The parade of time, change & sound

Interview: Jompet Kuswidananto, Order and After, Sonica 2015, Glasgow

Glasgow is blessed with Sonica, an ever-growing international sonic arts festival that features UK and international artists, including this year Indonesian sound and installation artist Jompet Kuswidananto who will present Order and After in the Ladies Pool of Glasgow’s 18th century Govanhill Baths. As is increasingly common, sound art rarely stands alone; instead its relationships with light, the moving image, biological systems, electromagnetic fields, various digital platforms, non-musical performance and installation are being vigorously explored.

Sonica is presented by Cryptic, a Glasgow based production house that offers performances that fuse music, sonic art and multi-media. Launched in Glasgow in November 2012, Sonica has toured to Brazil, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Sweden and across the UK. Its 2015 festival features 30 international artists from five continents and 120 events and performances.

Featured artists include Australia’s Robin Fox with Fluorophone which “creates a kaleidoscopic sound world” in response to compositions by Richard Barrett, Juliana Hodkinson, Simon Løffler, Damien Ricketson, Eugene Ughetti and Fox himself: “Analogue and digital fluorescent lights, the naked flame, strobe lights and DMX controlled LEDs are combined with percussion to create a program in which the music and lighting design are one and the same” (press release).

Fox and Speak Percussion come together again on Transducer, “an electro-acoustic spatialised performance work, testing the limits of the microphone as an expressive musical object.” Matthew Lorenzon reviewed an early version of the work at the 2013 Totally Huge New Music Festival.

Quebec’s Herman Kolgen, a maker of unusual video/sound works (like the sensual and visceral Inject), will present LINK.C his “elliptical representation of urban areas, based on String Quartet No. 2 by Philip Glass,” alongside his acclaimed works AfterShock and Seismik. The 1927 William A Wellman silent aviation action film Wings has been set to an electronic score by Belgian composer Eric Sleichim, “interlaced with fragments and quotations from 20th century repertoire for percussion including Xenakis, Stockhausen, Reich, Cage and Wolfe.” The score will be performed live by Sleichim and Belgian percussionists Bl!ndman. Irish composer David Fennessy’s Caruso (Gold is the sweat of the sun), responds to Werner Herzog’s diaries of the making of the film Fitzcarraldo: “Scored for four samplers, the music is almost completely made up of tiny extracts from gramophone recordings made by the tenor Enrico Caruso between 1903 and 1908, and electric guitar.” For the public, there’ll be free access to the Glasgow Science Centre for Helmholtz by Wintour’s Leap (UK), an interactive installation using tiny LED lights—each with its own microphone—that interactively visualize sounds with waves of light as the audience whispers, speaks or claps.

Jompet, Order and After

Jompet Kuswidananta’s works are striking visual and aural creations, often large, immersive installations featuring at their centre a company of military figures, Lombok Abang (‘red chili’ because of their costumes). These are palace guards of the pre-Indonesian Sultanate. Their outfits, a mix of Indonesian and European, are partly intact but the guards’ bodies have disappeared, as if they are form without content—just hats, boots, maybe a tunic, a gun, drums and Javanese kris daggers. Some guards are also mechanised, striking their drums with a Javanese rhythm, adding to the overall ghostly effect which is reinforced by sudden, loud, sharp beats.

Jompet sees this cultural mix as a sign of Indonesian adaptability, although he admits that much has been lost to colonialism and modernity, as seen in the ambiguous images in his accompanying video works, such as a man performing a traditional dance amid 19th century sugar milling machines.

Jompet’s guard motif first came to prominence as Java’s Machine: Phantasmagoria at the Yokohama Triennale in 2008. In the monumental Grand Parade (2014-15) the soldiers are joined by a line of horseless saddles bearing weapons and musical instruments, a tightknit row of motorbikes and much else— a demonstration comprising the heads of hooded figures with dangling loudhailers or large automated hands that almost clap. In an email exchange RealTime asked Jompet about the sources of both images and sounds in his installations.

The aural and visual sense of the parade in your work is very powerful—does it belong to the past or the present?

For the past several years I have been working based on my reading on the Indonesian history of cultural and social transformation, especially in Java. I collect many different kinds of clues, artifacts and evidence of how the transition has been carried on in poetry, folklore, folksongs, community performance, rituals etc. I have been inspired very much by the street parade culture of the royal army, communities, demonstrators and mobs. Through this form I share my reading on Indonesian cultural complexity.

Order and After is about the period known as Reformasi, after the fall of Suharto in 1998 with its new democratic freedoms and many competing forces—appearing as different kinds of parades in your work. You’ve spoken in interviews of the transient and fluid nature of Indonesian culture which you capture in the visual elements of your installations. Is that sense in the sound too?

I use various types of sounds, from abstract to narrative ones—folksongs, folklore and interviews. I also transform those materials into abstract soundscapes to create a dramatic mood. Sound for me has the power to deliver a certain imagining and I think the ambience in my works is created by the sound I make.

How important is the drumbeat for your musical conception?

It’s in street parades where it is useful for democratic mass/crowd mobilization but also as a tool of order.

You said in an interview, “Sound is the most contemplative work I make.”

Mostly, I create the soundscape after I finish the installation and all the technical work. It allows me sometimes to see my work from a distance, physically and conceptually, offering me another journey—to go beyond what I share through my installation.

You’ve spoken of an awareness in you of a fundamental sense of instability in Indonesian culture—of yourself as discrete from others and Java from the rest of the world. Are you hoping with your work to ease that feeling or simply to get fellow Indonesians to acknowledge it?

My work is my reading tool to understand my reality. I’d like to share my reading with anyone, not only Indonesians, who feel connected with my reality.

Jompet Kuswidananto, Order and After, Govanhill Baths, FREE, 12-8pm, 29 Oct-8 Nov; Sonica 2015, Glasgow, 29 0ct-Nov 8

RealTime issue #128 Aug-Sept 2015 pg. web only

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16 September 2015