foto : Mao Nianshu
In 2021, Indonesian duo Senyawa (Wukir Suryadi and Rully Shabara) extended some serious power-chords around the world with their seventh album that was released by 44 labels, completely decentralizing the distribution and giving control to anyone who was willing to participate in the project.
Through various means of encoded conversations and across a few days, I got to talk to Rully about this project, as well as the other creative processes he’s been exploring both in Senyawa and Zoo.
V: So, let’s jump right into it. Your latest album ‘Alkisah’ is a precedent in the scene today. Can you tell me more about how this idea of multiple labels came about?
R: So, the original idea was to make an album with strong lyrics that would talk to the situation we were experiencing during the pandemic. This is our first album in the second decade of Senyawa, so it felt really important to create something that was beyond the sonic explorations we did before. During the recording session we thought of expanding the theme of the album and let go of our power, as Senyawa. So, instead of releasing an album on one label, like we usually do, we thought what if we allowed multiple labels to share the materials.
So the experiment was to have each participating label share equal power, like us, to use the album, or the materials. Not only music, but also the artworks. They have the power to exploit it, use it, and to capitalize on it as they want. We were curious to know what would happen if we gave multiple labels the freedom to create their own visual image, artworks, album covers etc. They are encouraged to do the remix or reinterpretation of the album. They are also free to use the stem files, to do whatever they want with it , including to master it in any way they want and basically..own it. Everyone participating in this project basically owns the Alkisah. That was the experiment there: to see what kind of collaborations, and connections and network will this create, just by doing that. I think that’s the real experiment here. It’s exciting, but it’s also a lot of responsibility to nurture the project, and to keep talking about what this project is all about. We’re sharing and experimenting with exclusivity rights.
Alkisah on Phantom Limb
This also led to the ‘Pasar Alkisah’ online festival in which artists were invited to remix and perform live the songs from the album. Do you intend to do more similar projects in the future?
R: Pasar Alkisah was a festival we did to mark the launch of the album, but the festival wasn’t focusing on Senyawa, it was actually highlighting the many different labels who are involved, as well as the line-ups chosen by the labels, like the remix artists who were involved. So far we have about 200 remixes done by not only people who are involved in the project, but also outside of the project, because the stems can be downloaded for free on www.yesnowave.com so the public can have their hand on it, if they want to remix, or do cover, or reinterpret the album or the songs, and then they can make money from it, which is encouraged because, we won’t take any percentage of the royalties of any of the remixes.
Pasar Alkisah was 48 hours, and all the contents were provided by the labels, that’s why this festival worked, because Senyawa was merely an admin, haha, not an organizer. We had a shared drive, which consists of files shared by the labels who had the full power over choosing what kind of content they wanted to present. We had music videos, audio only, radio shows, cooking shows, commercials, animations… all decided by the labels, whether the style, the content and durations… This is one of the most exciting parts of the Alkisah, the Pasar Alkisah and the remixes that were done by so many people from different genres and backgrounds.
We also have Alkisah Marketplace on Discord, where everybody can interact directly with artists and labels.
How did the response of artists and labels affect you and Wukir?
R: The response was overwhelming. I think we underestimated the amount of people and time that will take to realize this project, but also the impact that it had in return. There were a huge number of administrative responsibilities that came about, interviews, panel discussions, zoom meetings that last, well, still today. Not to mention the new networks that are being built. Of course, this has made us very aware of our responsibility, effort, and dedication that’s required to handle such a project, and also any experiment that will come after this. That means we need to learn from this experience and take notes, so that the next experiment would be even better.
Nowadays you have a lot of time you spend in the Senyawa’s studio in Yogyakarta, unlike when you’re on tour. How do you use this time?
R: Well, not touring, and not being able to perform during this time means that we don’t have, basically, income. Because, being on tour, and selling merchandise while touring was the best way of earning money from music, now we have to rely on Bandcamp, and things like that, but that’s nothing. Especially now that we shared the album with everyone (laughing), some labels are selling much better than us (laughing). So we use a lot of time in the studio to prepare a strategy in order to survive, but also the infrastructure, plans and schedules that’ll be ready for when the borders open for touring musicians. Apart from that, I work on my own projects outside Senyawa studio, like making AI projects, working with Zoo, and so on..
Do you think of modifying the live sets when you go back to touring?
R: Hmm, maybe. Of course, for Alkisah we will use the same set if we’re going to perform the same songs, but now we have a new approach, which is pure acoustic, created especially during pandemic, because it allows us to play anywhere. With this, we can also take the difficult experimental songs, and convert them into…well, acoustic ballads (laughs). But also, when Senyawa tours, we try different approaches during the tour. We can play new material over and over, until we like it, so for the new songs like that I will use a different set, with our own custom pedals and microphones.
That’s great! What kind of pedals are you making? What would you love to add to your pedal board?
R: For now we’re making different kinds of distortions, fuzz… but that’s for Wukir’s instruments. Delay will be next, but I definitely need reverb, that’s all I think I need for the next experiments. I played a lot with the pedals on the past several albums, but that doesn’t mean I will continue doing it the same way, you know, if we keep on making our own equipment, if I have the microphone that I want, I don’t think I’ll be needing any effects any more. The pedals I have now I will probably use in my other projects, like Setabuhan, or Zoo, or my solo projects. For now I use reverbs, delays, loopers, and Electro Harmonix Superego Synth..
