Thursday, September 04, 2008

Kepala Gong

Post by Zai Kuning

Early this year while I was pondering over past few years of work, I never thought that July will change something inside me. It was supposed to be the month in which I focused on promoting Melancholy of a Flowering Plant, a compilation of work between me and Koichi Shimizu.


It is a surprise for myself that for the first time, I agreed to be recorded in a recording studio (Bangkok) and later the materials will be ‘manipulated’ by Koichi to be used as sources for his own composition. Another surprise is that I agree to over dub some materials I have recorded/ played.


One of the reasons I don’t have a ‘properly’ released CD is simply because I hate studio recording. But after many years, more and more friends ask why don’t I have a CD. It’s funny that sometime listener want the music alone in their room, which mean they don’t want to see me at all. I suppose this is especially the case for me because my presence could be intimidating to some, even if I don’t move. In some strange way, music works differently on headphone or on a great sound system. So with a CD, I can leave my friends in their own silence together with my music.

Anyway I have always believed in live recording, but I have never been lucky partly because I can’t afford to get a sound engineer and I have the paranoia of having 1000 CDs collecting dust under my bed. One of my Cds, When I wake up I realize I am Dead, was recorded with cheap Video Camera. It was live in Bangkok.

For my solo concert in July, I was lucky that Mark volunteered to record it. After the gig I saw so many people smiling and shaking my hand while some said ‘got to release the concert’ so perhaps by end of this year you will see a new CD of my solo, thanks to Mark again.

During the BOWL OF RICE, I played my guitar for the opening and my family was there. My dad sat right in front of me like an old fan, looking at me earnestly. You see my dad had given up playing music for public due to the fact that most of his buddies have either died or ‘disappeared’ and he often played off key.

About 2 weeks later, I was knocked down and hospitalized for a few days. There was a lot of ‘drama’ going on but what seemed shocking to me was that my dad came and visited me and told me that he wanted to play with me. He said he could make a background sound for my music (that really shocked me. Background? How to turn your idol as your backup sound?)


It got me excited since I know he has always been critical of me and my music. I visited him with my angel with Birkenstock and here is what he demonstrated. So we might rehearse together and I think Tango, Waltz, Ghazal and a ‘pinch’ of flamenco air will be perfect.

While I am searching for a brand new accordion for Dad, here in my studio I am questioning some instruments which are kind of alien to me - gong and cymbals. I grew up listening to my dads combo, and as you all know, there is no cymbals or gong in Malay traditional music (I am speaking of a specific form of Malay traditional music my dad played. Of course there are other forms, like Mak Yong, which use gong but non of them that I know is elaborate, especially the music of Riau and those from Sumatra).

I am preparing for Book From Hell, a gig with Otomo Yoshihide and Dickson Dee.

Cymbals and Gong are one of the instruments which I have been thinking for a while. I have been playing Gong for many years but hardly for public performances. The last gong I played is a 200-year-old gong owned by John Sharpley. It’s from the Bidayu tribe from Sarawak.

Photo Credit: Yuen Chee Wai

When I first noticed it, there was dust all over it. I took it (very heavy gong indeed) and played for a while and I realized it’s a ‘real’ gong which was played for ‘real’ ceremony and I was told such ceremony are not in practiced anymore. Probably that is the reason why it ended up in an antique shop, where John discovered it. The reason why I said ‘real’ is because there are so many instruments in antique shop which are claimed to be real. But one should know tourism means and what it does to Asia. Many ‘treasures’ end up in the museum, antique shop or some kind of antic gangster and pirates. Tourism not only brings some fortune to many, but it also fabricated (bastardise) so-called antique. It’s a long story.

When I first tried/played Sumatran groove on the Bidayu gong in John’s house, the TV suddenly went on for few second then off. The second time I came to rehearse with John, the radio suddenly went on for a few second and off. John believes that the gong was speaking to me (and him) in its own way and I told him ‘yes and it does not lack a sense of humour’.

Since then it has become almost impossible for anyone to touch that Gong. Now John sees and lives with that gong as a human being, not an object. Which is right. When Shiyun called him and told him that I wanted to borrow the gong, John’s reply was ‘ I don’t usually let people touch the gong but I can completely trust Zai with it.”

I will receive the bidayu gong by end of this week and on top of that, I found a long lost friend who is also a gong, but it is not a bronze casted gong. It is made out of metal (or scrap metal) and is assembled with 3 pieces. The only part which is bronze is the heart (some call it the eye), which is at the centre of the body. I have this gong for about 8 years but forgot about it for about 3 years (those year I moved around as badly as a sea gypsies with their tattered boat.)


One day, Kai Lam told me that he has that gong in his studio. I quickly told him I needed it back. When I first got it back, it was rusty and Kai told me that his cat always peed on it and so most of the rust came from there. I have just finish cleaning and cleansing the gong but it has too much reverb now.

All these recollections of gong lead me to the idea for Book From Hell, which is to ‘look’ at some very old form of ritualistic music. We can start from instruments themselves.

This is what I told Otomo and Dickson (who are known to play really loud). When the 3 of us met in June (in Singapore) to rehearse in a cramp studio, Otomo and I ended up using the cymbals (which were there since it’s a jamming studio) and I was told that Otomo used to be a drummer (he played rock!) before he became ‘Omoto Yoshihide’ . As for me drumming is the first thing I knew before I was allowed to touch any other instruments. I played mainly malay traditional drum (Rebana) and groove. To add in another strange connection, my nickname as a kid was “Kepala Gong”, simply because my head was far much bigger than my body (this remains the same in some other ways - my head is always in argument with my body)

Being inspired now, Otomo asked for 3 cymbals, bass and Tom drum for this concert. Dickson remains the same in someway, but he made a strange looking gadget which made some funny sound. Otomo did ask him what is that is and jokingly I interrupted and answered ‘its to attract women’.

I will end this note with a clue of what we have rehearsed earlier in June, and what to expect for the show. Something quiet.








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