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Gerald Situmorang's electronic exploration

Stanley Widianto

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, September 29, 2017  /  09:18 am
Gerald Situmorang's electronic exploration

Sound check: Gerald Situmorang (center) and his band mates get ready before their concert at German cultural center GoetheHaus in Central Jakarta. (Sancoyo Purnomo/File)

Guitarist Gerald Situmorang’s music in his latest solo album Dimensions entertains more than it challenges.

The second-to-last time I saw guitarist Gerald Situmorang on stage, it was at this year’s Soundrenaline in Bali. He was jumping over the back of Iga Massardi, the vocalist and his bandmate in the alternative rock band Barasuara. And before that, I saw him perform in a tribute concert for the late jazz great Riza Arshad. On these occasions, what spoke on his behalf were the agile, acrobatic movements of his fingers; his closed eyes as he delved into a deep conversation with his instrument.

So, I was expecting my next encounter with the 28-year-old to be more of the same — that is, totally different and characteristically chameleonic.

I saw him again at the Goethe Institut in Jakarta, where he and several musicians — Adra Karim (synth), Jessilardus Mates (electronic drum pad), Baskoro Juwono (vocals, of the band Dried Cassava), Marco Steffiano (sequencer and effects, of Barasuara), Agung Munthe (synth) and Randy MP (effects and soundscapes) — performed his second, nine-track solo album, Dimensions.

Whereas his previous projects walked the line between rock, classical, jazz and folk (with Barasuara and projects such as Gerald Situmorang Trio or Sketsa), this time, electronica looms large in his music; pedals over acoustic, synths over minimal percussion.

Gerald SitumorangGerald Situmorang (Sancoyo Purnomo/File)

He tinkered with a computer software for this album, which was composed from the beginning of 2017 with the help of the aforesaid musicians to help him flesh out this exploration. The result is riveting stuff. The album and the live performance sound like one of those early 1980s Philip Glass records, as the stacked synths and the repetition work up an appetite.

The songs sound cartoonish, with the synths ricocheting on auditorium walls.

“Outer Dimension,” for example, sounds frenzied and turns enthralling at the song’s sudden shift into a jazzy coda. During the entire performance at the Goethe Institut, I was curiously reminded of the sound video games make, such as when Mario of Super Mario Bros captures a Question Mark Block, earning the player points.

In other places, the record bears dark undertones, which is evident in the song “Denyut Kehidupan” (Life’s Beats), inspired by the deaths and illnesses striking the people around him, including his father.

All in all, it was a joyful performance and the jokes he told on stage were not bad either.

Enjoying the show: The audience reacts to Gerald Situmorang's performance at German cultural center GoetheHaus in Central Jakarta.Enjoying the show: The audience reacts to Gerald Situmorang's performance at German cultural center GoetheHaus in Central Jakarta. (Sancoyo Purnomo/File)

“For Dimensions, I wrote most of the background music first, like the drum patterns and the chords, before humming and writing the core melodies,” Gerald said, adding that he wrote the album as a careful way to avoid the rut that touring (with Barasuara) can bring.

He conceded that the two songs that were first based on melodies were “Dice” (an old song from 2014) and “Denyut Kehidupan.” But primarily, Dimensions operates in a more traditional form, he said.

“I’d like to think of this record as, like, a pop record. There aren’t that many chords; the form is just verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-done,” he said.

Interestingly, he does not want to label Dimensions as just a pop, or jazz or classical album.

Indeed, it is a melting pot of those influences, anchored and animated by Gerald’s exploration of electronica.

“I’ll leave it to people to determine the genre,” he said.

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