Thursday, December 18, 2014

BIRTHPLACE RECLAIMED!




Freestyle dance music commissioned by Chandrabhanu (Bharatam Dance Company, Melbourne) in late 1992; world premiere in January 1993 @ PJ Civic Center. 

Composed, performed & produced by Antares & Friends 

Minah Angong (vocals); Sunetra Fernando (vocals, rebab & percussion); Rafique Rashid (sequencing, percussion, vocal effects, engineering & mixing); Tim Bremser (12-string guitar, drum programming, percussion, vocal effects & mixing); Antares (shepherd's flute, Balinese flutes, synthesizer, didgeridoo, percussion & vocal effects) 

Digitally remastered in September 2012 by Thomas Smorek

As the title suggests, this choreographic work attempts to chronicle the loss of innocence every individual and every community experiences when the spurious concept of "progress" encroaches and transforms the land into an eco-systemic and psycho-emotional hell. From Dreamtime to Machinetime; thence a period of spiritual confusion and intense questing, followed at last by not so much a return to an imaginary pristine past - but a reconciliation with present reality, wherein ancient and modern realities begin to ecstatically fuse, thereby generating a fresh creation.

Sometime towards the end of 1992 I was contacted by celebrated dancer-choreographer Ramli Ibrahim (founder & artistic director of Sutra Foundation) who asked if I was keen to take on a commission to produce 30 minutes of music for Chandrabhanu, a Melbourne-based master of the Bharatanatyam.

Of course I said yes and soon a meeting with Chandrabhanu was set up. He had in mind a freestyle contemporary choreographic work titled Birthplace Reclaimed which he wished to premiere at a dance festival hosted by Sutra at the PJ Civic Center in early 1993.

I immediately got to work on the music, visualizing a circle and 4 cardinal points - an ancient symbol for Mother Earth. 

As Chandrabhanu had only a limited budget, I was unable to rent a professional studio for the task. So I recruited Rafique Rashid as a musical conspirator and sound engineer. He was living in Kuala Kubu Bharu at the time in a shophouse and had a workable 4-track home studio  at his disposable. He called it Batorvilla Studio (inspired by Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital after which he had named his comic-book alter ego).

At the time we had Tim Bremser - an Enochian magickian, visual artist & musician from Winnipeg, Canada - living at Magick River. Tim owned a 12-string guitar & a TEAC 4-track mixer-recorder which could be tandemed with Rafique's Akai 4-track. Sunetra Fernando, taking a break from her ethnomusicological research in gamelan, showed up one day & was promptly recruited.

Perlis-born Chandrabhanu arrived in Melbourne in 1971 to study social anthropology.

Minah Angong at the Sarawak Rainforest World Music 
Festival in August 1998
To explain what I had in mind, I drew a chart dividing the music into four movements: the first movement (Dreamtime) would depict an idyllic, edenic way of life, interrupted by the advent of industrialization (Machinetime, second movement). 

The third movement (Spacetime) would represent a period of confusion born of the conflict between inner and outer realities. Finally, a reconciliation of past and future, a fusion of tradition and innovation, paving the way for us to reclaim our birthplace.

Rafique and I had already experimented with dropping Minah Angong's cold voice on top of an instrumental work-in-progress. The result exceeded all expectations and augured the beginning of a rewarding musical collaboration called Akar Umbi.

A ceremonial singer from the indigenous Temuan tribe, Minah Angong had been taught the song "Burung Meniyun" by her late husband, the headman of Gerachi Village. It felt so right that we should incorporate the indigenous soul into Birthplace Reclaimed.

We had to record at night because Batorvilla Studio wasn't soundproofed. The traffic noise was too intrusive during the daylight hours. Sunetra was learning to play the rebab, a two-stringed violin introduced to Southeast Asia by the Arabs. It sounded great passed through a guitar effects box. Getting the mix right was crazy work, with both Rafique and Tim handling the crossfades and controlling levels with both hands on two different 4-track decks.

When Chandrabhanu heard the fruits of our nocturnal labors, he instantly liked it. Then he asked if Minah Angong would be able to sing "Burung Meniyun" live on stage. She had never performed on any stage, as far as I knew, but we decided to give it a go. Rafique would produce two versions of the music - one with Minah's voice mixed in; the other without, so it could be used as a minus-one for her live vocal. We took Minah to the technical rehearsal and put her to the test. She passed with flying colors (after a false start owing to nervousness) and wowed the packed hall on opening night.

Minah Angong with Antares & Chandrabanu (costumed as a shaman).


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