A Musical Journey of Dave Scanlon

by Bintang Perkasa

Although it doesn’t relate to number of age, the word “exploration” is closely associated to young people; be it in the arts or other scenes. Talking about youth, LTTW recently had an opportunity to interview an adventurous young musician.

Meet David Scanlon (Dave), an explorative and persistent young musician and composer from Michigan, USA. He had his first taste of music when he was a teenager. Since no one in his family is a musician, Dave learned about the world of music from mass media such as radio, magazines, and early internet. Much like most teenagers, Guitar was his choice of musical instrument, while Jazz became his entry point to music – which later became his way of life. Dave has always had a hunger for exploration and never ceased to learn new things; he moves from one city to another (New York, Boston, New Haven, and so on) and explores diverse musical forms (Avant Garde, Experimental, Jazz, Rock, etc.), not to mention modifying his own guitar.

When he chose his path in music, Dave understood very well the consequences of becoming a musician and the need to be self-reliant, to be able to overcome every obstacle he will be facing. Dave’s self-reliance mechanism helps him in knowing more about himself; what he needs to learn and improve. Dave’s passion for music drives him to search here and there, from learning at music institution to working in music venues. In the process, Dave gains not only diverse knowledge in theories and techniques, but also opportunities to get acquainted with many individuals and communities in the music circle. Because of that, collaboration becomes a huge part of his musical exploration; he co-founded several bands such as JOBS and Pet Bottle Ningen, just to name a few. Besides being active in his bands, Dave is still able to manage to do collaborative works with other artists.

The chat we had recently with Dave was stimulating and exciting, and we would like to share it with you in the following interview.

LTTW: Before we’re going deeper, could you tell us about yourself? Where you were born and raised?

Dave Scanlon: I am from Michigan, USA, however, I moved around a lot as a child: Michigan – Illinois – Pennsylvania – Michigan – NYC. When I moved to Pennsylvania I became a bit enamored with playing guitar. I was a teenager and it was kind of the typical thing to do. However, I practiced obsessively.

I didn’t know much about being a musician or composer and no one in my family is a musician so I was a bit on my own.

Who introduced you to music then?

Hmm… hard to say; radio, magazines, the early Internet – things like that. For example, I wanted to listen to Jazz so I got DownBeat magazine and then read about Dave Douglas and listened to him so I ended up hearing modern musicians way before I even heard say Miles Davis.

I found a music high school called Interlochen on the Internet and applied on my own. I ended up getting in and that really helped. Probably my first great teacher was there, John Wunsch.

I then went to Miami – moved to New York City to attend New School and finished my studies there. Being in NYC, I started doing the door at a venue called The Stone. That was an education and opened my eyes to an underground music community. I then started my own bands like JOBS and Pet Bottle Ningen with other musicians in the community.

So, Jazz is your preference from the beginning…

 “Later a friend said, “Oh… if you like that you will probably like free jazz” and played a Peter Brotzman record. I was hooked. “

That is a hard question. When I was in High School [Interlochen.Ed] I really loved Jazz Fusion; Chick Corea, Al Di Meola, Return To Forever, Weather Report, etc. However, that music has not aged well and now when I hear it, things sound aged. During that time I was also going to the Hardcore shows that many kids go to in the USA. I was used to hearing that music and somewhat liked it – particularly a subgenre called Grindcore. Later a friend said, “Oh… if you like that you will probably like free jazz” and played a Peter Brotzman record. I was hooked.

From then on I was sort of searching for different experimental recordings. Free Jazz like Derek Bailey, classical music like Morton Feldman and the early Philip Glass ensemble, rock bands like Sonic Youth and things like that.

Why guitar by the way?

That is a great question! I still ask that a lot and to many guitarists.

At the moment I play less guitar and make a lot of music with a computer, but the guitar is a big part of my process and I think guitar causes interesting things. For example, it seems that there is a tradition of the “composer/guitarist.” If you are a guitarist in any genre it is very common to compose your own music where as that is less common for other performers.

I started guitar in the same way that many people do, trying to play in rock bands, however, that in some ways changed and I still feel grateful for that instrument; the social aspects of the instrument (there is always a guitar around) and the prevalence of the instrument in so many different cultures. In addition, a composer/guitarist, Cyrus Pireh often talks about the extremely wide range of timbres that the guitar has.

Yes, we remember Larry Coryell also loves guitar because it’s portability… By the way did your family support your interest in music?

Of Course! They were always very excited about it. Even when I was making quite experimental music they were very supportive.

