2015 OneBeat Fellow Jay Afrisando on his new virtual music festival, Festival Musik dalam Layar
Found Sound Nation’s Nyokabi Kariuki talks to the first round recipients of OneBeat’s Accelerator Grant
Jay Afrisando, a 2015 OneBeat Fellow, is an Indonesian composer, improviser, and multi-instrumentalist. With the OneBeat Accelerator Grant, Jay is running Festival Musik dalam Layar (On-Screen Music Festival), a virtual music festival featuring Indonesian artists in partnership with several Indonesia-based initiatives aiding musicians and artists financially affected by the pandemic.
Nyokabi: You’re a composer, sound artist, improviser and multi-instrumentalist, and a lot of your compositions revolve around the intersection between humans, nature and technology. Can you tell us about who you are as an artist, and about some of your favorite past (or present) projects that explore this intersection between humans/nature/tech?
Jay: I use sound and other media to share awareness on complex issues that emerge as a result of ever-changing tools or technology we make and bodily diversity we have. As human beings, we are equipped with cognitive systems and hearing apparatuses which create diverse hearing profiles. At the same time, not only do the tools we make and/or use come into being as our manifestation, but also they eventually influence — or make — us. These two matters bring about many consequences, from seemingly simple to complicated ones, for instance on hearing and listening, disability and accessibility, politics on technology and science, cultural issues, and so forth. Through my artistic works, I attempt to capture and convey these varied phenomena using various media including (but not limited to) composition, installation, participatory performances, mixed media, and everything in between. I also work using fluid approaches including but not limited to electroacoustic and acoustic, 2D and 3D, fixed and improvised, software- and hardware-based, and everything in between.
All my projects address those issues differently, but if I have to pick some of my favorites, I’d choose The (Real) Laptop Music :)), an audiovisual composition that explores full hearing spectrum for aurally diverse audiences — it was performed at the Aural Diversity Conference 2019 in Leicester, UK, and the audiences were deaf people, cochlear implant and hearing aid users, people with cochlear amusia, autistic persons, and [those with] ‘normal’ hearings. They shared with me their appreciation for the piece. Gendhing Cosmic (2018), a sound installation addressing the development of the Javanese gamelan; and lastly, Twitsick (2016), a participatory piece using Twitter that explores spontaneous composition based on audiences’ live tweets. It was performed by Jay & Gatra Wardaya at IFI, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, as part of the 2016 Innovative Art Grant supported by Kelola Foundation. It was really fun interpreting the tweets — so many surprising and silly tweets and short compositions we made. I attempted to invite the participants to think more about our interaction with social media through a fun experience.
Nyokabi: And now you’re working on a virtual music festival, Festival Musik dalam Layar (On-Screen Music Festival, supported by OneBeat’s Accelerator Grant), which is a direct response to the pandemic’s impact on musicians in your home country, Indonesia. What is the general pandemic situation in Indonesia at the moment? And how do you stay connected to the situation there as you carry on with your doctorate studies in music composition here in the United States?
Jay: The condition is not looking good. The number of cases is increasing, and we’ve lost more than 100 doctors as they passed away because of the virus. Most hospitals that are prepared to take care of COVID-19 patients in Jakarta, have reached their maximum occupancy and the hospitals in other cities may follow the trend in the near future if no serious measure is taken by the authorities. Meanwhile, we also have to fight against misinformation, hoaxes, and ignorance from the people.
I keep connected with my families and friends in Indonesia and follow the recent conditions from the news outlets and social media. That way, I can keep myself updated with the situations in my home country.
Nyokabi: Festival Musik dalam Layar seeks to address multiple issues that musicians in Indonesia are facing right now due to COVID-19. What are some of these issues and how will the Festival tackle them?
Jay: The COVID-19 pandemic has paralyzed so many activities including live art performances and other events involving musicians and artists. Consequently, they are facing a crisis since many jobs, and event contracts, were cancelled. Festival Musik dalam Layar is held to help musicians and artists financially impacted by the pandemic by giving them opportunities to present their artistic works through an online performance and get paid for their participation. By doing this, the Festival hopefully will encourage them to keep making art despite the limitations.
The Festival takes advantage of the internet to present works virtually while at the same time maintaining physical distancing. All the performances by selected musicians and artists are pre-recorded, so they don’t have to worry about the bumpy internet connection (we’ve long had this huge issue in Indonesia, unfortunately).
The Festival also partners with some initiatives in Indonesia that help musicians, artists, and artistic communities, and other creative workers financially impacted by the pandemic. During the Festival, we will encourage audiences to donate directly to those initiatives to help more musicians, artists, artistic communities, and creative workers to keep surviving. Furthermore, we hope that this Festival will inspire other initiatives to do the same to assist more musicians, artists, and artistic communities.
“For almost half a year, we’ve lived in unprecedented times — there is no better time other than now to help each other in order to keep being resilient.”
Nyokabi: Who are the artists performing at the festival? What about these artists stood out to you in the selection process?
Jay: The artists performing at the Festival are Indonesian musicians and sound artists living in the Indonesian region. The Festival is open to those who make any sonic works and welcomes all musical and artistic genres, genders, and domiciles. We received 63 applications from the Call for Performers with diverse backgrounds. All applications were carefully selected and curated to reflect the diversity the Festival has envisioned. The curators selected twelve groups of musicians and artists categorized into three formats: solo, duo, and group (consists of three or more members).
It was a tough process to curate the musicians and artists applying for the Festival. They have really good works and diverse artistic approaches. Some of them highlight works with development based on their musical traditions, others make experimentation on instruments and genres, and others bring their uniqueness in exploring political and social issues in their works. The artists selected to perform virtually at the Festival are Septina Layan, Gema & Tessa, Manangkata, Salim Violin, Rangga Purnama Aji, Wake Up Iris!, Rani Jambak, Rotary Motion, LAIR, Felish CHC, Numi Sonare, and Railroad Therapy.
