June 29th, 2004

Fishy Circumstances


As I waited in line to buy a ticket, the woman at the previous table enquired if I'd ever been to Indonesia. No? Well, was I interested? I admitted to a certain curiousity about the country - I grew up with an Indonesia shadow puppet, all pointy elegance, hanging on a wall at home. She handed me a free CD, all about the country - oh, and a list of URLS (I'll add them to this post later) - and while I was there, a pretty glossy brochure on the subject. Then it was my turn to buy a ticket.

All I knew going into this show was that Krakatau was an Indonesia pop fusion band. In retrospect, that doesn't begin to describe the amazing sounds that they produce. I'd say it's more a traditional Indonesia/jazz/rock/new age/drum core fusion, focused on creating tuneful soundscapes. It wasn't like anything I'd heard before, but I liked it. The musicians were talented; the singers, both of them, could do the most strangely compelling things with their voices, what I'll label for lack of a better term as tribal singing, tribal to a tribe I don't recognize. Rich, sharp, complex. Some of the traditional Indonesia instruments had very edgy sounds, strident, but balanced by the rest of the sound. In the spectacular final number, three of the instrumentalists collectively ended up playing the same gamelan. The sound was loud most of the time, but nuanced, never painful, and there were moments of great subtlety and delicacy in the performance as well.

The group is composed of six musicians, and they were traveling with a guest singer who joined them on perhaps five of the pieces they performed in their solid ninety minute concert. The last time some of the audience members had seen the group perform had been for a crowd of 4000 - we were a hundred, at most. The most outspoken of the musicians was the keyboardist and synthetizer - sometime he played both at once. There was a rock-style drummer and another drummer on traditional two-ended drums. The latter was joined on the same kind of instrument on one number by the gamelan player, who also played an autoharp-type instrument for one number, when not playing the gamelan of course. There was a fretless guitar player, fretless so he could play the ten-note traditional Indonesian scale. There was the band's usual singer, but not a singer in any usual sense of the word - he used his voice as an instrument when not playing a stinged or windwind traditional instrument of some sort - the commemorative program had a whole guide to all the instrument, complete with pictures.

And speaking of the (free) commemorative program, it was even more spectacular than all the material advertising Indonesia I received while waiting in line. It included some kind of woven, colorful wall ornament and a sampler DVD of their music, in addition to inserts on the guest singer, discography information, more Indonesia advertisements, and all that useful instrument information, in addition to lots of pretty pictures. The program itself, advertising the Royal Conservatory of Music where the event was hosted, was slender and drab in comparison. It was, however, useful for telling us that the reception would be at a pub afterwards.