After college I lived in some pretty bad apartments because I had no money. I think they didn’t love seeing that but they also didn’t seem to mind or they seemed to understand that it went with the territory. For example, I lived in the hallway of a larger apartment and then later I lived in this falling down apartment in Bayridge that had lead paint everywhere and stuff.

Wow, that’s great Dave!! While in Indonesia many parents don’t agree with their kids to choose arts (in this case music) as a way of living. Anyway, you found Interlochen on the Internet, but what made you decide to study there?

All I knew about music was that good musicians were supposed to go to Julliard and that many Julliard students came from Interlochen, so I wanted to go, however, it wasn’t until I was there [Interlochen.Ed] that I learned there wasn’t a guitar program [in Julliard.Ed]. Haha…

I also quickly realized there were many different paths to take as a musician and I didn’t want to pursue a strictly “classical” or strictly “jazz” path. Being in NYC, or any large city, was very helpful for that, seeing that music making and music participation is very porous.

As far as we know, Interlochen has a routine program that invites artists and musicians to perform and doing workshop there…Did it impact your way of seeing music, and how?

Certainly, but Interlochen was more of a place where I practiced a ton, learned a lot of music theory, and was given records by the other students. I was there during the hay day of burning CD-R mixes for your friends so I would say I was more influenced by that.

Any giants whom you’ve considered as your role model?

Wow! Well, certainly in some ways, I got to think about that!

I would say John Zorn is in many ways a role model for numerous musicians. In the way that he has created so much different music, been so dedicated to the music community, and been able to be involved in the arts outside of just music.

John Zorn | Source: Flickr

So because of him, you also dedicate your life to social community outside music scene?

 “I think I see communities as hugely important to all of us…”

I don’t think I can honestly say that about myself. I think I see communities as hugely important to all of us, and the community that I am most actively and widely involved in would be a music community. I would like to think that I both give and take from that community but someone like John Zorn through starting both a record label and a music venue has given so much.

You told us about your study at the New Music School. Why? And what did you find and learn there?

I went to New School to finish college. I would say it was “fine”. I met so many people there and most of my closest friends and collaborators, but the classes were kind of a joke. I had tested out of all the music theory offered because of my high school background [Interlochen.Ed]. However, there were a few gems – there was a rhythm class that was so amazing taught by this person Rory Stuart. Through New School I started working at The Stone and that was more of an education than the school and it allowed me to interface with music and participate in music that was not tied to an institution.

Alright, this is interesting! Can you tell us more about The Stone?

The Stone is/was* a music venue started by John Zorn and musicians curate who plays. I did the door for a while every Tuesday and Thursday; saw so many amazing musicians and I also saw so much bad music. I also met many “younger” musicians and found out about other spaces like Zebulon & Death By Audio and places like that. I eventually needed to work a job, which kept me busy at night so I had to stop working the door, but I was there for many years. Though for a while I only worked say once a month.

*The Stone was relocated to the New School’s Glass Box Theatre on February 27, 2018.Ed

Dave Scanlon live at The Stone | Youtube

 So this is one of the reasons that drive you the most…We notice that one of your groups, Pet Bottle Ningen, performed at Wesleyan, do you study there?

 “About three years ago I was feeling like my artistic life was not changing/progressing so I wanted to change a few things in my life.”

I played with Pet Bottle Ningen at Wesleyan years ago…but yes, at the moment I am a composition graduate student at Wesleyan. About three years ago I was feeling like my artistic life was not changing/progressing so I wanted to change a few things in my life. The first thing I did was leave NYC, which wasn’t entirely successful, I missed the city a lot and I am currently moving back there. I also wanted to start making more “chamber music” and electronic music. I needed a bit of help to get that moving, so I came to Wesleyan.

Pet Bottle Ningen at Cake Shop | Youtube

What do you mean by “chamber music”?

Wow really hard question!! Well “chamber music” suggests a small ensemble “classical” music piece, however, it’s slightly a wider term than that. I should say I wanted to write pieces that I didn’t need to perform, like writing for cello or other mixed ensembles.

Besides Pet Bottle Ningen, you are also involved with other groups. Could you tell us more?

Yeah! So JOBS (which was formerly killer BOB) has been going on for about as long as Pet Bottle Ningen, actually about two years longer. For lack of a better word, I would say it’s an experimental rock band. The music is made collectively with Max Jaffe, Rob Lundberg, Jessica Pavone, and myself. We will have a new recording coming out soon and will be doing some touring.

