Originally published in Gibraltar Webzine Issue #2, January 2002
At the moment there are not many bands in the world of (properly or improperly called) progressive rock music, which try to create something yet unheard. Actually, we could say that, in general, this kind of music stagnates for quite a time now (if we take into account how many bands are dispersed worldwide, and how many of them sound original) but taking in account other rock (sub)genres, we could say that it is not the only one which stagnates, and so there is no need to panic. Jumping from one considerable opinion to another I dare to say that Discus from Indonesia are one of these bands which have a great potential to create something new sounding. With careful use of elements derived from rich vernacular musical traditions of Indonesia, and later on intermingled with more common rock features, they cannot fail. Their debut, entitled simply 1st, is an ecclectic entity of Indonesian native sounds mixed with prog-rock, contemporary classical, jazz-fusion, pop and metal. The band is at the beginning of career, so I wonder with untamed appetite, what our ears are about to witness in the future.
What was planned to be a short "questionaire", became one of the longest interviews ever written. Mammoth-like, this interview boasts of information, you are not supposed to obtain anywhere else. E-conversation went far beyond the boundary of the usual themes which are based on the latest or forthcoming recording. In fact, with Iwan we have discussed many aspects of progressive music. Indeed, very much was revealed to us by Iwan Hasan, entrepreneur, classical guitarist, classically trained composer, dedicated prog-fan and of course, leader of Discus.
GEPR: Iwan, an introducing question for criminally needed "fresh blood" on international prog scene: Are Discus proper band or "just" a project (of Iwan Hasan) which can replace its members at any moment?
Hasan: Well, I started the band with Fadhil Indra (keys, percussion, vocals). It is a proper band. It's true that in the beginning I wrote almost everything myself so it was like a solo project, they just played my parts or improvised on top of my chords. That's probably because the band members have very opposing musical backgrounds. They are members with jazz and classical backgrounds, symphonic prog, metal, experimental, and light jazz pop. Half of the band are professional musicians but in very different genres. It happens so that I had backgrounds in all of those genres as I was educated in classical, contemporary classical and jazz, but at the same time I love rock music. So I was sort of "in the middle", musically speaking.
That made the situation often awkward in the beginning as the different members just can't communicate with each other musically. So I had to make it work by writing stuff that suit the various members. That seemed to get it started. In effect, of course that made it look like almost a solo album of mine with some additional writing by some others. But we are a band.
Of course now it's different and other members are writing too and we also write collaboratively in rehearsals. But in the beginning it was very difficult as everybody's spoken in a different vocabulary.
GEPR: You seem to be quite a strong personality, if you managed to overcome all the different opinions and views, at least to some extent.
Hasan: Well, I hope that I have overcome them. I just strongly feel that combinations of opposing styles is an interesting thing.
GEPR: How would you describe the music of Discus, of course, in case you don't consider the words like description and definition nauseating?
Hasan: That's difficult to say. If I have to give my personal definition without being influenced by anybody, I have to say it's just a mixture of styles. But that doesn't sound too good, doesn't it? I think I have to answer in terms of what most people think we are, and what market segment accepts our music, I should say we are a progressive band. I think nowadays people don't just think of Genesis or Yes or Gentle Giant when they say "progressive" but the definition is moch more loose now. Everything from Tipographica to Il Berlione to Dream Theater to Kansas and back to Djam Karet to Porcupine Tree to Happy Family is considered progressive, so why not? We have the ethnic Indonesian influence and we use some traditional instruments so some might want to say we are "world music", but the thing is we don't have them on every track, so I guess "world music" doesn't really apply to us.
GEPR: Quite! Err, Iwan, where have you assembled all these excellent musicians? I dare to say that whole octet study or has studied music at an academy.
Hasan: Well, not really. Actually only Anto (woodwinds) and I have university level education in music. The others are self taught or have had lessons or took courses. Eko studied with his father who is one of the busiest orchestral violinists in Jakarta. I think Hayunaji studied classical piano as a kid but studied jazz drums later on and became a working musician playing everything from jazz to metal.
How I assembled them is quite a long story. I started classical piano lessons when I was 5 and classical guitar when I was 10. 2 years after I started playing guitar, I formed a band with Fadhil. So Fadhil and I had been playing together since we were both 12. I'm 34 now so you can imagine. At 12, we tried to play "Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas and you can imagine how horrible it sounded. But at the time we thought we were so cool by doing that song. Eko joined us about 6 years later. Terry Manuputty, who co-wrote "Contrasts", was the bassist of that band. We were in a band called Sea Serpent. We never recorded. We were just a stage band, but Fadhil already tried combining gamelan with rock music. We played covers too, along with a few originals.
Then I went to the US to study music and economics. I completely forgot about rock and was immersed in classical, contemporary classical and jazz. When I came back, Eko had been playing with this band called Brawijaya which included, at various times, Krisna, Kiki and Hayunaji. They were quite a popular stage rock and pop cover band who also never recorded. I then became active in contemporary classical music so I was also in a different circle of musicians and I conducted an orchestra. There I met Anto. He played clarinet in the orchestra and I was very impressed with his playing.
At that time Fadhil was living in another city doing music scores for a local TV station. So I started a new band with Eko and Terry, with another drummer, keyboardist and flutist. Our material at that time was mainly jazz standards. We gigged quite a bit but the band didn't work out too well because the members were not taking it very seriously and the band sort of split itself. Maybe a year or two after we split, Fadhil came back to Jakarta (where we live) and so he and I tried to start a band again and this time I asked Anto to join, along with old mates Eko and Terry. Terry left later on, but from him we later got introduced to his sister Nonnie, who is our female vocalist now. (He also still helps us by being our roadie when we went to ProgDay last year). We brought in Krisna, who after various trials with several coming and going bassists and drummers brought in Kiki and Hayunaji, whom Eko had also played with in Brawijaya. That was between 1995-96, and in 1996 we had settled with the current lineup and Anto officially gave the name Discus to the band. That's how it started. So Discus is kind of a merge between Sea Serpent and Brawijaya with the addition of Anto and Nonnie.
