A rhythm of his own
IT MAY BE HIS first trip to the Land of Hornbills but Yohanes Subowo has found nothing but fascination and inspiration here.
An Indonesian composer, Yohanes was one of the many music experts here on a research tour led by Japanese composer Makoto Nomura courtesy of Japanese Foundation Kuala Lumpur.
One of their stops during this tour was Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV) on Jan 21 where they exchanging experiences and knowledge with Narawi Rashidi from Tuku’ Kame and jammed with sape’ player Jerry Kamit. They were also feted with SCV’s famous daily cultural shows.
At the end of their jamming session at SCV, the group was allowed to take a stroll around, which is when I caught up with Yohanes for a short interview.
Born into an artistic family in 1960, Yohanes was the youngest of nine children, all of whom pursued careers in music.
With more than 30 years’ experience in the business, I could not help but wonder how he could remain inspired to compose music.
“When you want to compose music, there are two sources of inspirations. First is from stimulation; what you see, feel, touch, hear, then you compose. Second is when you are in a room and draft out concepts. Personally, I prefer the first one.”
Pointing at one of the resting huts in SCV, he shared, “If I found something interesting, I could draw inspiration from there and bring it home, turning them into compositions.
“Here in Sarawak, I found a lot of inspirations even the moment I first arrived to the airport and during the short trip to this area (Santubong)”, he said.
Yohanes also found his visit to SCV extraordinary saying, “I will never forget my experience here like what I saw and heard including the cultural show.”
He was fascinated by how the music blended together and how well it complemented the dancers’ moves during the show. Besides his expertise in composing scores for theatre and television, Yohanes is also well-known for his dancing skills.
He is a lecturer and composer at the Indonesia Institute of the Arts Yogyakarta Dance Department. Yohanes shared, “I compose a lot of new music but at the same time I remind myself I also need to know about traditions.”
He stressed that as composers one must continuously learn about tradition not just their own, but others’ too.
“Through learning you will gain experience. The more experience you have, the more you will be able to compose,” he said. “Back in Indonesia, there are many musicians and composers but they only work locally.”
He emphasised that composers must work hard to find connections and keep themselves up to date with music development in Europe and other parts of the world.
Yohanes has met many young musicians in Sarawak especially during his visit to Dayak Cultural Foundation and SCV so I asked if he had any advice for them.
“First of all you have to learn about traditions. Do not limit yourself in creativity and never be afraid to experiment with music except when comes to ritualistic songs.”
His own experiments include building new instruments from bamboo, cowbells, tin roofing sheets and coconut leaves.
Yohanes is also known to transpose music techniques from the Javanese gamelan to western instruments such as electronic keyboards.
Despite his willingness to experiment, Yohanes still believes that musicians must be respectful in this field, advising that “if there is a song specifically for rituals do not mess with it.”
Other musicians in his troupe include koto and shamisen player Etsuko Takezawa, percussionist Yusuke Kataoka, igil and khoomei player Hiroshi Obiki, shakuhachi player Hiromu Motonaga, videographer Yukihiro Nomura, sound and recording engineer Kumiko Yabu, Thai composer Anant Narkkong and Indonesian composer Yohanes Subowo.
They were also accompanied by Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur Cultural Affairs Department Head Mio Yachita and administrative officer Sulatan Ibrahim.
The delegates are also rehearsing music while they are here before heading back to Kuala Lumpur for a music presentation on Sunday, where Nomura will share his experience and insights from this visit.