Indonesian Abstractions


April 15, 2009
Flagpole Magazine
link to original article 

Indonesian Abstractions: Local Musician and Scholar Brings Javanese Music to Athens

By Chris Hassiotis

For Kai Riedl, music is more than something to listen to; it’s something to experience fully through listening, creating, recording, manipulating and sharing. With JavaSounds and Our New Silence, two new tandem projects focusing on creating bridges between melodic, hypnotic Indonesian music and the Western world, the local musician gets to do all of that.

JavaSounds is an ongoing field-recording project that has, so far, borne the fruit of three trips to Indonesia. While Our New Silence is a way for Riedl to recontextualize those sounds, it’s both a remix project involving local musicians and the name of a live presentation of that music this weekend. “Two distinct sides of the same coin,” says Riedl, who is eager to draw attention to musical traditions as well as to find new ways to approach them.

Southeast Asian Origins

“I’ve been listening to this kind of music since I was in my mid-teens,” when a friend gave him a CD with Indonesian music, says Riedl, formerly a member of the now-defunct Athens band Macha, a group that got moderate millennial attention for its fusion of traditional Indonesian gamelan – an instrumental ensemble characterized by percussive metal gongs, drums and strings – with spacey indie rock. “I think my interests pretty much lie in travel, and I have to have a relationship with music. Combining them on that first trip [to Indonesia] 10 years ago was pretty fantastic, a guerrilla style if you will. And so my interest pretty much grew from there.”

Riedl took three trips to the Southeast Asian country over the past five years, each time recording more and delving into the traditional musical culture. Local sound engineer Suny Lyons, formerly of the bands Tin Cup Prophette and The Low Lows, accompanied Riedl to provide technical know-how. “I decided to bring someone like Suny, who has such a great command of the tools, to help,” says Riedl. “I’d tried recording before, but you don’t really realize how hard it is to capture sounds, keep things in tune, keep people focused, keep at times even chickens quiet! Basically doing things that would be virtually impossible for one person to do on their own.”

JavaSounds Recordings

Riedl says his current goal with the JavaSounds project is “to provide a reliable introduction to Javanese music,” and he plans to do so by offering numerous albums for sale online at one dollar a piece, with one album released per week for 10 weeks. “So, I guess I also want to create a new model for music,” he says, “because obviously the one that’s been in place is not working. Our relationship with music has changed. Our gratitude for it has changed. So, I’m trying to find a different model for how to present these, both more economically and more formatively.”

Riedl says, though, that the JavaSounds project never started with a definite goal, but that each step has evolved out of the prior. “I have to say that to a large degree there was an element of choicelessness to the whole thing… I feel compelled to do these things; I love to travel. I have to have a relationship with music. I feel, actually, largely that I’m doing what I’m meant to do when I’m doing that kind of work. There was never any kind of end goal to the work, to be honest with you. When I look back on it, I’ve always been politically aware but not very politically active, and trying to expose some of these cultural elements of the Islamic world was my form of political activism, in a sense. And I love the music. Really, once we got back and realized what we had, the goal to release it came to mind, and then to develop some more music out of these parts is now what we’re working on.”

JavaSounds recordings – traditional field recordings of renowned Javanese musicians – will be up for sample and for sale online at and at, and listeners will find the basis there for what Riedl and a bevy of other local musicians have put together under the Our New Silence banner.

Our New Silence

Featuring numerous local musicians who often flirt with the grey area between mainstream and experimental music – artists like Kyle Dawkins (Georgia Guitar Quartet), Heather McIntosh (The Instruments, Gnarls Barkley), Page Campbell (Hope for Agoldensummer, Creepy), Killick and Isaac McCalla – Our New Silence takes the raw material from the JavaSounds recording sessions and reworks it, lacing pop, rock and electronic textures into the music.

“We’re going to present some of the pieces we’ve composed, and it’s a giant experiment, really, the first iteration of this project,” says Riedl. “It should be a good chance to hear some different sounds, learn a little bit about the Islamic world, Indonesia, and hear some of our favorite musicians from there.”

This weekend’s free performance at the University of Georgia’s Ramsey Concert Hall will incorporate presentations of the JavaSounds recordings alongside live performances by the Our New Silence musicians.

“First of all, we’re going to play small parts of these traditional recordings so [the audience] has some context for what they’re going to hear,” says Riedl. “And then we’ll play some of the fusion-based remixes, or abstractions, or recontextualizations, or reinterpretations, whatever you call ’em. And we’ll also play some ambient field recordings.”

The Our New Silence project/event is supported by UGA’s Ideas for Creative Exploration, an interdisciplinary initiative for advanced research in the arts. “My goal really is to create some kind of abstracted Indonesian soundscape for people where they can learn about this music and simultaneously enjoy some music or genres that they may be familiar with,” says Riedl, who also teaches classes in religious studies at UGA. “I’d say if you want to hear something you normally don’t get to, it’d be a good opportunity… the fortunate thing is we’re going to be doing it at Ramsey Hall, where some of the delicacies of the sound can come out more.”

For more information on Our New Silence, including samples of the remixes and a preview of this weekend’s event, visit or