GEPR: So, if you crosses a Sea serpent (what sounds quite poisonous) and Brawijaya (whatever that means) you get Discus. It's a sort of sophistication, which can be heard in your music, innit?
Hasan: Well, I don't think we ever consciously thought of it that way. It's just a development I guess. I think I was starting a band and it happened so that that was the lineup that finally settled.
GEPR: How big is the prog-rock/new music scene in Indonesia?
Hasan: Ah yes... "new music"! I've forgotten that term altogether. I used to be familiar with that term in college. Well, maybe Discus has an element of that too but I guess the term "progressive" suits us more since not all our music is that serious.
To answer your question, it is sadly very very small.
GEPR: I surmise Discus must be the best band from this scene, but probably not the only one. And if you are acknowledged, are there any prog bands in other neighbouring countries, such as Malaysia, Singapore, Phillipines, Papua, maybe even Brunei or East Timor? I saw, actually that Gnosis 2000 put Phillipines into its survey (as of now it is still empty).
Hasan: I heard about that but I honestly don't know. When we started nobody wanted to play prog here in Indonesia. Now, however, there are some new young bands starting in Indonesia. Most of them are playing prog metal, influenced a lot by Dream Theater, Rush or even Iron Maiden. I think Dream Theater are doing a good job introducing young metal fans to progressive elements in music. The last DT album is released (officially) in Indonesia on cassette and it sold like more than 10,000 copies. But the new bands haven't put out an album yet. I wish they will as soon as possible because then we are not alone anymore.
As far as neighboring countries, there hasn't been a whole lot of communication between the prog communities so I don't know. I certainly hope there will be more cummunication in the future. We in Indonesia haven't heard about them so it's good that Gnosis 2000 found something in the Philippines. But what I heard about Singapore, prog is not yet popular there. Of course that doesn't mean there aren't any prog fans there. I believe prog fans are in many countries. It's just nobody knows who they are.
GEPR: I know that there's quite powerful black metal scene in Singapore, as well as in Malaysia, but this can't help us very much ;).
Hasan: Oh, well, in the 70's, most of the major rock bands in Indonesia did some prog stuff but they didn't call themselves as prog. Thay just called themselves rock bands.
GEPR: I see. Concerning progressive rock there seems to be a similar pattern spread around the developing world.
Hasan: Is there? That's good news.
GEPR: Perhaps. Depends on the aspect of viewing the whole thing. There's usually one band which initiates the process, then there is a medium pause, within which some new "powers" emerge, of which one band is often quite good and if it survives, after another pause, there may be four bands established, and so on. Of course, the process can break and then ... you may guess.
Hasan: There are plans in Indonesia among prog fans to establish an Indonesian Progressive Society. Hopefully that will help prog gain a little momentum here.
GEPR: That's nice to hear. Together with fans show the world what you're capable of.
Hasan: Yeah. I really hope so. Who knows? There are young musicians who get discouraged before they start because they were getting nowhere previously. I mean, I was so frustrated with the situation several years ago. In the early 90's there was a period of about a year that I stopped doing music altogether and didn't even think about it. And that was because I was completely frustrated. That time I could only get gigs playing jazz standards and solo classical guitar playing standard repertoire. I love the music, but there's really not enough satisfaction. And also at that point the guys in my band were also losing interest which added to my frustration. So because I was frustrated I thought I'd not even think about music and do other things for an income. Then I was asked to conduct an orchestra and that was an awakening. That was when I met Anto the first time and Fadhil and I started assembling what became Discus. So now I hope the young musicians who want to play prog or prog metal won't get into the same situation I did in those years.
GEPR: How often do you play gigs in your country or beyond the borders?
Hasan: It is very very diffucult to find a gig in Indonesia because nobody wants us to play here. We were formed in 1996 and we always rehearse at least once a week but until October 2000, we only performed 5 times live! 2 times before we had an album and 3 times after. So when we went to the US and played at the Exposé Concert Series Promotions it was our 6th gig in 4 years! ProgDay, only 2 days after that, was our 7th gig, and Knitting Factory, exactly the next day, was our 8th gig! After that we played one gig in Jakarta. Next week we are going to play one more. Two factors that help us a lot are: 1. Half of the band are professional musicians, and 2. We always rehearse at least once a week even though nothing's happening.
GEPR: Cool, we could say that you picked-up a lot of kilometers/miles in the past, you definitely have a lot of experience. What are you doing besides composing music for Discus? What other members do? Do they have interesting occupations, strange and dangerous hobbies, etc.?
Hasan: Well I have a small business. I also compose contemporary classical music. I used to teach and perform as a classical guitarist but I stopped doing those things. I have 3 kids so I have to be careful to not do too many things. I'm a bit into martial arts although I can't say I'm that serious in it as in music. I'm not an expert at all but I do it for fun and to keep myself from getting sick. Anto, Eko and Krisna are professional musicians. Both Anto and Krisna teach music. Anto is into photography and he has a specialization, taking photoghraphs of riots! In recent years sometimes there are riots in Indonesia and he is a freelance riot photographer for journalists. Somehow he enjoys that a lot. Hayunaji used to be a professional musician but has a day job now. He also likes to hike, climb mountains, those kind of things. I think he has the healthiest lifestyle among us. But he also has another recording band called Pause that plays modern metal. The others have day jobs but sometimes also play music with other people or other bands. I think Fadhil is into cars. He likes car engines and stuff.
GEPR: Phew! Anto seems to have the most peculiar "hobby" of all.
Hasan: Maybe he enjoys the danger.....Hahaha!
GEPR:You said you run small business and have also studied economy. I remember that Charles Ives as well as a few of his contemporaries, were businessmen themselves. So these two things, namely business/ economy and contemporary classical sorta fit together.
Hasan: Or does it fit because pop artists earn more money from their music so they don't need to?
GEPR:....Study economy or music? Nope, they don't need to. Perhaps economy, but mostly they don't. Er, you've also mentioned martial arts. Does one often need them down there in Indonesia or you practice ‘em more for body and spiritual perfection? Well it seems to me, that they prevent one from getting sick one way or another, of course when used properly ;).
