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Mery Kasiman discovers new sounds through electronica

Stanley Widianto

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, July 27, 2018  /  08:54 am
Mery Kasiman discovers new sounds through electronica

Harmonious combo: Modular synths are used to create a hypnotic vibe during Mery Kasiman’s performance at the Goethe Institut in Jakarta. (Goethe Institut/File)

The late Indonesian jazz great Riza Arshad once said of Mery, as quoted by Warta Jazz, “Not only is she a good pianist, Mery Kasiman has immense talent as a music arranger and director. She will shine in years to come.”

The statement may be bold, but it rang true on one special night.

At the latest edition of the experimental-music concert series, Alur Bunyi (Sound Flow), held at the Goethe Institut in Jakarta, Mery took to the stage with husband Julian Marantika (modular synths), Indra Perkasa (modular synths), Ranya Badudu (vocals), Windy Setiadi (accordion) and Karel William (drums).

As the gentle synths began to caress the ear, Mery’s piano sang. It did not sing a lullaby, instead, the mood in the auditorium was hypnotic.

Then the band followed suit — with the buzzes of the synths dancing with Mery’s piano. The drums, with agile taps of the snare, sounded like an approximation, perhaps even an upgrade, to jazz.

After a while, though, Mery was in the mood for softness, performing the song “Waterfall”, a jazz pop cut with several meandering touches of the other instruments.

On vocals, Mery was accompanied by Ranya, who alternated between singing and vocalizing — both crystalline vocal modes that may as well have been the paramount instruments of the concert.

Mery’s piano was adventurous at times, though it could also become buried under the surrounding sounds. It took a backseat for one notable song, which Mery said remained untitled.

The song started with Julian’s chattering synths, adorned with vocal samples that could have been plucked from AM radio. It was the night’s most menacing cut — the effect was hazy and challenging in equal measures.

Into the flow: Pianist Mery Kasiman performs during the experimental music concert series Alur Bunyi (Sound Flow).Into the flow: Pianist Mery Kasiman performs during the experimental music concert series Alur Bunyi (Sound Flow). (Goethe Institut/File)

This see-sawing between brazen experimentation and conventional jazz was rooted in Mery’s desire to expand the limits of her music.

“If you want to have music that’s wide, big and majestic, it can sometimes be expensive,” she said during a discussion session held midway through the concert.

“One way to achieve that wide sound is through electronic music, with midi synths and all,” she said.

With musicians Petra Sihombing and Mono of the band Neurotic, she began working on the night’s material during the fasting season.

She said the music came together quickly and she gave a clear summation of her approach to building arrangements.

“Our melodies play on top of a carpet,” she said.

That carpet, she explained, was the one-two punch of the modular synths and drums.

Behind the band, Berlin-based visual art duo Pfadfinderei provided an alluring visual backdrop. Subdued colors glided by — never intrusive, never overbearing. It was a fitting addition to Alur Bunyi’s most dynamic edition yet.

At the end of the concert, the audience clamored for an encore. Though at first confused about which song to play, Mery obliged.

She warned that they had not practiced the song enough. Then, in the twilight, they performed the breezy jazz-pop song “It Should Be Fine” in which Mery sings: “Hey it should be fine/stop thinking it through/ it’ll pass in the night.