The Jakarta Post
Soul communication: A still from the music video for "Spirited Away" features Iskandar Widjaja (left) and Indonesian model and actress Luna Maya. (THE GRAND - SIGNATURE PIANO/-)
Indonesian violinist Iskandar Widjaja is embarking on a series of firsts this year, starting with the release of his self-composed single, “Spirited Away”, which will hit streaming services like Spotify and Deezer on March 13.
Iskandar’s ventures into new territory with “Spirited Away”, which marks a milestone in his musical career, with a more pop-like feel compared to his regular fare of classical music recordings.
Born and based in Berlin, the violinist explained during an interview in Jakarta that the song came very spontaneously to him as he was jamming in his home studio one night he couldn't fall asleep. “Spirited Away” was thus born, about 15 minutes into the session.
“I was in a state of – let’s say a bit melancholic, maybe. Also, it was a new beginning for me, and that time period when I wrote the song was a new chapter [in my] life. So I felt, in a way, sad and hurt, but also strong and independent,” he said.
Iskandar is touring Jakarta with several performances this month to promote his new single.
For a start, he is scheduled to perform in a concert sponsored by a local TV station on the single's release date, followed by a solo concert at the Bentara Budaya Jakarta on March 19.
Aspiring violinists will have a chance to meet him and learn from Iskandar at two master classes: one on March 8 at the Ananda Sukarlan Center for Music and Dance in Kebayoran Baru and the other on March 22 at the Bina Musika Jakarta music store in Jatinegara, East Jakarta.
Iskandar Widjaja (THE GRAND - SIGNATURE PIANO/-)
The classically trained violinist is a grandson of Udin Widjaja, a venerable musician during the days of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno.
Iskandar’s repertoire features the compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach, whom he once described as "my religion”, as well as more contemporary musicians like Arvo Pärt and Fazil Say.
“Spirited Away” is thus new terrain across which Iskandar is forging his own path, with plans to release more original compositions in the coming months.
Musically, “Spirited Away” is very much a departure from Iskandar’s usual fare of bold classical pieces. Despite its mellow, pop-like tone and influence from film scores, the song carries a hint of rawness that is evident in the sound of Iskandar breathing, which was not edited out of the recording.
Iskandar said that he decided not to cut the sound of breathing because it felt very personal to him, and he wanted the composition to be “as intimate and raw as possible”.
“I’m a person [who] believes very much in a certain energy flow. That's sort of my philosophy. I believe the things that come naturally are always the best,” he said.
Like nearly all pop songs today, the single's release also comes with a music video co-starring actress Luna Maya, who represents Iskandar's female counterpart in the minimalist video.
Iskandar said the idea for the music video came to mind while he was at the gym.
“I was on the treadmill, running, and suddenly this image came to my mind. I wanted this video to be super artsy, and to have Luna as a female version of myself,” he recounted. He texted Luna there and then, and she immediately accepted his offer.
Iskandar decided to produce the video independently, even though he is signed with a German music label. Although he received generous offers from several sponsors, in the end, he financed most of the music video from his own pockets.
Recording the single was also very organic and was finished in one night at the home studio of Friedrich Wengler, a high school classmate who also plays the piano on the recording.
“We also decided to do it in one take. No edits, no cuts. We lit a candle to get into the right mood, and we just started to feel it and just played. That was it,” Iskandar said.
Another example of his penchant for taking a simpler approach to recording is another single, which Iskandar said was edited multiple times in the studio to produce a specific sound. But in the end, he returned to the original version, as he believed it to be the most natural.
Iskandar said that the impetus for him to play more of his own music was the public's response when he announced that he was going to play a self-composed piece. He also noticed that the audience felt his compositions were deeply personal, and that it was a different reaction to when he played Mozart or Beethoven.
Spurred by the response and the release of “Spirited Away”, Iskandar will be releasing a new single each month toward the release of a full-length album by the end of the year; in a plan he called “very ambitious”.
The new singles will be a series of firsts for Iskandar. Whereas “Spirited Away” is his first original composition, the subsequent singles will all feature experimental elements such as his own vocals, hip-hop beats and even a rap section.
“I’m experimenting with a lot of different styles because this is also my big philosophy, that I don’t believe in genres. I only believe in music and [musical] quality, but I don’t like to [categorize]," he said. “I think that audiences nowadays have everything on their playlists. Of course, people have particular tastes, but no one really listens to one genre. That is very rare.”
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