Acoustic sets also imply the importance of an acoustic space. Do you think this will affect your choice of venues?
R: Well, first we can equalize ‘venue’ with a ‘space’… and every musician has a space. It can be a studio visit, or a house visit, or any other space where people can come and attend the performance in the intimate atmosphere. It’s better, right? People can get to know the musicians, talk to them, see the process… This is what we did in Senyawa studio in the last months, and we also performed a different set every time, which makes it more interesting for us. If we do this regularly, we can show the audience the new material before we publish it, or before we even announce it.
Do you think this will also affect the relationship between the ‘consumer’ and the ‘creator’?
R: I think this year the whole industry was re-examined. Everybody is offering different alternative solutions, people are rethinking all sorts of approach methods. This doesn’t mean that the future of performance is in the studio visit kind of gigs. But everybody is currently thinking about the ways we use the industry, the way we distribute, release and perform music. How we see the copyrights, or exclusivity rights, property rights, and so on. That is all being reconsidered. That’s why we’re doing the Alkisah project, to give the perspective that there are other ways to survive, to adapt to the new situations, and a studio visit kind of gig is just one of them. My theory is that the next big thing that will happen after the decentralization will be transparency. Because we’re living in a world where privacy and surveillance are an issue, the AI is becoming more advanced by day, so the idea of transparency can be translated to openness… We don’t fight surveillance by being more private and exclusive, it’s supposed to be the other way around, at least among each other. And imagine if you can apply transparency to the way how business is conducted, or the way you create and share music. I think it’s about inclusivity. That’s better, right?
V: Yeah, it’s been proven time and time again that collaboration beats competition. And the past year has made us all a little bit more humble in the face of reality.
V: Creatively, you’ve had a lot of collaborations so far. Apart from projects like Resonant Bodies Festival where you performed with chamber ensembles, and choirs, you also played with great artists like Stephen O’Malley, Robert Lowe, Keiji Haino, Jerome Cooper just to mention a few. What characteristics do you respect in other musicians the most?
R: In collaborations, I always value knowledge and the lessons that I learn from the musician I play with, whether it is new vocabulary, new insights, or the new ways of playing music… I respect when they share their knowledge, and I grow alongside them as a musician too… That is why I often collaborate with different musicians from different practices, and different styles… the broader range of music that I collaborate on gives me deeper understanding and knowledge about the sound.
Tell me something about the narrative in the albums you create, both with Senyawa and Zoo. How did they evolve?
R: The narrative between Zoo and Senyawa are completely different things. While in Senyawa the practice is all about the inner exploration, and inward looking, in Zoo it is more of a study… like the way that the language can influence civilization. Both projects didn’t start as complex, especially with Senyawa. Originally it was just about testing out what would happen when I collaborate with this instrument, the ‘Bamboo Wukir’ and my voice, basically just that. But then it developed into more focused exploration of how the energy that we build together, the Senyawa can be bigger over time, because both of us also explore our aspects, me with the voice, and Wukir with the instruments, and then the meeting in-between can create its own narrative. Like all the albums, the progressions, from the first album to ‘Alkisah’, is all about the progress of how our relationship is growing over the years musically.
With Zoo on the other hand, it’s all about creating civilization from scratch, step by step, one at a time, with a milestone of an album. So it’s focused on a specific theme, one at a time.
What comes next for the Zoo world? Is this the time where the AI comes in?
R: The next chapter of Zoo, Khawagaka, comes after the discovery of the belief system, and it’s about how civilization finds its technology. What is the role of technology in building a civilization? So, the questions around that topic will be in the next one. But it’s not about computer technology… That’s why the AI projects that I’m doing are completely separate from Zoo or Senyawa. It’s a different thing that I’m exploring now. In Zoo, the next chapter will be more about exploring the philosophy of technology, like the discovery of the concept of time, for example, that sort of thing.
How do you see the true potential of the voice?
R: Well…voice is limitless, that’s why, my practice is to keep exploring it. Because, the more you try to find the true potential of it, you’ll find little by little, bit-by-bit about yourself, and your instrument, which is the voice, right? When you’re playing the guitar, the more you explore the guitar, the more you find all the possibilities and potential of that instrument, the more you know about that instrument. So the same is with the voice, actually it’s not just about sound, it’s about so many things, because it’s connecting directly to yourself, as a person, as a human being. And then, a voice, as a sound, connects that body, that instrument, to your surroundings, to nature, to the environment in which that instrument exists, so it’s very important in terms of existence… Yeah, so, the true potential of the voice is that… It’s the essence of existence.
Can you tell me something that you learned about yourself in the last year or so?
R: There’s so much of course, and it’s kind of almost impossible to break down all the details of those lessons. But, as an artist, if you want to know what artists have learned, just look at the works, what is done in that year, what are the things that the artist is learning, or currently exploring, or questions that they are trying to answer. So yeah, that’s one way to identify what I’ve learned, or what the artists have learned. For me, Alkisah definitely taught me an abundance of lessons, since that project also asked a lot of questions, like the meaning of power and its values…