The Jakarta Post
Soundblasting: Gong Ex Machina is a theatrical experience that focuses on an immersive 3D sound experience. (Courtesy of Yohanes Widoyoko/-)
Two masters of their craft will collaborate on a conceptual “theater of sound” experience at the Jakarta Playhouse (GKJ) on Nov. 29 to 30.
Famed Japanese sound designer Yasuhiro Morinaga will work alongside influential theater artist Yudi Ahmad Tajudin on Gong Ex Machina, a theatrical presentation featuring 3D soundscapes that will burst out of every corner of the theater hall, ostensibly creating an experience that will provoke every sense in each audience member’s body.
Japanese sound engineer Tetsushi Hirai will be responsible for the technical aspects of the sound production. The event is coproduced by Teater Garasi.
The title Gong Ex Machina is a clear reference to the concept of deus ex machina (god in the machine), which in this case harkens to Morinaga’s research on the background of the gong in various Southeast Asian cultures.
Morinaga, in his studies, concluded that in some of these cultures, the gong had been used as a medium to communicate with supernatural entities, including deceased loved ones, various gods, or God himself.
This all-encompassing experience will indeed put more focus on sound than the usual theatrical experience. After all, Morinaga is known for his unique approach to sound, having worked as a sound designer for a variety of projects, including films, documentaries, dances, art installations and performances.
He also runs Concrete, an independent record label that specializes in found sounds, field recordings, and ethnocentric music from lesser-known parts of the world. Concrete has released recordings from Kalimantan, Yogyakarta and Sulawesi, among other parts of Southeast Asia. In interviews, Morinaga himself has said that his deep interest in Indonesia is particularly due to the archipelagic line that crosses from Japan to here.
Morinaga’s sound pieces in films have been screened in a notable number of international film festivals such as the Berlinale, Pusan, PIFF and TokyoFimex, and music and art festivals such as the Sonorities Contemporary Music Festival and the Sound Image Sound Festivals.
Morinaga’s collaborative partner, Yudi, is one of the founding members of Teater Garasi, a well-respected artist collective from Yogyakarta. He has worked on a number of acclaimed theater-based shows, which include operas, dance performances, classical dramas, a variety of performance arts and interpretative ethnocentric shows.
In 2014, the Education and Culture Ministry gave Yudi an Art award, while three years prior, he received a fellowship from the Asian Cultural Council to study the New York theatre scene from 2011 to 2012.
Some of Yudi’s notable directorial works include Das Gauklermarchen (The Juggler’s Tale) by Michael Ende in Shizuoka, Japan, and Yang Fana adalah Waktu. Kita Abadi (Time is Transient. We Are Eternal), which was billed as “a performance on the memory and [history of] violence in post ’98 Indonesia” at the Goethe Institut Jakarta two years ago.
The two met in 2013 in Tokyo, when they were both involved in a contemporary dance show curated by choreographer Akiko Kitamura.
“For some reason, since that fall season meeting, we both feel like we ‘clicked’. He said ‘I like the way you look at things, man’,” Yudi said about Morinaga, adding that the Japanese sound designer was very open and direct in communicating ideas.
Yudi felt an immediate connection with Morinaga, whose work he describes as presenting the complexity of imagination within the field of music and audio in a “wide” way and with “strong foundational thinking”.
The two continued meeting in the following years, especially as Morinaga’s research into Southeast Asia’s gong culture brought him back to Indonesia often.
By 2016, Morinaga was working alongside two Indonesian creative minds, Gunawan Maryanto and Juan Arminandi, on a gong-centric show called Marginal Gongs at the Spiral Hall in Tokyo. There, he told Yudi that “the next one, I want to collaborate with you”.
The collaboration between Yudi and Morinaga has gifted them both many new ideas and perspectives.
Yudi says Morinaga’s approach has taught him new concepts in sound and its relationship with imagination, particularly in how one influences the other. He says these ideas in “acousmatic” sound has enriched him as a director.
Yudi adds that due to the reliance on sound, his direction cannot rely on the usual methods of dialogue or structures. As such, there are a lot of unexpected elements that pop out during the production and the show itself; things that even he, as director, did not foresee occurring. He said unexpected quality was something completely new to him and that was exciting.
“In Gong Ex Machina, we expand and process everything — from the choreography, visualization, gestures and actors’ expressions — mostly though [Morinaga’s] sound composition. This is of course a completely new experience that I hope will also result in a completely new experience for the audience,” Yudi said.
Gong ex Machina is supported by the Japan Foundation-Asia Center, Education and Culture Ministry, Bakti Budaya Djarum Foundation and Lijiang. Tickets are Rp 250,000 (US$17) for Class 1, Rp 150,000 for Class 2 and Rp 50,000 for balcony seats. Tickets can be purchased at loket.com