Hasan: Well I personally have never had to use it in terms of actually having to physically confront someone. I mean, maybe I'm just lucky but I don't like to get into confrontations. I don't like people hurting each other, I don't like violence. Of course martial arts does have a spiritual element. The physical side is an effect, it's not the main cause, at least for me. About specifically whether or not in Indonesia you have to protect yourself because of the situation, needless to say these last few years there are a lot of terrible things happening. Crime, bombs etc. If it's bomb, I don't think martial arts has any usefullness against bombs. Crimes, it will have some value but I just happen to be lucky, I guess, until now.
GEPR: Indonesia (as a country) is a great, widespread archipelago with different cultures living on these islands, so native musics from these islands probably differ between each other. How widespread is Gamelan, for example?
Hasan: The gamelan has a lot of variants in the island of Java and Bali. There's also a more obscure form in Kalimantan (Borneo). Besides gamelan there are a lot of different ethnic musical styles I don't even know how many, there are a whole lot of them! And they are very very different from one another.
GEPR: Is Gamelan very popular within Indonesia, due to the fact that it is not the simplest form of music?
Hasan: I think it happens so that the Balinese gamelan is the most well promoted traditional Indonesian form of music and consequently the most well known, both in Indonesia and worldwide. The island of Bali has also became a very popular site for tourism, so of course that's an important factor. But the young kids in Indonesia are getting more and more tuned in to the MTV top 40. Radio and TV plays a role in that. MTV artists such as Britney Spears are very popular. And there are Indonesian pop artists that play those styles too. They are very very popular. Actually the sad thing is that the traditional music gets pushed more and more into obscurity.
GEPR: Well, if you ask me, the MpTV (I think it is more properly being called that way) and many other TV-companies-programmes are just another drug, which considerably makes people dull. I myself never watched it nor any other, and am proud of that. How could I otherwise become prog-music devotee? Well, this theme makes me sad, so we should rather continue with gamelan, which I hope will not vanish.
Hasan: Yeah, that's sad.
GEPR: On the first world's Expo, I think it was in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century, group of Gamelan musicians was introduced to the world's public. Inspired by that group, many of contemporary classical composers' imagination got wings. You put a couple of heavily Gamelan inspired track ("Lamentation and Fantasia Gamelantronique", "Contrasts") on 1st. Are you planning sth larger in that vein? Perhaps, whole album of Gamelan contempo-classical progressive fusion? I think you could made at least ten high-quality albums in that or similar vein without getting boring. Am I wrong?
Hasan: I think there's no right and wrong in music. Your opinion is very valid. Yet I don't know if we will put together a whole album like that. In that style I have to compose myself, alone, same way as in the chamber music stuff, but Discus is getting more and more democratic. In particular those particular (the gamelan/contempo-classical/fusion and the chamber music) styles I initially had to "impose" them to the band. Of course as the band grew, they have been used to it. But you see, the "lighter" elements are also reflective of our backgrounds, although some might think we were trying to sell to the pop market, but actually it really is part of our background too. Some members even like them better then the progressive stuff.
GEPR: I believe you, because progressive music isn't very easy to listen to, it doesn't run into the ears, with other words, its incubation period is very long, especially for the uninitiated.
Hasan: You may be right on that. Although I just can't understand why people who can't like prog can't like it. To me it's just a wonderful thing. A wonderful listening experience.
However, we also feel that our first album might have too many different directions in it. We didn't feel so initially, because we just wrote it and did it without worrying bout what kind of a band we were. But then we get feedback from listeners and we really pay attention to them. The difficult thing is that different people have different opinions, but in general, people seem to say "if you're gonna do a light jazz tune, do it for another project and market it differently, even use a different band name. Don't make us confused". That's the light jazz, not jazz in general. That's an important distinction because jazz, of course, can mean a lot of things from standards to ballads to light pop jazz to modal jazz, bebop, fusion, experimental, avant garde free jazz, etc.
GEPR: If I may interrupt you, as far as light-jazz tunes are concerned, "For This Love" is quite good track. It doesn't have only light-jazz feels. So for my knowledge it fits well in between more complex tracks.
Hasan: I see. Well, I don't feel that that one is very "light" actually. I mean I, of course, like all of them. The other one, "Anugerah", which seems to be too light for some, I enjoy as being a very uplifting thing. Those two tracks are light jazz pop and there are 2 others that happen to sound like radio-commercial pop rock but has some irregularities in the middle. I have found jazz fans like the 2 jazz tracks, some "casual" radio style music listeners like the other 2, and those 2 types of listeners hate all the other stuff, especially like "Lamentation and Fantasia Gamelantronique", which prog fans like. Among prog fans, there seem to be divided opinions between those 4 tracks. I guess it also depends on whether the prog fan in particular came to prog from a pop rock route or from a jazz route or just from nowhere - directly to prog. But the point is various people from the different camps seem to say the same thing: "make your next album more cohesive, don't make it sound like two or more different bands playing on the same album"
I guess our general direction now seems to be combining all the diverse elements of our backgrounds but adding a symphonic / hard rock touch while exploring more traditional Indonesian elements. We did this new composition at ProgDay, a 21 minute suite, which could be described as such, and a lot of people loved it, probably more than anything on the first album. But the point is that we enjoy it too. So it seems that for this particular combination of players, that is the most natural thing to do.
So maybe we are going to mix the gamelan/contempo-classical/fusion style, which of course automatically includes some jazz in there, with a symphonic/progressive/hard-rock touch and still do some chamber music. Other experimentation, such as the violin-and-digital delay piece we had on our first, will be highly encouraged. I don't know for sure, we're still writing. More than that we're trying to find our own "sound".
GEPR: I traced some of your musical influences in CD's linear booklet. Tell me, when you first have the chance to listen to the (any) example of RIO or RIO-related music, where did that happen and what were the consequences of this "meeting".