Nyokabi: Can you also give some information on who the festival partners are, and what their roles are?
Jay: As the Festival Director, I work with amazing human beings who really understand the Festival’s vision and bring the Festival into reality. The Curators include Leilani Hermiasih (singer and songwriter at Frau), Nursalim Yadi Anugerah (composer and OneBeat Alumni 2018), and myself. As the Program Administrator, we have Terry Perdanawati. For the video editor, we have Arif Angga.
We’re working with @america by the U.S. Embassy Jakarta to present the Festival via their YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram channels. Besides having the performance streamed on their social media accounts, @america will also host talks right after the performance. The panels will discuss a variety of themes, including all about the Festival itself, music education in the U.S., music as cultural diplomacy, and cultural exchange between Indonesia and the U.S.
Nyokabi: Speaking of cultural diplomacy and exchange, I’d love to reflect on your time as a 2015 OneBeat Fellow. What moments do you remember most? And what are some things that you gained or learned from the residency?
Jay: OneBeat 2015 was such a lovely experience. I remember when I met Ng Chor Guan and Daniel de Mendoza for the first time on the first day of the residency. We talked much about free improvisation, and we seemed to have similar connections on how we’re thinking about it. On the next day, we immediately tried to play and experiment together. We formed our group and named it TIGAtrio. We had sixteen sessions of free improvisation during the residency. Despite the end of the residency, we’ve kept in touch to occasionally have some performance sessions.
OneBeat 2015 allowed me to learn much on thinking about making and maintaining connections with the other Fellows, artists, and audiences, and negotiating during brainstorming and music-making. It’s so wonderful to meet all the Fellows coming from different backgrounds. I think it enabled us to gain more understanding as we’re exposed to diverse mindsets, cultures, and so on. As I met more and more people during the residency, it also allowed me to gain more experience on understanding the nature of collaboration. To me, it’s really important to recognize people’s and my own characters and expectation to set the tone during collaboration.
As OneBeat 2015 was held in different locations in three different states, I was also exposed to various sites with their own characters. This experience led me to re-shape my thoughts about the residency sites. Each site feels to me like an instrument that influences artistic works we created. As far as I can see, the way I and the other Fellows interacted with the sites really affected how our works unfold. For example, I remember having the session with TIGAtrio + One (Gideon Crevoshay on dance) on the Caldera Arts Center’s lake dock. It was extremely windy — it’s probably the windiest place I’ve ever been (the next day I was there was even windier). We attempted to interact with the wind as much as possible by integrating our playing with the wind as if it was our fifth performer.
Nyokabi: Wow. Given the pandemic, I can imagine that that experience of live performance can be challenging to recreate digitally, and it can be frustrating for musicians to have to play together while situated in different places. However TIGAtrio has been making music together even when you are all in different countries. What are some of the positive aspects that online performances can bring?
Jay: I think the TIGAtrio has treated an online platform as a tool. We will feel and perform differently with different tools. As free improvisers, we love to use and create our own tools to adapt with our own needs. But just like other tools, every tool has its own characteristics, so there has been the need for us to adapt with the tools we use as well.
Performing offline and online surely provides different feels. With the advanced technology development, there will be more sophisticated tools created. But learning new tools is not enough. With the differences the tools can bring, we’ve learned to adjust our expectations when making music with online platforms. This is one of the aspects of free improvisation — to improvise is also to adapt and to make the tools adapt to us as well.
“To improvise is also to adapt and to make the tools adapt to us as well.”
So, with these differences, online performances can contribute more to the musical culture, especially during and after this pandemic, if we really understand the tools we use — the online platforms.
Nyokabi: What do you hope to come out of Festival Musik dalam Layar? Where can we watch it?
Jay: First and foremost, we hope that the Festival can help Indonesian musicians and artists financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the Festival also advances diversity in artistic approaches, genre, gender, and domicile, so that we can together support and witness the huge potential and diversity of the musical culture in Indonesia.
We really hope there will be another series of the Festival Musik dalam Layar to assist more musicians, sound artists, artistic communities, and creative workers as well as promoting more diversity. So we open opportunities for those who are interested in supporting the Festival. To give your support to the Festival Musik dalam Layar, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nyokabi: Thank you for the information. Do you have a message of hope for any other musicians out there who are struggling to make music right now?
Jay: We are in the same pandemic, but each of us is facing different conditions, so the struggle may be different. But I hope online platforms can be the solution to keep being creative, with the support from our society.
“Online platforms can be the solution to keep being creative.”
I hope other musicians and artists can survive this unprecedented time and keep their spirit high. I also hope the society can also contribute to help musicians and artists in need. We can get through this together.
Nyokabi: I like that. As we’re coming to the end of this interview, are there any other projects that you’re working that you’d like us to know about?
Jay: I’m now working on my dissertation project about music and aural diversity. Unfortunately, I can’t share more as I’m still at the early phase of research, but as soon as it’s finalized, I’ll be more than happy to share more on this to the world. Meanwhile, I’m working on new work for Black Pencil Ensemble commissioned by Art Music Today, Black Pencil Ensemble, and Trace21 through the ABT Award 2020. It was originally planned to be performed in the Summer 2021, but due to the pandemic the premiere is postponed until further notice. Last but not least, there will be an upcoming TIGAtrio virtual performance on November 15…stay tuned for more information!
OneBeat is an initiative of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in collaboration with the groundbreaking New York-based music organization Bang on a Can’s Found Sound Nation that employs collaborative original music as a potent new form of cultural diplomacy.