As part of the One Instrument Sessions, this EP has Indonesian artist Fahmi Mursyid explore, with each track, a single instrument of his choice. Mursyid, interested in traditional Indonesian music, makes experimental forays that meld the “organic” sounds of each instrument with the “artifice” of electronic processing, resulting in complex, surprisingly emotional short reflections upon each. His picks are an interesting mix that goes from the more identifiable members of gamelan orchestras to a pan flute and a piano (specifically a Rösler piano from the 1950s), showcasing the width (and depth) of Indonesian classical. Short and to the point, these tracks have something concise to say and quickly move on; thankfully, the artist has no use for the sometimes long and meandering processes that boggles down a few experimental musicians.
“Hening (Saron)” deploys the percussion instrument as a sort of melody-generator amidst glitchy electronic sounds that seem to trace the echoes and microtones left in the wake of its vibrations. The word “hening”, meaning clean or clear and applicable to water or intentions, points at the sort of tones and noises we are listening to – like a crystalline drop analyzed from different vantage points, revealing a dozen subtleties about its form in the interaction of every angle.
“Wirama (Kendang)” takes the drum and layers its dry, short beats upon an almost silent drone that emerges every now and then to give them a forcefulness that almost feels like a melodic narrative being built. The word “wirama” is simply a variation of the word “rhythm”, and it here shows how a rhythm, a repetition, can feel different, or maybe even how every repetition is not exact, but a world unto itself simply connected by similarity to what has come before.
The sweetest track in the album is “Denting (Rösler Piano 50’s)”, which sounds like an ambient piece straight out of a Chihei Hatakeyama gig. “Denting”, put simply, is clinking, which Mursyid illustrates well as the sounds seem to gently bounce off each other and develop a peaceful, quiet harmony.
“Halaman (Karinding)” explores the jaw harp which farmers developed and use to repel insects away from rice fields. One of the meanings of “Halaman” is “yard” or “garden”, directly referencing the pragmatic elements of the instrument – as the ‘pests’ pick up on the sound vibrations and flee, the player comes to musically modify the environment. In Mursyid’s hands, the karinding sounds alien, and the electronic chirps and noises with which he surrounds it begin to seem even more familiar than the low, expansive, and deeply entrancing tones produced by the harp.
“Dentum (Bonang)” brings forth one of the more clearly identifiable instruments of the gamelan ensemble, but instead of letting its tones free, as is the usual case, the artist cuts them short or arranges them in such a way as to make them clash. The word “dentum”, which stands for the pounding of metal on metal, comes to describe the decidedly half-harmonious, half-unharmonious manner in which the traditionally smooth and melodic instrument is played. Its awkward, difficult pace deconstructs the sound entirely, turning the bonang’s usually bright role right on its head.
Finally, “Alunan (Pan Flute)” creates an almost shrieking drone, an ambient of howling winds and lost bits of electronics. Meaning “billowing” it makes the undulations of its sound explicit, rising and falling as the electronics fill in the space with jagged beeps that go all the way back to “Hening (Saron)” and its crystalline, almost cubist, perspective.
As the last drone dies down, it’s clear that Mursyid’s talent as experimentalist is great, and that his work is worth paying attention to. One Instrument Sessions is a really good vehicle for artists to essay ideas, and this little EP is a success in that respect. (David Murrieta Flores)