JOBS – Rhythm Changes | Youtube

I also collaborate often with musician Shannon Fields. He has been a huge influence on me and I think he is a very interesting musical-thinker. He has a project called Leverage Models and used to have the band Stars Like Fleas and Family Dynamics. I also work sometimes with Alena Spanger of Tiny Hazard. Recently I did a show and a residency with quilter Emma Banay, it’s a confusing project but you can find info here: http://www.rhizomedc.org/new-events/2018/2/18/performances-quilt-music-w-dave-scanlon-emme-banay-the-quilt-music-players and http://www.wesleyan.edu/cfa/events/2018/02-2018/02032018-between-systems-and-grounds.html

Haha… That’s pretty much it, but a lot.

In addition to these projects, you still perform as a solo artist; how different is it between playing solo and playing in the band?

I would say that is your easiest question. I get to make all the decisions. Haha…

Haha… indeed!!

No I am actually serious though the bands I play in are collectives, so anyone can change the composition. The same goes for the other collaborations. I value the democratic attitude of the projects. When playing solo or when making electronic music, it’s a bit like being my own boss.

Not many musicians aware that we can practice democratic values in a band. What are the challenges and the “requirements” for it?

 “Part of being in a band is giving all members equal voice.”

Part of being in a band is giving all members equal voice. This does not mean that each member needs to write songs or lyrics or preconceived compositions but during the process of working on the material, each member has the ability to change the material in anyway. This process is largely fruitful and often leads to better results. I would say the only challenge is that this process is significantly slower. The decision-making, learning process, and even simply getting in the same room together can take a very long time.

We know that you invented your own instrument, and I heard that you call it electro acoustic guitar. What motivated you to design the instrument? Is it because there’s a particular sound that you want to “capture”?

Haha… I do use a modified guitar but I have not used that name… Maybe I should start!!! I think the eight-string guitar that Elliott Sharp uses on the Octal recordings is called an electroacoustic guitar.

What I use is a technique borrowed from Fred Frith [one of the Founders of the legendary Canterbury Progressive Rock band, Henry Cow. Ed] of a humbucker floating above the first fret. As a result, if I tap the notes instead of plucking them then each note is a dyad because it is resonating and being amplified from both sides of the fretting finger. What interest me about this sound is that the dyads then move in a reciprocal relationship to each other, one in 12-note equal temperament and the other with a reciprocal relationship to equal temperament. It was initially a way to bring microtonality into my music while utilizing my skill set as a guitarist.

Is there any other instrument you designed besides the one you mentioned us?

Yes!! I have been trying and constantly putting off building an amplified monochord similar to what Pythagoras used for his tuning experiments. I am sure I will get a version of it made within the year. I am a bit obsessed with the inventions made by New Complexity guitars. I don’t have the money for those instruments so I have been interested in adapting the techniques to other guitars; at least the 3rd-bridge idea that New Complexity does so elegantly.

In addition, over the past few months I have been learning fretless guitar. This is a real challenge but given my interest in tuning systems I no longer wanted to be bond to a fretboard.

As far as we know, you move to many places (From Michigan, New York, Middletown to Boston and so on). Is there any specific difference(s) that is uniquely appealing between these places (especially from the artistic perspectives)?

 “Boston and New York both faces intense challenges of finding performance spaces and allowing those spaces to stay open and exist sustainably.”

First, the only places I have lived as an “adult” were New York, Boston/Cambridge, and New Haven. I spent some time in Miami and Alaska but I didn’t interact with the larger community in those two places. I lived in New York the longest, roughly eight years. I love it there and I think I will in some way always be tied to that place. It’s no secret that life is hard there. Even to give a seven year old a piano lesson, you have lots of people hustling for the position. I never quite saw a way to have my life be economically sustainable in New York.

Also, before I moved away [from New York.Ed] I didn’t feel like I was growing as an artist. I wanted to find a way to change how I made music and to interact with a music community more broadly. Cambridge/Boston is wonderful and there is so much going on there through Boston Hassle and Non-Event. I sadly wasn’t living there long enough to truly feel like I knew the town. Had I stayed, things could have developed but sadly I learned that I would be moving again after only eight months. It’s a great place though. Boston and New York both faces intense challenges of finding performance spaces and allowing those spaces to stay open and exist sustainably. I don’t have the answers to questions of that nature though.

Throughout history, art forms are the offspring of aesthetical struggle in dealing with existing or developing cultural/social/political/technological condition. In today’s situation, filled with divisiveness, racism, terrorism, mass-shooting, hatred, and so on, how do musicians in the US respond to this? Any respond in terms of music?

