“The misconception about gamelan is that it resembles Indonesian music as a whole, but it only resembles one of the music of one of Indonesia’s many tribes”
— OneBeat 2015 Fellow Jay Afrisando sets the record straight and delves into his hazy percussion piece “Gendhing Trans-Border”
When did you compose ‘Gendhing Trans-Border’? How did arranging and performing this composition with OneBeat Fellows differ than how you’ve done so in the past?
I composed this piece during the OneBeat residency, in late October, 2015. It was a great gift to meet musicians from around the world. I believe that meeting new people will inspire each other to think more broadly and gain fresh perspectives and develop deeper mutual understanding. This piece is my reflection as an Indonesian musician, especially a composer; how I present my local identity in an authentic way. In this case, this gamelan-inspired composition incorporates musicians with different cultural backgrounds to share in the gamelan spirit by incorporating their own cultural instruments or western instruments, in a different context.
You worked a lot with Guan and Daniel in your improvisational ensemble Tiga Trio. How does that work relate or differ from this composition?
The similarity between this piece and Tiga Trio’s work is that both of them are improvisatory compositions. The difference is that this piece forms some distinct rules, as opposed to free improvisation. Therefore, the rules of improvisation will distinct the output sound.
Of all the forms of Indonesian music known in the U.S., gamelan is probably the most well-known. What are some common misconceptions about it? Would you consider this piece to be influenced by gamelan?
The misconception about gamelan is that it resembles Indonesian music as a whole, but it only resembles one of the music of one of Indonesia’s many tribes. There is such a diversity of musical styles, languages, and cultures in Indonesia because there are many ethnic groups living in Indonesia.
Back in Indonesia, what types of venues do you typically perform a piece like this in? Touring with OneBeat, did you notice any difference between how music is presented or how audiences interact as opposed to at home?
I can perform this piece typically in a traditional building, called a Joglo, or other more reverberant venues. However, the spaces in other venues regardless the type or the acoustic condition. Based on my observation, I find that how audiences interact here in Indonesia is different compared to what I experienced during OneBeat. The local audiences in the US look more expressive while listening to new music whereas the local people here look quieter while in the same condition. It is because the information about new music or contemporary music is not widely spread here. Therefore, it can affect common local people’s reaction, in my humble opinion.
In what ways do you think your experience performing in OneBeat ensembles will affect your compositional work going forward?
My experience in performing in OneBeat ensembles effects in a way of thinking and creating the method to practice and perform.
“The track progression mirrors the progression of 4-weeks: moving from the peacefulness of the OneBeat residency to being on the road, where time suddenly started passing by fast and everything was coming to an end. Albeit a beautiful one.”
— OneBeat Fellow Samer Chami on the bittersweet undertones of “If We Could Only See”. Take a listen to that and other tracks off the OneBeat mixtape!
You’ve spent time making music between Beirut and London, as well as traveling to the United States. How has your time abroad shaped your approach to beat making?
Every time I travel and take part in musical endeavors I return to Beirut with a fresh outlook on life, music, my relationship to music and what I want to achieve. Everything is put in question. You meet people and musicians from completely different walks of life each with their own musical journey and ambitions. It’s truly inspiring and at the same time it always makes me reassess my feeling about my approach to music making. Each of these experiences allows me to mature as a music creator, to find myself musically and further develop my sound.
You worked on a number of tracks during OneBeat. If you had to pick, which one is your favorite and why?
That’s a tough question, but I guess it would be “If We Could Only See” which I did with Saideh Eftekhari. When we first recorded that track and begun producing it, we were still in the first week of the residency. Having just met incredible new people, forming such pure and beautiful bonds so quickly but deeply, being in beautiful nature, and playing music all day, I felt joy so deep that it was both happy and sad at the same time. Sad because deep down I knew time was running by and soon we’d have to leave. This track perfectly portrays that feeling for me, and represents the journey that we went through, even sonically speaking. The track progression mirrors the progression of 4-weeks: moving from the peacefulness of the OneBeat residency to being on the road, where time suddenly started passing by fast and everything was coming to an end. Albeit a beautiful one.
Can you explain your process of developing one of these tracks with OneBeat musicians?
The process was very different from my usual collaborations, because in this case i had no desired outcome in mind when we started. We were openly experimenting with each recording session. I would rearrange and add my touches, and that would get updated with every new instrument that was recorded. So, the vision of the track kept changing and maturing until reaching its most natural outcome.
“Sawa”, which is probably runner-up to “If We Could Only See” as my favorite track, is a collaboration between five musicians. Pat Swoboda on bass, Saideh Eftekhari on violin, Eddie Valencia on percussion, FSN Director Chris Marianetti on vocals and myself, composing and producing the final mix. First, I invited Pat to lay bassline hooks on a skeleton track I’d started. Once I listened to the recordings and started producing, I asked Saideh if she could lay some violin and she worked her magic. We recorded many of her ideas. Then recorded Eddie added shakers and provided the track with an amazing groove. With these new recordings, the track was starting to direct itself and take shape. At that point, I could see more or less see what the final outcome would be. Lastly, Chris lay down some vocal melodies and I rearranged and produced the final version.
