The latest album from Jakarta experimental act The Kiriks is a tribute to former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.
Released only in digital format — and for free — on Copenhagen-based boutique label Metaphysical Circuits, the album is filled with an eclectic mix of electronic noises; bleeping and blooping without restraint, creating a cacophonous orchestra that sometimes sounds tribal and often sounds satisfyingly harsh.
The Legend of Tan Tieng Shin pays tribute to Ahok through the legend of Tan Tieng Shin, a wealthy Chinese-Indonesian who was known for sharing his wealth to help his neighbors in the villages surrounding Menteng, Central Jakarta, in the late 1800s.
According to legend, his name is the reason there is a street in that area called Karet Tengsin. Tan Tieng Shin was said to have employed many people in his field (which produced rubber, one of the reasons the area is named karet —Indonesian for rubber).
A one-man band of sorts, The Kiriks is Dani Satria. He began the project in 2013, and almost immediately released two digital albums via Yogyakarta experimental-music label Ear Alert Records before following them up with his first international release in 2014. Through the River of Zion was released on A Beard of Snails, an independent label connected with Metaphysical Circuits.
The underlying sound of Tan Tieng Shin rests on pads of droning instruments. Sometimes these are in the form of a reverb-drenched organ; sometimes in slow and lingering low hums; but mostly they are spacey synth pads. Aquatic bleeps are delivered in a modern-electronic way in “The Ecstasy of War,” while “Empty House” attacks with a mix of ambient drones and industrial music percussiveness.
“The Legend of the Drunken Master,” meanwhile, is all about a droning cathedral organ, which slowly drifts into itself as it slumbers toward its end. The two-minute “Tjahaja Purnama” is a long pulse intertwined with electric buzzes and pulsing synth sounds.
For the most part, Tieng Shin owes its sound to digital controller pads, taking a little away from the intended moodiness and losing the low-end buzz that would add plenty to projects such as these. But its intention carries the record strongly, with Dani’s arrangements carrying that sense of discomfort and, yes, bitterness, ostensibly inspired by Ahok’s trial.
“I felt beaten by [the result of Ahok’s] trial,” Dani said.
“I was shocked that he was forced into such a corner and ended up in jail.”
The album, Dani said, was his way of appreciating what Ahok had done for the city.
As to what kind of correlation Dani saw between the former governor and Tan Tieng Shin, Dani says that he saw how both people, aside from having Chinese roots, used what privilege they had to help those around them to have a better life.
Dani first heard of Tan Tieng Shin’s story when he worked as a journalist and had to interview a historian who introduced him to Tieng Shin’s story.
“I saw Ahok’s story as being a continuation of that of Tan Tieng Shin,” Dani said.
Dani also wanted the album to sound different from his other releases. In the past he had used an old unnamed organ that was on its last legs, but this time Dani wanted to utilize more explorative sounds. He wanted, in his words, “unorthodox digital sounds” for it.
The album’s production took longer than the other albums as well, lasting for more than a year until last July.
“It just so happens that this album was produced during a time when political issues were on the rise — not just here but everywhere around Southeast Asia. The atmosphere really got to me, since Indonesia is really under threat of radical organizations.”
For Dani, happy accidents are part of the charm of his latest record.
“I used an organ which I had lent to a young nephew of mine, which was already sounding bad, but then he used it and it completely broke. But somehow, it was broken in a way where a nice sounding Hammond organ-like sound would come out of it. It was beautiful.”
The Legend of Tan Thieng Shin can be purchased or downloaded for free at metaphysicaldigital.bandcamp.com