Music has the ability to represent or demonstrate different social, economic, and political forms. This can be used in a negative or positive way. You can certainly read various socialist/collectivist ideas into many musical practices, or authoritarianism into certain artists’ behavior; a lot of these ideas are explained beautifully by Jacques Attali. If musicians present content that is in some way subversive or subverts the situation, it ideally encourages a reimagining in both the performers and listeners/audience. I don’t know if I personally do this very well but it is a large part of my thought process. I feel that composer/performer Cyrus Pireh does this very well and I admire both the subversive and inclusive nature of his work.

 Let’s talk about Internet. It provides a hell lot of data; with this amount of information, we should learn and appreciate diversity much more than we used to. But if we look at the music scene, most hardly progress in this issue. It seems people still favor the same music over and over again. So ironically we become uniformed instead. What is your view on this?

 “Music with the most money behind it will be exposed to more people.”

This seems true for more than just music and tied to larger capitalistic forces. It is true, there seems to be a uniform interest in music that has a large amount of capital behind it. This seems to be a result how music is distributed on the internet, radio, and within other media sources. I don’t think the internet has the power to save us from those forces. Music with the most money behind it will be exposed to more people. There are certainly exceptions to this. Absolutely, we should be more diverse and appreciate diversity more, however, I don’t think the internet is going to save us from the economic forces that make this difficult.

Last question, what is your plan for the future?

Release a new JOBS recording, continue a project of compositions making large diverse sounds with a small amount of concise computer code, learn the organ, and build an amplified monochord.

Thank you Dave!!



The Shape of Water: An Allegorical Critique of Trump

by John Richardson, University of Ottawa

Resistance to Donald Trump’s presidency has taken many forms, including legal challenges, resignations, media criticism, women’s marches, political rebukes and endless rounds of late night mockery. The Best Picture winner at the 90th Academy Awards provides another, less obvious example of resistance. The top film was The Shape of Water, an allegorical love story between a mute woman and a green sea monster.

I am a high school English teacher and an adjunct professor in the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education with a background in live theatre, critical pedagogy and youth culture. I teach Bachelor of Education students who may one day teach high school English classes.

Part of my course covers the importance of critical literacy, which I believe we can teach by asking teenagers to view film as more than just entertainment but as a vital source of insight on contemporary culture, issues and society.

Many of my classroom discussions focus on the ways in which this year’s top movies, not just Oscar nominees, offer clever responses to the racist, sexist and xenophobic policies and rhetoric that have accompanied Trump’s rise to the top.

Lady Bird argues that the lives of young women are worthy of exploration. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri offers a flamethrower portrayal of the corruption, racial conflict and violence at the heart of the American dream. Black Panther triumphantly demonstrates that Black actors and filmmakers can produce a Hollywood blockbuster and that African-American culture can yield an exciting, mythological story appealing to all audiences.

But it is The Shape of Water that offers the most detailed, poetic critique of Trump and the hollow promises of his “Make America Great Again” philosophy.

Lives of quiet oppression

Set in 1962 Baltimore, director Guillermo Del Toro’s film tells the story of Elisa, a young mute woman who works as a cleaner at a mysterious government facility that is home to a recently captured “Amphibian Man.” Zelda is her African-American co-worker and Giles, a gay graphic designer whose work and identity are “ahead of his time,” is her roommate.

These are the Americans who live lives of quiet oppression in the past-tense America that shimmers, mythical and revered, at the heart of the Trump campaign promise. The film both upholds and undermines the old mythologies that can provide comfort and reassurance to people whose lives have been disrupted by global trade, population movements and the emergence of AI in the workplace.

‘The Shape of Water’ features the lives of Americans facing everyday oppressions. (Kerry Hayes/Fox Searchlight Pictures)

The Cold War is in full swing in the film, and the dichotomy between the United States and Russia, between “good” and “evil,” is both referenced and undermined.

Americans and Russians are in conflict, but it’s a Russian agent who acts ethically. There is a traditional Main Street dessert shop, but the affable server turns out to be a vile racist and homophobe who adopts a southern accent for marketing purposes and is actually from Ottawa.

The pies look appealing, but they are mass-produced and the store is part of a new phenomena, the franchise. The film is poised at the moment when authenticity is being lost to illusion.

A Trump proxy

Opposing the quiet, marginalized Americans is Strickland, a shadowy government worker upon whose character the filmmakers apply hateful qualities like layers of slime. It becomes evident that Strickland is designed as a bridge to Trump’s present-day political toxicity when a smooth-talking car salesman tells him: “You are the man of the future.”

A further connection to Trump is made when Strickland announces: “The future is bright. You gotta trust in that. This is America.” Here the film has fun with its ironic presentation of the past. As audience members in 2018 watching a film set in a period of time more than half a century ago, we may question whether the future has indeed turned out to be “bright.”