What was it like translating the energy of the recording to a venue setting?
We performed “Sawa” during the OneBeat tour. It was really interesting playing the song as it was finally arranged, with live musicians and electronics. Because the track is quite fast paced with many changes and drops, meshing those elements live was quite challenging and a learning experience.
How do you feel that OneBeat affected your musical outlook overall?
Since OneBeat, my musical outlook has broadened and it keeps on broadening with every new person I collaborate with. I am open to all sorts of collaborations and I have new found appreciation for a lot of genres and an interest in discovering new instruments and sounds. I’ve also realized that collaborating is the best and most crucial way to mature as a musician because it is a form of experimentation.
“My life is literally divided into before and “after” discovering Cardew and Scratch Orchestra”
— Listen to OneBeat Fellow Kate Shilonosova’s experimental “Bells Burp” and the inspiration behind compositional process.
Where does the title “Bells Burp” come from?
It’s a silly name, but that was the original working title of my Ableton project. I used to name tracks titles like” “Improv2” or “Loop1” etc. but it became hard to navigate between them. One of my favorites is called “Sad Woman Cries” and it’s a actually a really beautiful song. Usually I’ll change a name after I finish a track, I have no idea why I decided to leave it that way.
You recorded a version of this song on your album Binasu, as NV. What made you want to rearrange it to be performed by OneBeat Fellows?
I always wanted to perform my tracks as NV live with a small orchestra or ensemble.
During OneBeat, I realised that we mainly gathered in small bands because it was easier to communicate, rehearse and make music. But I really wanted to try something more. There was huge potential—percussion, strings, voices. That’s why I thought “Bells Burp” would be the best thing to perform together. It was such a challenge — we had to make a real score and it was 56 pages!
My life is literally divided into before and “after” discovering Cardew and Scratch Orchestra. Cardew’s “The Great Learning” changed my perception of music in general. I began to hear everything in a different way and something new in obvious things. Before I found out about Scratch and Cardew, I surrounded myself with genre stereotypes and didn’t allow myself to get outside of these boxes. And probably the most important thing—I finally learned how to improvise and use sounds as a language to communicate with other musicians.
You worked with Daniel De Mendoza on arranging this piece for percussion. What was that collaboration like?
We had a lot of fun together. Daniel is awesome, and so smart and patient! I couldn’t do this alone bcause I’d never transcribed a score based off a recording before. I thought it would be easy, but it took us about 7 hours to put together the “Bells Burp” score. We created several patterns for different percussion instruments and imitated all the synths, using strings and voices instead. The track is quite repetitive and we had to repeat each pattern exactly the same number of times to recreate the exact equence of the track. That’s why the final conductor’s version of the score is over 50 pages for five minutes of music.
How do you feel that your work as a producer and songwriter will be affected by your experience working with OneBeat ensembles?
First—I stopped being nervous during sound checks and concerts. In the future, I won’t be as stressed if I do not have enough time for my soundcheck or the audience do not understand my music. Second— I feel that I can make music almost anywhere and in any type of condition. And of course, I learned a lot about the Fellows, the music they are passionate about and would love to create.
“I once had a great family / The Black Legion murdered them / Come with me, Roma from all the world”
— OneBeat Fellow Bajram Kafu Kinolli translates the melancholy Balkan song “As a ‘Roma’ Means Human” and talks about his trip to the U.S.
As a “Roma” Means Human
I went, I went on long roads
I met happy Roma
O Roma, where do you come from,
With tents happy on the road?
O Roma, O Romani youths!
I once had a great family,
The Black Legion murdered them
Come with me, Roma from all the world
For the Roma, roads have opened
Now is the time, rise up Roma now,
We will rise high if we act
O Roma, O Romani youths!
Open, God, White doors
So I can see where are my people.
Come back to tour the roads
And walk with happy Roma
O Roma, O Romani youths!
Up, Romani people! Now is the time
Come with me, Roma from all the world
Dark face and dark eyes,
I want them like dark grapes
O Roma, O Romani youths!
What was the process like arranging this song in a OneBeat ensemble?
This song is a very traditional which is typically played on traditional instruments. Performing this with OneBeat is a different vibe, with different sounds and arrangement. I don’t perform this with my group at home often. And if we do it’s in a very different style.
You’ve done a lot of socially focused work with youth back home. How does this inform your work as a musician and bandleader?