Hasan: Well, maybe Henry Cow, Fred Frith, etc. For me, I discovered that kind of music in the US when I was studying music at Wilamette University in Oregon. Of course I was trained as a contemporary classical composer, and so I learned about the experimental stuff in that realm, but also on the rock side of it, which most people now say "RIO" as maybe Chris Cutler of Henry Cow defined it (am I right?).
GEPR: You could hardly get more precise. Actually, I'm used to use the term RIO, instead avant-progressive music, despite the fact that in original RIO-movement there were only seven or eight bands. It's definitely easier to say simply RIO than avant-progressive or experimental progressive and so on.
Hasan: I just want to check if I understand the term "RIO" correctly. Am I right if I think that RIO is on the "extreme" side of the avant progressive category? Extreme dynamic shifts, extreme levels of emotional expression, etc? While avant progressive does not necessary mean that, rather than the methods used, that could be considered to be avant garde techniques? (Meaning the end result need not be "extreme").
Well, you write for the GEPR so you have that authority and have more authority than I do in this matter.
I had a friend, Julian Snow, who I used to play with a lot and is now teaching jazz piano there, who knew a lot of that stuff. He now leads his avant jazz trio, the Julian Snow Trio. He and I used to discuss things about music, about experimental side to music. We were probably two music students in the music Deptartment that didn't like to conform to the rules. That's an important part of development for me.
GEPR: As I also traced plenty of contemporary classical influences on the 1st, I'm curious, which composers do you prefer?
Hasan: It's hard for me to decide exactly which composers belong to "contemporary classical". Usually when people say that they mean the expressionist school. But I'd like to extend that definition a bit. For me, I like Schoenberg, Berg, Messiaen, Milton Babbitt, Takemitsu, Ginastera, Penderecki, Charles Ives, Bartok, Leo Brouwer, some Stravinski, but I also like Debussy, Ravel (the impressionists) and of course, J.S. Bach. I also like Lou Harrison. The younger ones, like Avro Part, Magnus Lindberg etc. are really great too. And I consider Chick Corea, Jim Hall and Steve Morse, who are not generally recognised as contemporary classical composers, as artists who have great capabilities in that area, although most of their output is not made in this genre. I admire these three artists very very much. I think all three are schooled musicians in the classical tradition.
GEPR: Whole lotta contempo jewelers. Well, when you say Chick Corea, I'm immediately reminded of ECM record label, which tends to assemble musicians who mix jazz with classical music within extremely polished sound. Mostly light music, but at the same time hella difficult to listen to. Its brushed production makes unbelievable effect. Hmm, with already answered question I wanted to show were plenty roots of RIO-music lies, and with which, I think, prog-rock fans should get acquainted with, no matter how difficult it happens to be.
Hasan: That's right. The ECM label. Back to RIO, now if a rock musician (not necessarily of the "harder" variety) takes the Jan Garbarek new music approach and mixes it with some elements of not-so-hard progressive rock, would that be RIO? From the subtlety of the results, I would say that it would be avant prog but not RIO. Now, since you are in the GEPR you have the authority to say whether I'm right or wrong.
GEPR: I don't believe that anyone who contributes to GEPR has any authority about anything [Thank you for saying so, Nenad! I agree! - Ed.], apart that about which band to write a review, but I'm sure you're right. I guess it could be characterised as a sort of avant-garde stuff. However, before this interview you said you became acknowledged with prog-metal, perhaps not so long ago. You seem to be one of those who adores music in general. I'm not mistaken in that, or ...?
Hasan: That's exactly right! I'm learning about prog metal. Why not? I used to be a fan of the older days of rock and I "forgot" about it since I studied music in university. Suddenly I'm back in the real world and rock music has undergone so many developments it's amazing. Then there's prog metal, popularized by Dream Theater, but then there are bands I just discovered such as Pain Of Salvation, Cynic etc. A lot more that I don't know. I think it's a good thing. I can learn from anything. Any kind of music. It's all music. Maybe Iron Maiden should be considered one of the bands who inspired prog metal.
GEPR: Very, very nice to hear that. Iron Maiden are godfathers of prog-metal, while their sixth and seventh, namely Somewhere In Time and 7th Son Of The 7th Son, could be considered as prog-metal classics. Their sound has something to do with Jethro Tull (see my Psychotic Waltz review. -- N.K.)
Hasan: Oh, OK. Did they claim to be a progressive metal band? I just sort of make my own logical conclusion that Iron Maiden can be considered as the father of prog metal, because of the way they sound. I thought, a lot of prog metal bands must have liked Iron Maiden.
Having said that, Discus would not, I think, be a prog metal band. We wouldn't fit that category even if we tried to. But you know there are some really cool elements in prog metal, or in metal in general that we may want to incorporate into our musical mix. Actually we are starting to do that. The majority of the band comes from a rock background. The ones who have never done any rock at all before Discus are Anto and Nonnie. Hayubaji, our drummer, even has another recording band, called Pause and they play hip metal. He's an all round drummer. He can jam with professional jazz musicians as old as his parents on jazz standards, and the next minute play hip metal, and the next minute play latin music, and the next minute drum for a pop artist. And occasionally he plays contemporary classical with me on projects outside Discus.
GEPR: Wow! That sounds very busy and without compromise. Well, as you have mentioned pop and as you have probably read in my review, I encountered a track which I think it was made for radio. Actually there are two, of which one is quite good while the other proves inexplicably repulsive to me (After last few listenings, I seem to get used even to this one. -- N.K.). Actually, I don't mind that much if bands put such tracks on their soundcareers (esp. when there is a lot good tracks on these soundcareers), but I think you put it on CD with certain aim. If these two tracks were made for radio, did you succeeded with them?
Hasan: No. They did not get played on the radio often. Well, as I said, they are actually part of our background. I mean, I played jazz standards and enjoy listening to vocal jazz. I enjoy pop music too. Most people who are trained in contemporary classical composition don't give a damn to light pop music but I do and maybe that's considered strange, so people misunderstand. Our female vocalist, Nonnie, is a light pop jazz singer and knew nothing at all about progressive music before she joined us. And I do mean absolutely nothing. I don't mean that statement to imply inferiority on her part, but light pop jazz is just her thing that she enjoys.
