The Jakarta Post
Helping Out: Tesla Manaf's band prepares for the second edition at 2018's Alur Bunyi event. (Goethe-Institut, Jakarta/File)
The noise inside guitarist Tesla Manaf’s head demands your attention. What makes it rumble is fear, anxiety. That’s why his guitar sounds melancholic and the musicians playing beside him — Desal Sembada (drums), Ditra Prasista (effects), Gatot Alindo (effects) — follow suit.
In the second edition of 2018’s monthly experimental showcase Alur Bunyi, held at the Goethe-Institut in Central Jakarta, 30-year-old guitarist Tesla performed a 53-minute series of compositions titled Toija.
Playing in front of the visual backdrop that shows each of the member’s body parts — from bitten nails, facial blackheads to messy hair — that “they’d feel uncomfortable with”, as Tesla said, Toija is a ruminative, deeply immersive musical experience that combines the whims of experimental music with a very rooted personal strife informing it.
Tesla did not want to say much about that personal strife.
“It’s about a loss of someone close to me, but it’s very personal,” he said.
But it was enough to send him into a tailspin, enough to put all the noises in his head that were so strong, the only way to expel them was to set them to music.
The music, played in a one-song cycle with no interruptions, sounds enveloping, disorienting at times (there’s a screechy electronic noise that almost sounds like gunshots).
Electronica had always been a feature in the realms of music that Tesla is most known for (progressive, neo-classical, jazz), but Toija fleshes out his affinity for meditative soundscapes like never in his career before.
Melancholia, however, is key. It’s right there in the optics: The band played while bathed under dark lights. The reason why we could see them play was from a light emanating from the black and white backdrop.
The compositions themselves are dynamic — there is a whiff of post-rock (reminiscent of the bands Godspeed You! Black Emperor), soft, though ominous electronica or some light jazz.
What speaks the most is the cymbal-heavy drumming. The drums often lead the way, while the other instruments, including the guitar, serve as texture.
Intense: Tesla Manaf and his band perform the composition Toija over 53 minutes. (Goethe-Institut, Jakarta/File)
“Who tells the story the most are the drums; we just follow [them],” he said.
Tesla’s version of experimental music, however, isn’t the studious kind; repetitions were utilized sparingly, and his rendition of noise was more free-floating than confusing.
Toija, recorded live with no overdubs or after-effects, was born out of the music that Gatot and Tesla had experimented with. It wasn’t until 2017 that Tesla found the record’s footing by way of that harrowing loss.
The compositions are titled by numbers, from “628”, “744” to “565”. Tesla chose to use the A-minor chord for all the compositions, preferring it for the sadness within. Anxiety can be audible, and the sound is particular to everybody.
“You must have those noises playing in your head,” he said.
The 2018 Alur Bunyi is curated by guitarist Gerald Situmorang, after musician Aksan Sjuman helmed it last year. Having met Tesla in 2009, Gerald said that it was a no-brainer to invite Tesla, because he knew that the latter had been working on electronic music for some time.
“What I envisioned for Alur Bunyi was experimental music that tilts toward electronica a little bit. Experimental doesn’t have to be weird, but it can be a particular exploration that the musician is interested in,” he told The Jakarta Post. “And when I was made the curator, I knew exactly who to call.”
In the Q&A session held after the performance, the words commonly thrown at Tesla were “meditative”, “droning” and more.
Speaking of the backdrop, he said that the most important element of it were the wounds or the permanent flak on our body parts.
“We were all born with birth marks or parts that we may not like. But we have to love whatever we have right now,” he said.
The noise inside Tesla’s head may sound melancholic or even sad, but it wasn’t made without purpose.
“I wouldn’t want to make music without content or whatever situations that change my life,” Tesla said.