This eclectic compilation of Indonesian music arose out of 7 years of studio and field recordings, forming the soundtrack for an in depth series of films by Anthropologist Robert Lemelson and filmmaker Dag Yngvesson, looking at culture and mental illness in Bali and Java. Many of the films, spanning up to a decade in the lives of their central characters, are still in the process of being shot and edited. But the songs, gathered and recorded during downtime in Indonesia and at home in the US, gradually increased in number, eventually becoming a project of their own.
Beginning to familiarize themselves with parts of the vast variety of music from the archipelago’s 17000 islands and over 500 languages and ethnic groups, Robert and Dag sought sounds that would help bring out and create certain moods in the films, while placing characters in their own distinctive environments. The result is a unique combination of traditional, modern, and even pop music from Java, Bali, and Sumatra, filtered through the ears, as well as the lens of Western visitors who grew up on rock and roll, punk, hip hop, and jazz. Many of the songs are hybrids of a sort, using traditional instruments, but in very stripped down or modified arrangements, allowing them to emphasize tones and melodies that mesh with the images and emotions of film.
Finding the right musicians was a big part of the process, and also often became an adventure in itself. In one instance, Dag traveled to the city Palembang, Sumatra in search of Sahilin, a guitarist he’d only heard of, and had no idea how to contact. Asking around with an Indonesian friend, a stroke of luck put them in touch with a radio station employee who knew where the guitarist lived, but not which one of his three wives he was currently staying with. After finally tracking him down, they arrived at his doorstep with at least 50 children and adults in tow, laughing and pointing, apparently completely entertained by the rare sight of a foreigner at such close quarters. When all of them insisted on piling into the aging, blind guitarist’s home as well, the session had to be moved to the bathroom of Dag’s hotel room, the only place quiet enough to get a clean recording.
In total the tracks come from a number of sources, including remote village gamelan maestros, street musicians playing a local version of Reggae, Indonesian pop with roots in Indian Bollywood music, and collaborations with composers from both Eastern and Western classical traditions, based in the Indonesian Institute of the Arts in Yogyakarta, Central Java, as well as California Institute of the Arts in the US. In the last 2 years, new technology has allowed for inexpensive, high quality, multi-track recording using only a laptop and small outboard mixer, thus greatly increasing the potential for experimentation, adding or subtracting elements from established forms of music, and seeing if it works. This concept has been very exciting and productive for this project since it has caught the interest and imagination of both filmmakers and composers of Indonesian classical music, resulting in a somewhat rare and true collaboration.