Reading news stories about the Robert Mueller investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged involvement with Russia, we may feel profoundly uneasy about the relationship between trust and leadership.

Witnessing the assault on otherness and a turn to American nativism, we may question what it now means to be American, and where a nation that was once so welcoming to immigrants has gone.

The Shape of Water is an unconventional love story between a mute woman and a sea creature. (Kerry Hayes/Fox Searchlight Pictures)

But then the film also picks up on the way in which truth in the Trump era has been attacked, questioned and undermined. “Bonanza is not violent. It’s real life. The way it was,” Strickland tells his son about the popular Western TV show of the time. A TV show is said to be “true” much in the same way that Trump draws on cable news personalities as experts fit to serve in the White House.

Like Trump, Strickland boasts about his power to sexually assault women when he harasses silent Elisa with the line: “Bet I can make you squawk a little.” He has sex with his wife in a mechanical manner that diminishes and belittles her. His casual vulgarity oozes male privilege. His repellent masculinity crowds out a woman’s agency.

Strickland calls the beautiful South American Amphibian Man an “affront” and takes pleasure in torturing him with his sizzling cattle prod.

“How did they get in?” he asks of the Russian agents who infiltrated his facility, the question echoing the current political discourse around “illegals” and “shithole countries” as well as the president’s restrictive immigration policies.

A rebuke to ignorance

When the mute woman, the Black woman and the gay man act together to free the beautiful “undesirable” from his prison, the film suggests that the creativity and humanism of outsiders can prevail against cruelty and corruption.

Cowardly, vile and literally rotting from having lost fingers earlier in the story, Strickland dies by the same violence he promulgated. He is the real monster. Elisa and Amphibian Man fall in love and slip away to a watery paradise. Breathing underwater, she opens her eyes and looks at him. She is alive.

The ConversationNot everyone can escape to the ocean’s depths to escape the Trump presidency, but we can escape to the movies. The Shape of Water reminds audiences of the humanity of those people who are marginalized and belittled. Its artistry alone is a rebuke to ignorance.

John Richardson, Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Attacchi di Pane

“Picture of Today” in the Eyes of Italian Contemporary Dance

[Jakarta, LTTW] December 6, 2017, Listen to the World had the pleasure to watch a contemporary dance performance from Italy; organized by the Italian Cultural Institute (Istituto Italiano di Cultura) at the historical Jakarta Art Building. The group presented a dance routine entitled Attacchi di Pane, choreographed by Federica Galimberti, performed by dancers from the E.sperimenti GDO Dance Company.

The theme of the dance is “Man in Society”, a political work of art that is reflected in the story about the struggle of people in life, both in the west and other places around the world. Just like any other arts that are born and developed in the West such as Rock, Breaking, Dadaism, and so on, this performance showcases that the West culture still responds to its locality. It is no surprise if the symbols used in the dance are stemmed from the culture into which it is born.

This dance is filled with symbols that are manifested in the movement, gestures, and stage properties as the media for the choreographer and the seven dancers to convey the message to the audience. Chairs are used as the symbol for territory and identity, and a large Italian bread, which is the center of the routine, symbolizes the source of life.

A scene in the dance shows how the dancers fight over the large bread, and the story ends with the bread cut in two and shared equally. In Italy (Europe), bread is like rice to Javanese.

Listen to the World sees the struggle in Attacchi di Pane as the reflection of the world’s current political condition that is getting more divided due to greed and the fact that humans are still maintaining their territorial nature. Take proxy wars for example; where big countries fight over for power by making use of smaller countries that are in conflict.

Serrano Sianturi (Chairman of Sacred Bridge Foundation) takes a deeper look on the bread scene. He suggests that the bread scene may be the representation of “break a bread”, a term stemmed from Christian culture in Europe. The depiction of “break a bread” can be found in John 6:1-14, in which Jesus shared five pieces of bread and two pieces of fish to 5,000 hungry people. But, the most famous depiction of this term can be found in the Last Supper, in which Jesus breaks and shares the bread to the Apostles on the eve of his crucifixion and says, “This is my body given to you.” With this story, bread can be seen as the symbol of love, friendship, solidarity, peace, and reconciliation.

Tyas, our colleague and a dance teacher at Namarina Ballet, shares our view. She caught some movements where the dancers imitate the gestures in the painting “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci. The connection between dance and other forms of art is nothing new, especially in contemporary dance, which is evident in the history of dance in the 20th century USA.