It’s always good to learn from the younger generation– what do they think about or what attracts them? When I work with youth I gain a lot of skills I can translate to work with my own band. It impacts how I go about solving problems and gives me patience in certain situations I might not have had before.
As a Roma musician, how do you feel the culture is represented abroad, particularly in the United States?
I didn’t come to the U.S. promote Roma culture there. I came to share and get something in return from all the musicians I met. OneBeat was a good program for our national pride and it was good for me personally. The U.S. should engage in more long-term cultural exchange programs, I think there needs to be a lot more representation.
“What I create is a reflection of my identity and I hold many of them. I don’t collaborate exclusively; I aim to be open to all forms of collective creation”
— OneBeat Fellow Gizem Oruç discusses her minimal electro-song “Dragons in Gardens”
What was the creative process like working with Ami Kim?
Working with Ami felt both natural and magical. It was the second week of the OneBeat program and our first time getting together we produced an entire song. The second time we met up, we produced another. We didn’t take any time for granted. We’d work on the bus, in a bar, a hotel room… When I think about it now, it seems a bit crazy. But it felt normal.
Where does the title “Dragons in Gardens” come from?
The title was initially Ami’s idea. She just came up with “Dragons and Gardens” and I misspelled it as “Dragons in Gardens”. A coincidence determined the name of our duo and song title. We appreciate coincidences.
How did you choose the palette of sounds for this song?
The track was based off a snippet of music I wrote for a film before OneBeat. So, some of the instrumental ideas were already established. Ami then wrote the melody and the lyrics, which gave structure to the song. We recorded the vocals during the last few days of the program at IslandWood (Bainbridge Island, Washington).
How did you go about mixing and completing the track after OneBeat ended?
Ami and I kept on talking about the song, how to improve it and also continue with our duo. It took some time until we were both satisfied with how the music sounds. It’s not an easy task especially when there’s a bit of a physical distance (around 6000 miles) between us. We Skype’d a lot, wrote each other notes for every stage of mixing and exchanged files. We’re staying in regular contact and plan to produce and record more music together.
You’ve spoken about the discrimination facing the LGBTI community in Turkey. How did you approach collaborating with artists from such a range of backgrounds at OneBeat, while honoring their identities?
My perspective is affected by every single thing I experience. What I create is a reflection of my identity and I hold many of them. I don’t collaborate exclusively; I aim to be open to all forms of collective creation. What matters to me is what the artwork wants to convey and how the collective work is accomplished. And of course how much joy I receive in the process.
You often work with live projection and programming in your performances. How do you feel that your programming and visual work filters into your approach to music (and vice versa)?
Besides being a musician, I’m a scientist who likes learning and experimenting. As a teenager, I witnessed the growth of open source platforms and the makers movements. These things deeply influenced my approach to artistic work. Gradually, I grew interested in creative coding and my graduate studies at MIAM (in Sonic Arts) strengthened this tendency. Programming inspires me a lot when I’m creating. I believe in holism when it comes to art, audio-visual work.
How do you feel that your experiences at OneBeat will influence your music going forward?
I feel very fortunate to have taken part in OneBeat. Meeting and making music with all those talented people was a true miracle. I’ve made a group of close friends spread across the globe and I plan on continuing to collaborate with them as much as life allows. OneBeat gave birth to “Dragons in Gardens” and I am extremely grateful for that. I feel like everything I make about music now and in the future will carry my OneBeat experience.
[Saideh Eftekhari photo TBD]
“The word “yar” can mean “beloved” on several different planes–spiritual, romantic, and just simply, it can mean friend”
— OneBeat Fellow Saideh Eftekhari talks about the meaning behind her haunting ballad “Ay Yar” and her relationship to Iranian traditional music.
There’s a repetitive and almost meditative feel to this track. What does the lyrical refrain mean and what do you view as the overall message of the song?
This song cycles through the following lyrics:
Ay Yar (oh beloved)
To az koja amadi? (Where did you come from?)
The word “yar” can mean “beloved” on several different planes–spiritual, romantic, and just simply, it can mean friend. This song expresses wonderment at the beloved as well as a longing for the beloved.
How does this song differ from how you’ve performed it in the past and what was the process like re-arranging?
I originally performed this song with only one other person, my music partner Khatch Khatchadourian. We used a Persian frame drum called a daf for the percussive elements and Arabic style male accompanying vocals, so the song had a more Middle Eastern bent. Performing it with the OneBeat Fellows was very organic. I had first played the song with Pat and Ya Ya for elementary school children who visited Montalvo during our residency. Then it was just a question of what other sonic elements to invite in. That’s one of the musical indulgences of a program like OneBeat–you bring together musicians with very different instruments and musical backgrounds and what emerges is so effortless and beautiful. This is what we did in arranging this configuration. How about more strings? A balalaika! A violin…How about some percussion? And here comes Arun, seamlessly driving the song.