GEPR: But she has a wonderful voice. That's why I asked if whole octet studied music. Her voice sounds carefully trained to me.
Hasan: If she wouldn't have it, I wouldn't have worked with her. She came from a jazz pop camp and we needed to teach her some things. Initially she was only used to hearing major and minor scales or maybe some bluesy scales. Because she had a good voice to begin with, we figured we can teach her the things she was not used to and she will be able to adapt.
Other members have professional careers in "top 40" mainstream styles of pop or rock music and had never been in a progressive band that writes its own original stuff. Anto is a professional classical and jazz musician. So nobody in the band even considered him/herself to be a progressive musician before Discus although maybe Eko, Fadhil and I unconsciously did, but that's all. Some of our members actually like those "commercial sounding" songs on our album better than the more progressive stuff.
Not all of us have background in "progressive" forms of music. So when we started, some of us thought we were going to be a jazz band, some thought we were going to be a pop band, and even I didn't consciously think I was starting a prog band. But then some members also felt not complete if I didn't throw in some progressive or "new music" elements in the band, because I had done that on my own. Considering that that's how the band started, maybe that explains why the album is the way it is.
The "commercial" sounding tracks did not get on the radio that often. In fact, "Lamentation and Fantasia Gamelantronique", which is maybe our most "progressive" piece, is maybe played on underground progressive and new music radio more frequently than the "commercial" sounding stuff ever got played on commercial radio.
GEPR: I believed that too, because after all, these tracks ("Wujudkan" and "Anugerah") doesn't sound that poppy, when compared with "imported" stuffs. They probably cannot compete with B. Spears and the rest of the bunch my stomach forbade to mention.
Hasan: Yes but again, I listen to a lot of music in the style of "Anugerah" and "Wujudkan". That sort of music is not so popular either in Indonesia right now but it used to be in the past. It's an older form of pop music, I guess. And at that time I enjoyed listening to that kind of stuff. So the objective I think was not to compete with Britney Spears (can you imagine us unattractive looking musicians dancing like that on a video clip?) but because I enjoy that kind of music. You know, I have found people (listeners) who like that sort of music and only liked those tracks. Definitely they are not prog and rock listeners. So maybe we were spread too thin.
GEPR: You have chosen lovely, aero-aquatic picture for front-page of CD-booklet. You borrowed part of the Symphysodon Discus' name for bands' moniquer also. Is that beautiful fish sort of Indonesian national symbol or you simply like it, in one way or the other?
Hasan: That species of fish I think originated in the Amazon, so it's no way an "Indonesian" sort of thing. Anto named the band Discus, for the 2 reasons. First, Discus is a very beautiful, colorful fish amd that's how music should be. Second, the Discus fish is a difficult pet to keep. A little bit of carelessness and they'll die. It should be handled with extreme care. So we do believe music should be done. It should be done with care.
GEPR: Oh, yes. I completely messed up its origin. If you hadn't tell me so I would have thought that you took your band name due to the fact that this fish is seemingly the closest to the CD format ;). By the way, do you have fishes as pets at home?
Hasan: I happen to at this moment, yes.
GEPR: Let's dry ourselves now. Er, how cheap was 21-string harpoguitar? If I wouldn't see credits for "Condissonance", I'd thought it is harp. Superb sound, indeed.
Hasan: Thank you. Honestly I forgot the price exactly. That was 10 years ago in Portland, Oregon but I think it was somewhere around 3,000 bucks. It was designed by my guitar professor, John Doan, who plays the instrument almost exclusively on his CD's, and built by a luthier named John Sullivan.
GEPR: How did you came to idea of making "Condissonance"? As said in review it totally blew me away. I'm positively surprised with instruments you chose. While all performances are excellent, Anto Praboe's bass clarinet makes my cortex tremble. This instrument is seldom to be heard. Can you promise to include it more on next albums and make it busier?
Hasan: That's exactly the plan. I want to write more of that stuff. That's for sure. Thanks for the compliment.
GEPR: Contemporary influences can be also heard on "Doc's Tune", which is excellent fusion. It sounds very fresh and crunchy. I think I recognized pristine jazz counterpoint. How important is counterpoint in composition to you?
Hasan: That's very difficult to answer. As important as any other element, I would say. But it also depends on what I'm inspired to do at any given moment I'm writing. But counterpoint is an interesting thing to do. Pre-classical period counterpoint can be really interesting. As for jazz, of course "Doc's Tune" is a jazz-rock tune.
GEPR: "Contrasts" is a track, which defines Discus as a prog-band, according to an unwritten rule, that each progressive album should include a suite-like track, longer than 10 minutes. Did you compose "Contrasts" deliberately or according to that unwritten rule?
Hasan: In that particular case, not really, but maybe we did in an subconscious way. It's true that the writers of that track, namely Fadhil, Terry Manuputty (our former bassist and Nonnie's elder brother) and I are prog fans so there is an awareness of that tradition. We just sort of keep adding parts, and had fun putting it all together. I wrote sections to put after Fadhil's section etc and that's the end result. Somehow that piece just "felt" that it had to be that long. It didn't feel right to be shorter than it is. When you write music, sometimes something tells you not to stop and continue adding parts, until something else tells you to finish it off. The length varies for different pieces of music. A naturally short piece shouldn't be extended and a naturally long piece shouldn't be chopped up and shortened.
GEPR: "Contrasts" includes traditional Indonesian theme. Could you perhaps tell something more about this ambitious track and its background?
Hasan: We suddenly thought, I think Fadhil thought that "Gambang Suling" would be a really cool piece to play. I thought it was a great idea and so we inserted it in there. We got permission from the publishers. We respect the tune. I think "Contrasts" is one of the pieces where we tried to see what will happen if we combine different styles of music. The underlying philosophy is that in this world there are always opposites. Light and darkness, masculine and feminine, "yin" and "yang" as the Chinese say, and all in balance. So there are contrasting dynamics in that track. Life is not that simple. Life is complicated and is full of changes.