The pioneers of 20th century contemporary dance such as Marta Graham, Merce Cunningham, and Lester Horton have set a new perspective in the world of dance. Marta Graham integrates choreography with visual arts; adopting the artistic concept of Picasso, the architectural works of Frank Lloyd Wright, and Stravinsky’s compositions. Merce Cunningham is the first choreographer who used the Avant Garde approach in his works. Lester Horton pioneered in combining Native American and Afro dance style into Western style. Contemporary dance has continued adopting styles from around the world such as Yoga, Zen, and American Gymnastic to Hip Hop. It is no surprise if Attacchi di Pane also uses this approach.

Keep in mind that Attachi di Pane is from Italy, the country from which ballet is originated. This dance made a progress after the marriage of Queen Catherine de Medici with the King Henry II from France. Even though different in style and movement, ballet and contemporary dance are strongly connected, even more than we know.

While modern dance is the anti-thesis of the ballet tradition, contemporary re-incorporates ballet as much as retaining modern approach and searching beyond the West. Departing from Christian tradition, ballet attempts to move “beyond the limit of human capability” to depict an angel’s move: its grace and beauty. One can see how light and graceful a ballet dancer moves, as if they are “flying and floating”. Modern dance, on the other hand, incorporate human emotions into the movements, and emphasizes gravity in the motion.

This shows that the counter thoughts brought up by modern and contemporary dance traditions would not have existed without ballet. On the other hand, ballet would cease to develop without modern and contemporary dances as counter parts.

E.SPERIMENTI Workshop: Brief Interview with Namarina’s Students

The Attacchi di Pane program involved dance students from various institutions in Jakarta to take part in a dance workshop taught by the choreographer. Several students from Namarina Dance Academy (partner of Listen to the World) also participated in this workshop.

Before the routine was presented, participants were given the chance to perform their creations from the workshop. Listen to the World had an opportunity to briefly interviewed two participants from Namarina Dance Academy: Kirana Nasywadara (Ara) and Dwigdi Diksita (Didi). They shared their experience and expressed their hopes to Listen to the World.

Ara commented that she learned a new method and gained a new perspective that is different from the tradition of ballet and also learned basic breathing skill, how to use their abdomen. Didi said that she learned about how to direct the flow of her moves. They felt happy to meet new friends from other institutions. Didi and Ara were very enthusiastic in welcoming the dancers and choreographers from Italy, because this was a rare moment for them. Didi wished that the workshop had longer duration, while Ara wished that she could learn more about skills and techniques than choreography.

When asked about the conception behind Attacchi di Pane, they explained that none of the contents in the workshop touches such subject. Based on its experience in education and culture, Sacred Bridge Foundation believes that this workshop should teach more than just techniques. The participants should be encouraged to understand the conception and thoughts both in historical and cultural perspective, so the participants (in this case they are all Indonesians) learn how to respond to the local context and their identity, so they can be more creative and original.


English Translation by Riri Rafiani








A Delicate Weave: Folk Singers from Western India Celebrate Diversity in the Face of Intolerance

by Anjali Monteiro, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Jayasankar K. P., Tata Institute of Social Sciences

A Delicate Weave (Jhini Bini Chadariya), a documentary film set in Kachchh, Gujarat in Western India, traces four different musical journeys, all converging in the ways they affirm religious diversity, syncretism (blending of religions and cultures) and love of the other in a country where religious politics too often divide communities.

Drawing on the poetic and musical traditions of poet-mystics Saint Kabir of Benaras (circa 1500) and Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai of Sindh (1689–1752), as well as the folk traditions of the region, these remarkable musicians and singers bear testimony to how these oral traditions of compassion are being passed down from one generation to the next.

Naranbhai Siju, Weaver and Community Archivist. KP Jayasankar
It can take several forms. In Bhujodi, a village close to the city of Bhuj, in Gujarat, a group of young men meets every night to sing devotional songs. They are all weavers and feel a special bond with Kabir, who was also a weaver. They are mentored by Naranbhai Siju, a carpet weaver by profession and a remarkable self-taught community archivist, who spends his spare time recording and annotating this body of devotional music.

The women from Lakhpat, an ancient port close to the border between India and Pakistan, quietly subvert gender roles through their folk music performances. They are the first group of women in Kachchh to perform in public – and this has changed their lives.

The women’s group at the Lakhpat Gurudwara. KP Jayasankar
Noor Mohammad Sodha is a master flautist from Bhuj who has been playing the jodiya pawa or double flute for more than 25 years, performing in India and also overseas. He has recently begun teaching three young people his skills, in the hope that this tradition will live on.