Who are some of your formative Iranian musical influences?
One of my Iranian musical influences is Mohammad Reza Ghassemi. I took setar lessons from him when I lived in Europe. He popularized the setar among younger players because he invigorated Persian Classical Music with a fresh twist. I admire his ability to balance tradition and newness. Another Iranian musician who made a formative impression on me is Sima Bina. My mom and aunt would listen to her voice on Iranian radio when they were children. Sima Bina has a powerful voice steeped in both Persian Classical Music and Iranian folkloric traditions. In fact, she is one of the greatest researchers and preservationists of Iranian Folkloric music. Through her voice, one travels through time and space, experiencing the contours and intoxicating sonic fragrances of the various cultures of Iran.
How does your work as an educator impact your practice as a musician and collaborator?
I primarily teach young children and every day I am reminded by them just how boundless and beautiful music is! Children are so free with their creativity and quick to react to music without judgement. I try to hold onto this spirit as I approach music-making, both as a soloist and collaborator. I would also say that my work as an educator highlights the importance of participatory music-making. I had a teacher who told us that creativity is not a solitary process. We are always building on something that consciously or subconsciously entered our being–whether it is the melody of the lullaby your mother sang you, the sound of leaves rustling in the wind, or Michael Jackson’s Thriller–we never make anything alone, and what better way to celebrate this than to play music with others, invite audience-participation, and remind everyone that music is, in fact, your birthright.
Was there anyone that you collaborated with at OneBeat that made an especially strong impression on you?
My collaboration with Ya Ya was inspiring on so many levels. Ya Ya has this uncanny ability to create gorgeous musical space and movement. I had never played or sung with a liuqin before–that in itself was so fresh and exciting for me. I was also very inspired by her selection of songs with melodies rooted in ancient Taiwanese poetry. The imagery from these poems often merged with the words I felt compelled to sing, without even knowing it at times. That was a very powerful realization. I also found Ya Ya’s artistic composure and stage presence very calming and regal. This was a perfect complement to her very lighthearted and fun personality. I just find her to be so multi-dimensional, so musically strong and generous. She’s an absolute dream and I feel so lucky to have collaborated with her.
“As a music producer, I understand the appropriate build of a song and know when to make sound and when to hush. Working with the different musicians on this project was and forever will be an unforgettable experience.”
— OneBeat Fellow IBK Spaceship Boi talks about developing his playful track “Breakfast for the Jetlagged”
How did the idea for “Breakfast for the Jetlagged” come about? How many musicians are featured on the track?
I conceived of “Breakfast for the Jetlagged” in one of those ‘light bulb’ moments that occur sporadically. The idea came the morning after the OneBeat Fellows arrived in California. My roommate Daniel Limaverde walked up to the see-through glass door and said “Look, they are serving breakfast for the jet lagged” and immediately the idea came to me. I ran to my bedroom studio and started creating. The idea of having people ordering food in the form of musical instruments was one I’d had before and this was a good opportunity for it.
You wear many hats as a vocalist, producer and multi-instrumentalist. Which of these roles did you explore most at OneBeat and why?
At Onebeat, I explored my ‘vocalist’ side most. I found it interesting singing songs from different genres and languages. I saw it as a challenge and an opportunity to learn and develop as a singer.
You’re featured on Dragana’s song “Yellow House” and it’s a very different kind of song compared to “Breakfast”. Can you talk about the process of working on that piece with her?
The process was ‘fluid’. I’m the kind of musician that is open to experiment and that was the mindset I brought to “Yellow House”. I have always loved to fill in the blanks’ as far as music is concerned. Whenever I listen to a piece of music, I listen and create melodies & harmonies I feel should have been in particular segments of the song. That’s why it’s easy for me to improvise. As a music producer, I understand the appropriate build of a song and know when to make sound and when to hush. Working with the different musicians on this project was and forever will be an unforgettable experience.
Having collaborated with all 25 OneBeat musicians is there one or two that you feel like you were the most creatively compatible with?
Every Fellow stood out and was unique in their own creative way. I was able to manage my time and work with the majority of them. As regards creative compatibility I will say I connected with Ami Kim. She came up with the most amazing melodies and chord progressions that inspire you to write the appropriate words to convey the emotion in that piece of music. Jay Afrisando was my missing link. A saxophonist that can play notes as you mumble them. It was great working with him. And Gizem. It was her strum pattern when she played the guitar and her heart as a human being. It was her gadgets and how she used them while producing. She understands communicating emotions and that resonated with me.
How has OneBeat affected your musical outlook and do you have any future plans to collaborate with OneBeat Fellows or alumni?
Onebeat broadened my musical outlook. It opened my eyes to enjoying the process of creation, when and where it happens. Collaborating with fellows and alumni is on my list of things to do and I’m currently working on getting some projects started.