April 16, 2009
link to original article
Athens collective remixes recordings from Indonesia
By Julie Phillips
Silence is one of those concepts you have to think about. The absence of sound.
We don’t experience real soundlessness often, even when we’re alone, at rest. There’s the low drone of the heat, maybe, the steady whish of our breath, a song on replay in our mind.
To experience true silence, you have to go deep.
Maybe that’s how the term came to Kai Riedl. The creator of a project named Our New Silence, Riedl seeks his silence in meditation and finds inspiration in music. An instructor at the University of Georgia where he teaches classes on Asian religions, Buddhist ritual and music in religious culture, Riedl also is a musician, formerly with the well-loved but now-defunct Athens band Macha, popular in the late 1990s and early ’00s.
“Our New Silence” was a phrase he’d had floating around in his mind for a while – a band name maybe, he says.
Instead, it became the title for a project that brings Athens musicians together with musicians in Indonesia, a country where he finds intriguing sounds, and a new silence.
Riedl first took a trip to Indonesia – to the island of Java – about 10 years ago with one of his former bandmates, Josh McKay. The two were led there by their interest in the music from that country. Macha was a band that infused a variety of instruments into a traditional four-member rock band lineup – zither, dulcimer, gamelan and more. Mostly instrumental, the band had an exuberant sound that mixed world music into American pop.
On Riedl’s first trip, and on his four subsequent returns, he toted along recording equipment, which got a little more sophisticated with each visit, he says.
“I had a handheld cassette the first time I went over – then the next time I took a Marantz (recorder), then an Mbox (a digital recording device). …” he says, adding that friend and sound engineer Suny Lyons accompanied him on later trips, further elevating the quality of the recordings.
Riedl says he returned to the same general area each time, revisiting cities including Bandung and Yogyakarta.
“There are different layers exposed the more you go to certain cities,” he says. “The goal wasn’t to accumulate so much as it was to get to know the music.”
He felt that through his connection, he could bring something back with him to share about this mostly Muslim country.
“At the time, there was a lot of Bush sentiment, and it was sort of my form of political activism – I felt like if people could experience the music, it would relax some of our fixed concepts about the Islamic world.”
His attraction to the music, he notes, also is for its qualities – it’s cyclic, with simple melodies using pentatonic scales in many cases, he says. One or two instruments create interlocking patterns. On his Web site, he notes it’s music that has influenced the likes of John Cage, Phillip Glass, Debussy, Steve Reich and Bela Bartok. “There’s a really high degree of invention you can create within these simple frameworks,” he says.
The sounds he recorded from musicians on the street or through various people he met captured him. In some cases, they captured the musicians as well. “Most of the people we recorded had never heard themselves before, so when they listened back (to the recording) they were really fascinated,” he says.
The photo used for his flyer for Our New Silence features one such musician, a man from Bali whose specialty, interestingly, was in cremation music.
From under the headphones, the man’s face tells part of the story, the “thumbs up” the rest.
Back home, Riedl cataloged the music he recorded along the way in a project he calls Javasounds. This week, he begins the online release of the first of 12 albums of music, over the course of 12 weeks. The cost is $1 per album. He’s not interested in making money, he says, but instead in offering “a reliable introduction to Javanese music. If you listen to these recordings, you’ll have a well-rounded idea about the sonic palette and styles of music there.”
Along the way, he saw other potential for the songs, as well. As a musician, he wanted to play with the sounds, remix and reinterpret them and explore the textures. He invited about a dozen other musicians to do the same – among them Heather McIntosh of the Instruments; Page Campbell of Hope for Agoldensummer; solo artist Killick; Kyle Dawkins of the Georgia Guitar Quartet; and Patrick Ferguson of Five Eight.
And that’s the project that became Our New Silence. With a grant through UGA’s Ideas for Creative Exploration, on Saturday he brings some of the musicians who participated in the remix project together for a free concert at Ramsey Concert Hall in the UGA Performing Arts Center.
Riedl says he tried to match up the musicians he chose for the project with textures and songs that would best complement their styles. He’s happy with the results, and looking forward to Saturday’s concert and to working even more with the project as well. Hopes are to bring in more musicians and singers, to reinterpret other songs from Javasounds, and to bring some of the musicians from Indonesia to Athens in the fall for some live collaboration. Longshot is maybe even taking Athens musicians to Java to play.
Saturday’s performance, he says, really is just the first iteration of Our New Silence. And in it, music is the medium for something greater, a means for communication without words.
“I do meditate quite a bit, so I cherish silence,” Riedl says. “But even in silence, you can sometimes still hear music … Somehow, this is a combination of those things.”