GEPR: "Gambang Suling" is a traditional tune or theme. What kind of tune exactly? Religious, war or something completely different?
Hasan: It's more of a casual thing. The gambang and the suling are names of traditional musical instruments.
GEPR: I read somewhere that one instrument is called "gendhing". How does that one differ from gambang and suling or vice versa?
Hasan: A gambang is a mallet instrument and a suling is a bamboo flute. More like a recorder instead of a flute, actually. As far as I know, gending is a musical style not an instrument. I might be wrong. There are maybe more than 70 different traditions. I'm not sure exactly how many, and maybe the same term might be used with different meanings in other traditions. Are you sure it's not a "kendang" that you mean? A kendang is sort of like a conga but played horizontally instead of vertically.
GEPR: Oh, it was a style then. Yes, I remember that it was written gendhing, but it only seemed to me it was an instrument. So, it's a style. Fine, fine! Cool fact anyway.
Hasan: Well, as far as traditional Indonesian music is concerned, I am very interested in it but I am not an ethnomusicologist. I'm not an expert. They way I learn about it is by meeting the musicians, playing with them, asking them, and of course listening to tapes and read books. So I can't claim to be an expert in that area and I don't pretend to be. But progressive rock, of course is open to anything. That's why I dare incorporate it. And I think I'm confident that you don't have to use a traditional instrument exactly as the way it is used traditionally. That would be the same as saying you always have to use a violin the way Mozart used it. There would never be a Jean Luc Ponty, or a David Ragsdale or Jerry Goodman.
GEPR: This way or another, you have learned a lot, taking into account that you're not full-time ethno-explorer.
Hasan: Sure. And I only have to ask whenever I want to. The experts and musicians in traditional Indonesian music are not that difficult to find.
So there is an improvised rindik solo in "Contrasts", and traditionally the rindik is never used like that, as a soloist on top of a rhythm section. It's used for playing ostinatos, as a rhythmic instrument. An instrument is something made by man to produce sound to be used musically. And to me that means you can do anything you want with it. That's exactly the school of thought that gave birth to 20'th century contemporary classical music.
Imagine what the western classical world of music would be like without that ever happening. It would be so boring. No Schoenberg, no Bartok, no Ives, no Penderecki, no Cage..., how boring. Sure, I admire Beethoven, but as great as Beethoven is, the world wouldn't be exciting without Schoenberg breaking the barriers. Beethoven is something from the past, and because it's great the music endured for hundreds of years. And of course we need to have his music today because it's great but it would be damn boring without any new development, breaking the tradition.
That's why I finally chose not to have a serious carreer as a classical guitar recitalist. I do enjoy playing it and I once did want to seriously go in that direction but after I started studying contemporary classical composition and jazz theory, I feel more and more that I prefer to write music and play my music and go back to rock music and mix it all up. If I have extra time I might want to do it again for fun because it's enjoyable too, but it will never be first priority.
Well, I don't know. At 50 maybe I'll think differently. People change. Within time constraints you just have to make choices and for now I have the greatest satisfaction in music writing and playing prog, and the next best thing is composing contemporary classical or experimental music, whenever there is time and opportunity. Playing jazz comes next in terms of the level of enjoyment in doing.
See, the reason I love doing prog is that you can do anything but you don't always have to be that serious like in classical. You can have fun rocking but at the same time you can also make it very very serious and incorporate contemporary classical in it if you want. In other words, you're free to create your own balance of things. No rules, just do it. Of course when it comes to making an album a lot of thought has to go into it, how to make the album cohesive and everything, but your own concept and tastes can be the limit of what you decide to do, not some limitation imposed by any rules or any specific predetermined style, or the record company.
On the other hand, in contemporary classical there are supposedly also no rules but then you can't really just rock. So that, in a sense, can also be a "rule", that you can't just have fun jamming playing rock riffs. There's still like a "quality control" standard. You have to write a professional looking score, even if it is a free from avant garde experimental thing where the score contains only symbols and pass it to the professional musicians. Even if there's only silence like John Cage's 4'33'', you have to have somehow formally tell the participants involved to have complete silence for 4'33''. By the way that particular "piece", to me, is more a philosophical exercise about the definition of music as related to sound and "no sound", which can in turn be seriously questioned and debated to the point that the difference between genious and fool becomes unclear, but that's another matter. So there's still some degree of formality imposed. I still do get a lot of enjoyment of that but there's nothing like blowing away with progressive rock. You want to have an extremely loud metal jam with growling vocals immediately followed with a duet between a concert harp and a female soprano, fine. You want to write a score, fine. You don't want to, fine. Of course for certain type of things there is no other way, you HAVE to write a score. But if you don't want to you don't have to do those things, so if you decide to have a chamber music piece on your album which is completely scored, well, YOU are the one who decides that because you, the musician, love it. If then after hearing your album people want to hear more of that from you that's OK, because it's something you love to do which you already did on your previous album.
GEPR: Ha-ha, after hearing that I think you could also write a book, entitled Manuals for Young Prog-Rock Composers (and even some older ones), and I'm saying that in the most positive meaning. I think any prog-musician and prog-fan could learn something from these lines.
Hasan: Hahaha. Well maybe I should one day. That would be funny. But I wonder if anybody would want to read it.
GEPR: Well, if nobody else, GEPR will administer it as an unconditional reading. Let's return back to the 1st for a while. "Violin Metaphysics" shows Discus within yet another light. Violinist Eko Partitur profiled it toward more atmospheric, almost ambiental shores of music. It hints on something otherworldly. How would you describe your attitude (and that of other members) toward religion, supernatural, parapsychological and so on?