Noor Mohammed Sodha, Master flautist from Bhuj. KP Jayasankar
Jiant Khan, 60, lives in the Banni grasslands of the area. On two nights every week, he meets people who travel from far-flung villages to sing the verses of the Sufi poet Shah Bhitai in the musical Waee form, a style from the northwest of India and beyond, performed with string instruments. Five years ago, there were only three people left in India who sang this rare and ethereal form – now the number has gone up to eight.


Jiant Khan, Waee Singer and Teacher, Jaloo Village. KP Jayasankar
All these passionate musicians keep alive this delicate weave, committed to the project of what Naranbhai calls “breaking down the walls” – walls that have been built up through the politics of hate and intolerance that marks current times.

Pastoralists living in harmony

Since 2008, our team from the School of Media and Cultural Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai have been creating video documentaries of the music of pastoral communities, in the region of Kachchh in Gujarat. This has resulted in the making of our three films – Do Din Ka Mela (A Two-Day Fair), So Heddan So Hoddan (Like Here Like There) and A Delicate Weave.

Gujarat witnessed ethnic violence directed against the Muslim minorities of the state in 2002, in which more than 2000 people are estimated to have been killed. Kachchh, though a part of Gujarat, remained unaffected by this outbreak of violence. We were inspired to explore the socio-cultural fabric that makes Kachchh an island of peace in a sea of intolerance and embarked on a process of documenting the Sufi traditions of music, storytelling and poetry that is an integral part of the lives of the pastoralists that live there.

This region has a long tradition of nomadic pastoralism, with many different communities that moved from Kachchh, across the salt desert known as the Great Rann of Kachchh, to Sindh, now in Pakistan, with their flocks of cattle and camels in search of pastures, in a process of rotational migration.

This movement over millenia resulted in strong kinship and trade ties between Hindu and Muslim pastoral or Maldhari communities in Kachchh with their counterparts in Sindh and Tharparkar across the Rann of Kachchh.

In earlier times, their religious identities were somewhat inconsequential and fuzzy. Many of these groups were nomadic people, with their own beliefs and practices, and there were also strong fraternal relationships between different communities, across religious persuasion, supported by stories about these ties from mythology and folklore.

Harder borders

The 1947 Partition of India transformed the lives of these communities forever, accentuating distinct and mutually exclusive religious identities – the new border became a faultline for divides that had never existed. The pastoralists were now hemmed into recently imagined nations, which continued to re-enact the tensions brought into play by Partition, their movements restricted forever.

After 1947, the border was somewhat porous until the India-Pakistan conflict of 1965, after which crossing over became increasingly difficult and the Rann became a militarised zone.

The emergence of hard borders, that are fenced and fortified, is not the only threat to the semi-nomadic pastoralism of the Maldharis. The past few decades have witnessed a slow and steady destruction of these ways of life, through the state’s environmental policies, the promotion of industrialisation, the proliferation of ecologically insensitive tourism and the bureaucracy’s condescending and cavalier attitude to these communities.

Fragility of life

Sindh and Kachchh share a common heritage, based on Sufism and other syncretic practices, as well as a shared repertoire of poetry, folklore, embroidery, architectural practices and visual culture.

The Bhakti poetry of Kabir, the 15th century mystic weaver-poet, is sung and recited across communities and religions. Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai the Sindhi Sufi poet wrote the Shah jo Risalo in late 17th century, a remarkable collection of poems that continue to be sung by communities throughout Kachchh and Sindh.

Many of these poems draw on legendary love stories, which speak of the fragility and finitude of life, the inevitability of grief and an ultimate surrender to and union with the infinite.

Our documentation work at the School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, has often been in collaboration with the organisation Kutch Mahila Vikas Sanghatan (KMVS) which spreads the belief that culture, music, language and lived traditions form an important component of empowerment initiatives since 1988.

One of these initiatives has brought together musicians of various communities, initially through community radio. The musicians now have their own association that helps in organising programmes, mentoring younger musicians and keeping these musical traditions alive and robust.

Over the years, but particularly after the earthquake of 2001, which killed more than 12,000 people, there have been many changes in the social fabric of Kachchh.

The earthquake brought in external intervention in a big way, in terms of reconstruction and rehabilitation, both by the state and non-governmental organisations. Today, Kachchh has also become a tourist destination, with the state-sponsored Rann Utsav (Desert Festival) that takes place between November and February and brings in thousands of tourists, with obvious effects on the fragile ecologies of the Rann and the grasslands.

Salt desert — the Rann of Kachchh. KP Jayasankar

The effects of these changes are complex. While on the one hand, tourism and external markets have provided a boost to local arts, crafts and artisans, on the other, the ways in which they change relationships within communities can pose problems for community living. Exacerbating these changes is the shift towards parties on the political right in Gujarat, including Kachchh, which threatens the traditionally fraternal and symbiotic relationships between diverse communities.

