de febrero de 2011

An Orgasmic Overture for piano & orchestra

Can music be erotic? If you think of Sigmund Freud's statement that describes music (or arts in general, I believe) is the sublimation of sexual desire, then one should ask if music can NOT be erotic.

There are a lot of experiments in this piece that I am doing. It is commissioned to be premiered at the birthday concert of Erza S.T, founder of Indonesia Opera Society and producer of several musical events, and a gay activist himself. I am meant to write a short & festive (read: loud!) piece for piano & orchestra. Originally I was inspired by the legend of Fountain of Eternal Youth (which would really be appropriate for a birthday piece), where it was said that it was a secret place as a tryst for Alexander the Great with his lover (you know that he was bisexual, a very common thing in Greece which in his time was not controversial). So the image of a fountain with all the young & beautiful people with shining auras around it became me and I toyed with the crazy idea of writing music without any melodies. There are themes to be developed of course, but what you remember after hearing the music will be its exhilarating energy and harmonic progressions, not melodies or catchy tunes.

I acquired the chords from watching the splendorous sky in Galicia during sunsets, where I toured for more than a week in the beginning of February. You can't get that spectacular gradations of colours anywhere else on this planet, especially mixed with the rough waves breaking themselves on the jagged rocks at the Atlantic Ocean. That landscape easily transformed into the modulations of strange, gorgeous chords in my inner ear, and I just wrote them down without writing the real music. The point of departure of composing this piece is not unlike a painter, collecting the colours of the paint he's gonna use for his painting. I have decided that the brooding atmosphere of the sunset would not influence my music this time, I just use the colours and make something completely new from it. I hope I will succeed. I use those chords & modulations for a totally happy, boisterous & exuberant piece of music. I'll write the music when I am in a better mood.

But those "fountains" became so manneristic in the piece, and I swear to you, it's like they wrote themselves in the development of the music. The music reminds me of Leonard Bernstein's saying, that making music is like making love, but with hundreds of people. So this piece turns out into a kind of perpetual orgasm ... for 6 minutes. I still call it the Fountain of Youth, of course... and I hope this serves as an elixir of youth to those who listen to it next August.

lunes, 14 de febrero de 2011

The truth on Dalam Doaku

Today's Valentine's Day, and with the many requests for my "top hit" Dalam Doaku for my radio program yesterday Sunday prior to the V day I was asked by several fans of our program thru my facebook about this particular song and what was the circumstances of my composing it.

To tell you the truth, it was far from any kind of turbulence caused by love. It was written during the darkest hours at my hotel in Antwerp, Belgium in 2007. I was touring to 3 cities at that cold January winter (and it was snowing, yes). Since Belgium is a small country, I stayed in one city, which is Antwerp and in the afternoons before the concerts someone from the organizer picked me up and took me to the cities where I played (it was Ghent, Bruxelles and Antwerp itself). I didn't know anyone in Belgium at that time, so I was terribly, horribly lonely. Winter was severe, and the sun already set at about 4 p.m. I always arrived at my hotel around or after midnight after the post-concert party (and pretty drunk too), and I couldn't sleep because of both exhaustion and loneliness, so on the second night I decided to compose instead of being in a bad mood trying to sleep. It was also a method to forget the same repeated music I played in those concerts. At that time I brought Sapardi Djoko Damono's book of poems everywhere with me, since I was completely in love with them, and I felt that his poem Dalam Doaku clicked with the darkness of the nights outside the window. I composed in bed till it would be almost dawn, and I just fell asleep with music papers scattered all around me till just before lunch time (I always skipped breakfast). After the tour finished, I tried it on my piano back home and changed some small trivial things (being drunk meant that I made some mistake in writing some chords!), and even during the recording with Bernadeta Astari & Joseph Kristanto we did change one bar of the baritone part although the score was already published. In fact, I do not have that revised bar with me, only Joseph Kristanto had it in his copy (I hope he hasn't erased it since it was done, as I remember, in pencil).

And a few days prior to the Valentine's, a friend of mine, young pianist Felix Justin made a very beautifully done video clip on the recording. Check it out, when it's finished it could bring tears in your eyes, I tell you. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhGGGKMIApg

Dalam Doaku in fact, if I am not mistaken, became the first piece that was part of my first cantata, Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love). Originally it was written with the accompaniment of english horn, flute, piano & a keyboard (which is in fact a kind of short score for a string orchestra). One day I would like to orchestrate it.

So, pretty boring eh? You'd regret asking the reason it was composed, right? And you might ask, is there a secret message in this song, just like most of my music? The answer my friend, is yes. But as it is defined by the word, then it has to be kept so :) . If you wanna clue: it has nothing to do with the words. The magic craft is "polyphony".

jueves, 10 de febrero de 2011

Some clarifications on the Jakarta Globe article

Yesterday an article, based on an interview with me, was published at The Jakarta Globe, a leading English newspaper in Indonesia. There are a couple of things which I'd like to clarify & rectify, but first, here is a copy-paste of the article, by Juliwati Cokromulio .

