Saturday, 19 January 2019

Saluang without Ratok

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  • TEMPO/Yosep Arkian

    TEMPO/Yosep Arkian

    At the opening of the performance, the audience is seized with a feeling of deep sadness as the four-hole flute almost sounds like someone calling for help. The call of the flute, played by Syahrial Tando, was answered by two groups of saluang ensembles repeatedly playing monotonous melodies, followed by sampelong, an eight-hole flute, adding to the sense of grief.

    For a quarter of an hour the audience was immersed in the gripping sound of the saluang traditional Minangkabau flute ensemble. The sound of accordion, however, quickly transformed the atmosphere. Sadness turned into gaiety when an orchestral group directed by Zul Hasvan Nasution played music on the violin and joined in by the cello, making the audience sway in their seats.

    Bagaritiak, the opening number of the saluang concerto Manjalin Raso, was performed by Manjalin Raso World Orchestra at the Ismail Marzuki Art Center in Jakarta on Saturday and Sunday two weeks ago. The concerto featured Syahrial playing the saluang. A graduate of the Indonesian Arts Institute in Denpasar, Bali, Syahrial has written many compositions for the dance group Gumarang Sakti.

    Supported by saluang musicians from Padang Panjang in West Sumatra, Syahrial's compositions were part of an attempt to integrate saluang into contemporary music. The night's saluang performances were combined with the sound of the didgeridoo, a wind instrument of the Australian Aborigines, as well as with a cello cadenza in Langgam Raso. In Gali-gali, saluang was played in combination with the didgeridoo and classical orchestra and in Urak in combination with vocals and orchestral accompaniment.

    Syahrial called the concerto an experiment, saying, "The four-hole instrument is unique, its tones rich for exploration." Born in Solok in West Sumatra on April 11, 1967, Syahrial has been playing the saluang since childhood. Now, as he spends more time writing contemporary compositions, Syahrial finds the saluang a challenge, as the instrument is limited to only a number of notes, which exists between those of standard western musical instruments such as the saxophone.

    In his composition, Syahrial chose to focus on the saluang and had the orchestra play only as enveloping music. He first wrote down the notations of his compositions, which he then played on midi for the orchestra musicians so that they understood the concept and spirit of his music. The group trained for three months under sound director Totom Kodrat before its first performance at the Ismail Marzuki Art Center.

    No signs of Minangkabau influence were heard in the performances. A little feeling of sorrow and plea for help remained, but they no longer reminded one of the ratok (lamentation) style of the grieving saluang popular in West Sumatra. Syahrial is taking his saluang on an exploration of Western and Middle East music. With this approach, Syahrial is opening the door for the saluang to play with the various musical instruments of the world.