Sekar DMN is a thoughtful exploration of gamelan orchestras through the terms of post-rock, metal, and noise, and part of what makes the premise interesting is that it was entirely composed and recorded in Indonesia. After all, for all the good intentions of composers like Lou Harrison, most productions emanating from the ‘West’ that include the sounds of gamelan tend to be inherently underlined by forms of orientalism, subordinating the aural qualities of the orchestras to stylistic and formal concerns alien to them. Sekar DMN inverts this relationship by mapping characteristics of the abovementioned genres unto gamelan playstyles, crisscrossing the popular and the traditional into a synthesis that sounds truly unique.
“The Gilded Vulture”, which features the Naradha Gita orchestra from Kerobokan, Bali, takes the archaic selonding gamelan and its bell-like sounds to produce what the artists call an “atmospheric post-rock/black metal track”. The selonding is among the oldest types of gamelan, completely made out of iron, and carrier of myths in which the indigenous people of the villages of Bungaya and Tenganan Pegringsingan once listened to a thunderous voice from the heavens whose tones brought the selonding into existence. The percussive nature of the gamelan is here both affirmed and subverted, as “The Gilded Vulture” begins with a long, droning noise like the rubbing of one of its keys, transitioning to fast machine-beat wooden percussions. Not long after, the easily recognizable sound of the gamelan comes in, but it does not do so in orchestral form, but individually: the aural spread of the villages returns to the singular voice in the heavens. The gamelan pretty much always composes an orchestra, highlighting the collectivity and harmony that Harrison once found so precious, so the development of single-percussion harmonies and melodies is a distinct deviation from the norm, a somber result of the sweeping atmospherics of black metal.
Sekar DMN’s aggressive subversion of tradition is best exemplified by “Kebyar Death Cult 2018”, in which the kebyar, a style born in the early twentieth century amidst strife against Dutch colonizers, is taken back to its roots, the radical affirmation of swiftly changing moods and virtuosic skills emphasizing speed and complexity. The production in this track is utterly noisy, as if it was recorded live amidst a crowd that screams and cheers, described by the artists as “sound collage”, overlaying different songs of seemingly different emotional registers into almost six minutes of relentless percussion. All the ‘peaceful’ associations of the gamelan made by well-intentioned Westerners like Miguel Covarrubias are dispelled here not only by the violent, noisy barrage of the track but also by the connections of its title. After all, in the face of imperial Dutch subjugation, in 1906 the royal family of Bali, its army, and many followers marched in a silent procession towards the superior Dutch force, proceeding, in a stark gesture of defiance, to commit ritual suicide in front of the invaders, which nevertheless opened fire and massacred about a thousand people. Sekar DMN articulate this “Death Cult” in musical form by means of feedback, grainy production, and fast rhythms (sounds familiar already?), or in other, more metal words, by means of giving no quarter.
The second half of the album is much more noise and drone-oriented, with “Itu Protozoa, Mas” conformed by a mass of processed gamelan tones that come to sound like electric guitar. The crunch of feedback and electronic hisses, underlined by a sweet, sad melody, create a strange sense of brightness in an otherwise low-key aggressive track, an emotional state that does not clearly fit into a single category and is instead marked by fluidity. “Kosong (Evaporasi)” (roughly translating as “Void (Evaporation)”) takes this mobility to its ultimate consequences, getting rid of the gamelan and utilizing field recordings to construct a dark, stormy soundscape. This long experimental track comes to affirm the relationships that the rest of the album’s built around the genres it explores, referring, in a way, to black metal’s Romantic intervention of nature as much as to the apocalyptic undertones of post-rock and its orchestral collectivity, comparable to the gamelan’s own.
All in all, this is an incredibly interesting album, and whether you’re into gamelan orchestras or come from the drone and atmospheric black metal camp, I’m certain you will find something to surprise you. (David Murrieta Flores)