Hasan: Well, as we are Indonesians, of course we have, in the back of our minds, what people would maybe call an "Eastern" kind of thought pattern. We do believe in the supernatural. I think it's in our tradition, or heritage even. In Indonesia there are several religions and you're "supposed" to have a religion . That idea would be considered stupid by Western standards but we in Indonesia don't have any problem with that at all. So in Discus there are Moslems and Christians. There are Buddhists and Hindus as well in Indonesia, and other supernatural beliefs. I know in the Western world there is a big difference between spirituality and religion, but in Indonesia the paradigm is different. Religion is simply ways to express spirituality. And traditionally we don't have any problems with organised religion. Yes it is true that organised religion can be used by politicians to meet their ends, especially in developing countries, including Indonesia. Organised religion can go on without spirituality thus leaving behind its essense. That has happened so many times in various countries. And as a result organised religion has made people kill each other when manipulated by politicians. And yes, a lot of people follow an organised religion without digging the spiritual element so that makes it easy for politicians to mobilize these people for various political motives. That's bound to happen when religion becomes a public matter. Usually the education level plays a role. I think elementary education is very important and a lot of people here suffer in this regard, not having good elementary education. That's the social condition. But that hasn't made our people grown anti-religious, even the intellectuals. It's just something that is taken for granted. Very rarely does an Indonesian believe that God doesn't exist. It's the exception, not the norm. That's not to say that because of that nobody ever does bad things such as crime. But as it is in our heritage we somehow are willing to just accept it as being that way in our minds. Why? The best answer is maybe just simply that the Western and Eastern world have different paradigms in their ways of thinking. It is a difference that just has to be accepted as a fact and not to fight about. Maybe it can be said that we're thinking in a medieval, pre-renaissance sort of framework while at the same time living a modern life. There is a stock market, cars, computers, the internet, recording studios, TV stations, cabel TV, there's even MTV on Indonesian TV.
GEPR: I guess you and Fadhil could have been Moslems, if I take into account your (sur)names.
Hasan: Fadhil is a Moslem. I am a Christian. Back to "Violin Metaphysics", I think that piece was based on a Metaphysical sort of experience that Eko had. In the middle of the city suddenly he was literally hearing sounds of waves like at sea while nobody else heard it. And it was not raining.
GEPR: Wow! That's exactly what I meant. I think Music could be somehow connected with similar things and events. Such inspirations are a great thing. Concerning MTV on national TV, I suggest to protect your own culture, else it will gone forever.
Hasan: Yeah, that's a sad thing. MTV has crept in here like in anywhere in the world.
GEPR: "Dua Cermin" is Fhadil's contribution, as well as being a part of "Contrasts". In essence, this is soft track, leaning more on the simple side of things. But in the middle, disso-solo can be heard. Has he personally decided to make it more fresh that way?
Hasan: Maybe. I didn't write it so I don't know. But if I can guess, yes he was. And more than anything, he was having fun writing it so of course he did feel that it sounds fresh that way.
GEPR: Which "leitmotif" you follow while composing? What is your motto?
Hasan: Just "do whatever feels right and use your ear". By "use your ear", I don't necessarily mean to ignore theory. But I feel a lot of people think that, for instance, if you write atonal music you don't FEEL what you write. Some people assume that if you use some sort of technique you learned in music school you are not using your ear or your soul. For me that's not true at all. People may think I don't feel what I write but I do. It's not that left brain as some might think. By going with the feel, you can write prog metal if you feel so, and put some jazz in there if you feel that the piece wants to "write itself" in that direction. Of course the piece can't literally write itself, someone has to write it, but somehow as a composer you sort of feel something you write is dragging you in a certain direction. By all means follow it. In the mean time you could have fun trying things. Outside Discus, I once wrote for a contemporary classical festival here, and I wrote a piece using just five pitches (or rather, "pitch classes" as Schoenberg would say), which were in a cluster chord of G-G#-A-Bb-B. That was fun to do and I wrote about 10 minutes of music using those five pitch classes and nothing else. But even in writing that sort of thing, which might seem like a technical exercise in composition, I still trusted my feelings. I tried to capture a certain "feel" and emotion and use it in the writing process. So in the end the music spoke to me just as any other music. I just can't stand writing without "feeling" what I write. And I think a lot of composition students get frustrated because they force themselves to write what they don't "feel" like writing so it becomes a real torture. For school, yes that is required. But after you get out of school, better write what you can feel or hear in your head. I don't want to force myself to write what I can't feel. If I write an atonal piece, that's because I'm enjoying it at the moment I'm writing.
GEPR: Theme change, well, almost: Some bands on new music scene have/had some interests for politics. How do you relate to that topic? Which chords would you choose to express anger upon bad decisions of politicians or simply, to express an opinion upon something stupid realised in that field of everyday life?
Hasan: I guess metal oriented guitar sounds and dissonant chords, for sure. Screams, maybe. "Lamentation & Fantasia Gamelantronique" is about the riots in Indonesia in 1998. But chords in itself can mean a lot of different things and the same chords can express different moods depending on the whole compositional context it is being used in. So there's no simple answer to that question, I guess.
Politics, yeah, politics can be terrible. The majority of politicians have their personal vested interest, business or otherwise. You can say it's money. Everybody wants money, myself included, but the question is whether the person considers ethics an important thing or not is the big question. But again that's how this world operates.
GEPR: Another fishy question: Do you think it is possible to associate colours of the choral sea and its settlers with tone colours, with particular vibrato timbre? Do you think it is possible to associate colour and particular tones (triads) with different yet certain colours at all?
Hasan: I'm sure it is, although I don't particularly think that way. I mean, I don't do that but other composers do. See, some composers associate what they write with something visual. I don't. The composers who work that way can achieve great results. But composers who work in abstraction, without any visual imagination, can also get great results. It's just a matter of personal preference. And again, it's not a just a function of triads. It's the whole combination of elements in music, such as harmony, structure, rhythm, tempos, dynamics, and sound timbres. And a minor triad could lead to different colour associations in a Debussy piece than in a Mozart piece. On a very simple level, yes you can say that a major triad is bright yellow, a minor triad is grey, a diminished triad is black, while an augmented triad is multicolored, like a dizzying spiral of different colors. But some music don't use triads at all as in some atonal music. A fast harp arpeggio up and down sound might remind you of a light creme or transparent shady pink color, while a trumpet fanfare might sound "bright red".
