Weekly Wire
Tucson Weekly Rhythm and Views

FEBRUARY 21, 2000: 

MUSIC OF INDONESIA VOL. 20 Indonesian Guitars (Smithsonian Folkways)

WHO WOULD'VE IMAGINED that post-Vietnam War-devastated, perpetually struggling Indonesia could produce such wondrous acoustic guitar music? When pondering the country's musical landscape, bamboo flutes spring to mind immediately. But when it comes to entrenched bastions of unique string bending, musicologists don't necessarily think of Indonesia as a mecca for superlative guitar artistry. Or do they? Frankly, the Indonesian guitar mastery uncovered by the diligent archivists at Smithsonian Folkways smokes smoother and more hallucinatory than a stone pipe burning with neighboring Thai-sticks. These trance-like field recordings performed strictly by amateur musicians are played straight from the heart. There are no other motivating factors. This is pure emotion expressed to its fullest. After listening intently, one realizes the mesmerizing, haunting and emotionally charged six-stringed music resonating from half way around the world speaks volumes beyond all the Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys waiting in the wings.

According to the highly informative liner notes, the first instruments of the guitar family probably arrived in Indonesia from Portuguese ships during the 16th century. The assorted Indonesian responses to the instrument, from homemade carved instruments resembling guitars to the two-stringed amplified kacapi, are captured here on varied regional songs recorded between 1990-97. Recordings from South Sumatra, Lampung and South Sulawesi examine repertoires of local melodies played on standard acoustic guitar to which verses in regional dialects are sung. The most popular form is the kroncong-style instrumental played with a Hawaiian-style guitar that is used strictly for home entertainment and religious purposes. From Sumba and western Timor, homemade guitars resemble wooden toy Stratocasters such as Hendrix might have played if his father, like Pinocchio's, was Geppetto. Indonesian Guitars is narcotizing, fascinating and simply breathtaking. -- Ron Bally


PYRESONG The Coming (SS666 Records)

"KINDA SATANIC, KINDA elitist -- but it's okay for the kids!" So jokes the one-man band that is Pyresong, a sample-delicized brain stew of hypnotic rhythms and melodic dementia. Four compositions comprise this debut: "New Species Emerging," an aquatic melange of recurring beats and elastic chords (it suggests a Talking Heads instrumental break looping endlessly); "Pyresong," a rather stately, neo-martial trudge towards infinity with some gut-churning low-end; "Species (Digress)," a more percussive variation on the first track that has a distinctive Africanized texture; and "Rest Now," whose blunted beats and low-key tonalities nod in the direction of Massive Attack or Portishead, albeit with a choir-like austerity. Experimental to a fault but entirely accessible, this is an impressive debut.

With an upside-down cross emblazoned on the CD's artwork and the beastly record label name, the casual consumer might think Pyresong to be one of those Nordic black metal bands who torches churches to get their yuks. Nothing could be further from the truth; Pyresong resides right here in Tucson, and the only fire that's burning is an obvious hunger on the artist's part to express himself. Given that the electronica scene in the Old Pueblo is pretty lackluster, here's hoping this disc sparks a few imaginations and helps nudge the scene into action. (Contact: POB 86793, Tucson AZ 85754) -- Fred Mills


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