‘Limitation is always a source of inspiration for me. In limitation, I find freedom,’ says Ananda Sukarlan. Powerful words from a powerful pianist. Ananda may be based in Europe, but that doesn’t mean his heart isn’t in Jakarta. The 42-year-old has used the money he’s earned over the years, coupled with his talent and experience, to bring the children of the city a chance they might not otherwise have had. His foundation provides scholarships to Indonesians accepted to music schools in Europe, and here in the city it is teaching children how to play their favorite instruments. That’s music to our ears.

What can you tell us about being a musician in Spain? Can you compare it to Jakarta?

Spain is a huge country that hosts a lot of great music performances, making it quite easy to survive as a performing artist.
The same cannot be said of Jakarta. It’s rare that a person can survive here as a musician. Frankly speaking, when I’m in Europe I’m earning money, and when I’m in Indonesia I’m losing money.

Yet you keep coming back on a regular basis.

I recently established a foundation called Yayasan Music Sastra Indonesia to provide scholarships to poor students who want to learn how to play music. I come from a poor family and had a difficult time getting a scholarship, so I know what it’s like. I thought it would be great if I could get a number of sponsors, including myself, to support children here in Indonesia.
We particularly want to help kids below 10 years old who are passionate about music — such as street children — but don’t have the funds to go to the next level.

We didn’t start the foundation with the aim of turning kids into professional musicians, but we wanted to at least introduce them to music so it becomes part of their lives. We hope to increase their awareness and creativity, and reduce the odds that they’ll turn to crime.
The foundation also assists young musicians who have been admitted to conservatories in Europe but can’t afford the fees. YMSI provides financial aid for the first few months.

How do you help kids in Jakarta who want to play music?

We provide teachers, lend the kids musical instruments and assign a mentor to conduct an evaluation every six months. Most of them are beginners and we get them to start off with classics by the likes of Beethoven or Mozart. It’s not that we expect them to become classical musicians, but classical music creates a strong foundation on which to build technical skills.

How many children have participated in the foundation’s activities?

We’ve only be around since 2009. Right now there are two children funded abroad, in Germany and the Netherlands, and about 20 street children in the education program funded by the foundation.

Is it tough to run a foundation in Jakarta?

We spend the majority of our time fund-raising. If we weren’t always busy trying to make money we would be more productive. In Europe, foundations are supported by the government so long as the financial reports are transparent. The people’s taxes filter down to the foundations and organizations. In Indonesia, we never really find out where our taxes go, and the government isn’t exactly bent on developing a music culture.

Have you had any firsthand experience working with the government to promote music?

I’ll give you an example of a case of poor management of funds here in Jakarta. The government awarded Rp 4 billion [$450,000] to DKJ [Dewan Kesenian Jakarta, or the Jakarta Arts Council] in November 2010 and the money was spent by December 2010.
I’ve attended concerts under their management, and more than half of the seats are usually empty. They fail to promote events properly and often end up giving tickets away for free.
In my opinion, audiences should pay for their own seats even if that means keeping ticket prices low. This will tell Jakartans that to enjoy art you have got to pay.
Often, audiences do not respect a performance given for free and walk in and out of the auditorium during the performance. Free tickets achieve nothing in the end.

OK, switching gears, you also work with disabled children.

YMSI now has a sister foundation in Spain for disabled children. The foundation consists of composers who write music for disabled children and provide special instruments. For instance, piano music for the left hand only, a piano without pedals, French horn music written to be played only with the left hand and Braille musical notes for the blind. I’m among those composers. ‘Just a Minute!’ is a piece I wrote to be played with just the left hand.

How does a Twitter user like yourself relate technology with music?

Twitter is powerful. I use it to announce coming events. From an artistic point of view, I am inspired by a writer from Makassar, Aan Mansyur, who writes poems on Twitter using less than 140 characters. That inspired me to write a piece entitled ‘Re-tweeting @aanmansyur.’ It only took 10 minutes.
The essence of the piece is about how to express something clearly and quickly — for me in a space of just 10 minutes — for him in less than 140 characters.


So, I'd like to talk about 2 things: The foundation in Spain for disabled children, and my piece "Retweeting @aanmansyur".

The foundation in Spain does NOT consist of composers. The foundation (called Fundacion Musica Abierta, or Open Music Foundation) commissions composers (most of them Spanish, such as Santiago Lanchares, David del Puerto or myself, if you consider me a Spanish composer hehehe ..) to write music for disabled children. Of course there are existing pieces for, say, left hand alone such as Ravel or Prokofiev's Concerto for left hand piano, but there are no, until this date, easy pieces for left hand alone or other disabled musicians. So that's what the foundation is contributing to the repertoire.

And about my piece, "Retweeting @aanmansyur", its duration is 10 minutes because the music consists of several tweets! You might wonder, what can one do with ONE tweet of 140 characters! I think there were 7 or 8 tweets of Aan Mansyur, I don't remember anymore. Anyway, it's not been premiered yet, since we are waiting for the winner of the Ananda Sukarlan Vocal Award in Surabaya next April to premiere it.