GEPR: Yeah, I wanted to hear something like that. Otherwise, I guess it is no problem to associate notes with just about everything it crosses one's mind. Perhaps only a higher degree of imagination is needed.
Hasan: Yes, music is an abstraction of things. Even in the most obvious, still different listeners will associate different things anyway.
GEPR: Primeval aim of music is (was;).) to amuse people in general. 20th century proved that this is not necessary. Do you think it is a negative approach to make music for the sake of music?
Hasan: No, not at all. I don't think there is anything like a negative approach in making music. Negative depends on your point of reference, which in turn relates to your background and life experience, which influences your world view. But that's something personal and can't be universalized. So I dare not to judge. The only bad thing in this sense is that when music is used to induce horrible things such as killings. But that's not because of the music itself, rather than what it is being used or created for. Of course then that effects the kind of music being written. But you can use the same music for different purposes. Bach was a religious man and he also wrote church music but some of his music can be used for horror movies. When you hear it in that context it fits too. If you take a Bach minor-keyed Toccatta played on a pipe organ and use it in a vampire movie (not that I like vampire movies) it sounds very appropriate. The composer might say it's a perversion of his music but he can't deny it fits there.
GEPR: Do you think that Music can speak for itself, I mean, in such a way interviews aren't needed?
Hasan: I suppose so, yeah.
GEPR: On "Lamentation and Fantasia Gamelantronique" we can hear how very different styles go hand in hand, passages between 'em are very smooth, barely recognizable for the most of time. Native Indonesian fusings, for example, are more than welcome in nowadays prog. But tell me: Do you see the Music Cosmos as infinite or finite? Might music veer into inevitable cul-de-sac and cease to be fresh or experimental? It seems to me that less and less bands and artists (here I'm taking into account all musical genres) manage to create sth new, majority of them don't even try to do so. Many of them claim do to something yet unheard, and when I go to check them out, I'm more than often disappointed. How do you see or better, hear the future of the music?
Hasan: Well that's difficult to say. Like, "Fantasia Gamelantronique" might happen to sound fresh to you but the next time we do that sort of thing you might say "That's been done. There's nothing exciting about it now". And you feel that when you listen to it. Right now I feel Discus can explore new directions we've never done, and mix different influences in a new way but then how much research can one or eight human beings do? Eventually we will run out of fresh ideas. We can keep on writing as complicated stuff as we can but then there's nothing new to it anymore. So then you start to find simple things. But then what you do other people have done. I don't know. It's hard to imagine these kind of things. Because someday someone might invent a new musical instrument, electronic or otherwide that could produce new types of sounds and a writer would use that in his/her compositions and starts something fresh. And then it would be cliched again.
GEPR: Well, maybe, if you'd compose something very very similar to "Lamentation and Fantasia Gamelantronique", but from a progrock aspect Discus were the first to create such piece. Similarly it would be to look from prog-metal aspect. The problem would occur, when many groups would start to emulate your style and help it to become clichéd. Something like that is happening in prog metal and other metal subgenres. One band starts, at least something new-sounding , and within half a year a lot leeches appear who parasite on perhaps even already chewed and worn-out idea. Interesting enough, "original" and the very first clones usually survive. Regarding Discus, I don't believe they can get worn out very easy.
Hasan: You mean, in terms of the number of groups who will use the same elements? But then, still I will feel that I can't create something fresh and keep repeating.
However, after the "atonal fever" of the early to mid 20th century. classical composers went back to simplifying their music. Besides minimalism, some went retro and revisited romanticism, and also early classical styles. Some went way back to early music. Some explored different ethnic musics. But that is a recycling thing. Is it bad? No, it's not. It's not forward looking but it's not bad. It may be very very good, depending on the results. Or it might be good to some people and bad for others. But the composer will just write what he wants to write.
GEPR: Quite. But I think, that plenty new-sounding things can be created. On the other side, one can seldomly compose without looking back. Perhaps not way back, but say, from year to whole decade. Sometimes I'm surprised and glad, how a particular band/ artist manages to contort sonic appearance of the other. For example, when Varese composed his "Arcana", he'd intervowen some passages of Stravinsky's "Rite Of Spring" within the block-like construction of the piece. "Rite" is awesome, but "Arcana" had taken colossal dimensions. Similarly Dr. Nerve upgraded Henry Cow. Another interesting example is how Etron Fou used Beefheartisms and Gongisms and also managed to create something new-sounding.
Hasan: Yes, of course. Another example which is more in the prog vein is Steve Hackett's rerecordings of old Genesis tunes, in his album Genesis Revisited. I think for the most part he did a very fresh approach to the old material. It was not just a rerecording. Judging from the end result, he had enough reason to redo those pieces. He sort of went back to the very basics of the pieces and started again from there. So it was not a waste of money for the consumer to buy the CD. I think the only exception on that album was "Watcher of the Skies", where I think there was not so much anything new from the original except different people were playing and he has an orchestra. The rest of the tracks are very fresh indeed. They sound new.
GEPR: What are you working on at the moment and what are your plans for future?
Hasan: We're trying to get our second album done. We haven't written all the material. Or rather, we have written a lot of stuff, more than needed in terms of quantity, but can't decide what to use and what not to use. The various different backgrounds of the members mean that they turn in very different styles and you just can't use everything. We are trying to have a more cohesive sound in general than our first album and with so many personal influences, that can be difficult because then the influences are too broad. We have to narrow it down a bit and decide what we're not going to do. We have this 21 minute suite but the rest hasn't been decided.
GEPR: Therefore new album's on the way. So, I'm suppose to enjoy it?
Hasan: I hope you will. You know, the more expectations people have on it, the more I'm worried that it will fail those expectations. See, I feel I have to compete with our own first album, which has some moments that was difficult to create, and make it better. Imagine that. At the same time though, it's also fun to do.
GEPR: Iwan Hasan, mega thanks for this interview.
Hasan: Thanks for the great interview and your kind attention, Nenad.