The Jakarta Post
Young Padawan: Sabrina and Annisa wear cloaks throughout their performance. (Goethe Institut/File)
Sabrina Eka Felisiana, Annisa Maharani and Istanara Julia Saputri agreed in 2015 that the name for their noise-music group would be a combination of their names: Sarana.
Hailing from Samarinda, East Kalimantan, they have amassed quite a following with their brand of unsettling music — drone see-sawing, bell ringing and hi-hat cymbals crashing.
For the third edition of Alur Bunyi, a monthly experimental concert series at the Goethe Institut, Central Jakarta (this year’s edition is curated by guitarist Gerald Situmorang), Sarana — with just Annisa and Sabrina manning their instruments — played their music while wearing capes that made them look like a young Padawan.
Noise music in Indonesia — a relatively subdued, but otherwise active sphere, as exemplified by the documentary Bising (Noisy) by director Adythia Utama — saw a new heir that night.
With acts like Kalimayat, Individual Distortion (Adythia’s project), Mati Gabah Jasus and more, noise music forms an integral part in Indonesia’s experimental tapestry, expanding on the language of music that hardly ever enters the mainstream.
The first half of the concert featured ambient soundscapes that sounded calm, though sneakily menacing. Droning courses through with the sound of scratches, growls or even ones that mimic the noise of internet dial-up. Annisa played the instrument shaker box, which looks like a Poké Ball.
The clouds of disquiet had only started to materialize in the first half of the performance. They became almost enveloping in the second half of the concert, when the music got a bit more intense. Annisa, for one, started shrieking amid scattered electronica and a techno-influenced percussive pattern – it’s lethargy set to dark ambient music.
Making music: The shaker box, shaped like a Poké Ball, features prominently in Sarana's performance. (Goethe Institut/File)
In fact, dark ambient was the first musical style that kicked the group into gear.
“At first we were a dark ambient, experimental group, but we also experimented with harsh noise,” said Annisa during a Q&A session held midway through the gig.
What governs Sarana’s music, despite the many forms it assumes, is the group’s affinity for improvisation. The band never plays the exact same tracks at its concerts.
“There are historical records, there are always new memories,” said Annisa when asked for the reason.
The music Sarana played at Alur Bunyi also showed that you’ll never be able to tell just when Annisa will hit the cymbals harder or when Sabrina will apply the delay effects. Interestingly, the tracks melted into one another almost seamlessly.
The only music that will sound permanent for listeners is committed to tape. Sarana released an EP called Heals in 2016 and this year, it is set to release an LP, Grow. That album was recorded on the iPhone Voice Notes application, with no mixing or mastering involved.
“The ambience is a lot more felt; everything just sounds constant when connected by our minds,” Annisa explained.
An audience member asked Annisa and Sabrina what they think of when making their music.
“For me, I think of a mental hospital. It’s a little scary,” said Sabrina. Annisa had a different answer: “I think of a room with no doors or windows. I could do whatever I want there.”
“What we want to explore in our music,” Sabrina said, “is turning ugly noise into beautiful music”.