The ConversationThis is the backdrop against which A Delicate Weave explores efforts to teach and learn these endangered musical traditions and sustain the utopian energies that characterise Sufi and other syncretic ways of being. These traditions affirm notions of diversity and peaceful co-existence within this precarious yet resilient social fabric.

Anjali Monteiro, Professor at the School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Jayasankar K. P., Dean, Professor School of Media Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

teamLab, 21st Century “Cave Painters”

[Jakarta, LTTW] There’s an online discussion going on at Listen to the World about environmental deterioration caused by human behavior and how we should respond. If we look upon what we’ve been through so far, we can conclude that humans have a problem living as a part of nature.

While many of us still practice a relationship in which nature and human are going in separate ways, in Japan there’s a digital art group who acts otherwise.

teamLab and Digital Art

teamLab consists of interdisciplinary group of ultra-technologists ranging from artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians to architects seeking to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology, design, and the natural world.

According to its official website, “teamLab believes that the digital domain can expand the capacities of art, and that digital art can create new relationships between people.” They stated that digital art provides human with a greater degree of autonomy within space – to use and manipulate it much more freely. Moreover, in an interaction with the environment within space, viewers can instigate perpetual change in an artwork through interactive relationship between them and the artwork.

In our view, teamLab isn’t just trying to push the boundaries of digital art, but also re-connecting relationship between human, environment (natural world, urban, etc.), and technology.

In one of many teamLab’s interactive digital installations, Flowers and People, Cannot be Controlled but Live Together, 2014 highlights on how human can never be able to control nature, but can live together or cohabitating in Sacred Bridge foundation’s term.

“The boundary between the work of nature and the work of humans is extremely vague. Rather than nature and humans being in conflict, a healthy ecosystem is an ecosystem that includes people. Unlike people of today, people in the past lived on the assumptions that humans cannot grasp nature in its entirety, and that it is not possible to control nature. These people, who lived for a long time more closely aligned to the rules of nature, perhaps created this comfortable natural environment.”

And in Digitized Nature, Digitized City (teamLab’s art project) they stated that since digital technologies are non-material objects, it has no physical impact. Thus, nature can be turned into art without harming them, and cities can be turned into art without changing anything physical – maintaining the infrastructure of the city.

Drawing on the Water Surface Created by the Dance of Koi and Boats (2015), one of the featured works of Digitized Nature, Digitized City

“No longer does art need to be exhibited in nature; rather nature itself becomes art. Similarly art need not be exhibited in the city, but parts of the city itself can become art. We can then expand this concept, with an entire city becoming a huge artistic space without disruption to its normal functions.”

Tokushima Digitized City Art Nights – Luminous Forest and River (2016), one of the feature works of Digitized Nature, Digitized City

To us, this digital art is 21st century’s “cave painting” showing that human and nature is one using natural park and urban settings as the venues.

Real Vs “Digitized” Nature

teamLab’s approach is vital in promoting harmonious living between human and nature, especially in a time when we live so distant from nature. We should keep in mind, however, our relationship with nature must be physical and non-physical, not just virtual.

It’s noteworthy that while our awe toward all things digital is increasing, our concern and sensitivity to nature is decreasing, and this affects the way we appreciate nature. What teamLab does is extraordinary, but they must ensure that their objective – in this case is to signify nature in human life – is achieved. It is our hope that the outcome of this attempt will not be more appreciation on digital world and much less on nature.

Nature has possessed beauty since the beginning of time. Its beauty is forever far beyond the reach of humankind, let alone the digital world.  Nature has displayed its phenomenal and majestic “power” over millennia whether we are aware of it. Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), White Nights, Thunderstorm, Volcanic Eruption, Tornado, Change of Seasons, and Sand Dunes are examples that perhaps can recharge our memories on how mesmerizing the nature is.

Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)


If we look at the above video and pictures (and for those who have been fortunate to witness these natural phenomena), we know that humankind can never do what nature does, no matter how advance our technology is. So we expect that spectators who experience the teamLab’s exhibition would also come to this conclusion, nothing less.

If you’re curious about teamLab’s digital installations, you should check their ongoing exhibitions Light Festival in Fukuoka Castle Ruins at Maizuru Park, Fukuoka, Japan, from December 1, 2017 until January 28, 2018. Another one worth noting is Future World: Where Art Meets Science at ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore – and many more!

Check out the schedule of their upcoming exhibitions here.


Source: TeamLab’s official website.