It’s widely documented that the destruction of the forests in Indonesia is critically harming thousands of endangered animal species, contributing dangerous levels of carbon to the atmosphere and posing a threat to hundreds of indigenous ethnic groups, cultures and languages.
In Britain thousands of wild places are in grave danger too; with less than 50% of its natural biodiversity and wildlife remaining, while 1,225 ancient forests and other sites of conservational or cultural significance are currently under immediate threat.
Despite this shift in our relationship with the environment in recent centuries, and undeterred by societal shifts, hope remains in the fact that we still harbour an innate fascination and appreciation of our world and its ecosystems, evidenced by the huge cultural and scientific movements in recent years to protect the planet.
Having kept in touch after playing a show together in Jakarta in 2018 centred around environmental awareness, myself (Ed Riman a.k.a. Hilang Child) (UK), Prabumi (ID) and Ninda Felina (ID) made the decision to collaborate remotely on a project exploring this delicate balance between humanity and nature on opposite sides of the world.
Seimbang/Balance is a 5-part collaborative journey using field recordings and music, sonically exploring humanity and culture’s relationship with the natural world and the footprint we’re leaving behind.
I travelled to West Wales to capture the sounds of the rare European temperate rainforests and the Afon Prysor gorge which cuts through them, as well as the ambience and remnants of industry throughout the Vale of Ffestiniog and the power stations on the south coast of England.
Prabumi and their team took trips to the tropical rainforests in West Kalimantan and spent time with the Dayak community around Pontianak, recording the wild sounds of the forest and the people who populate it.
Ninda Felina and her team spent time capturing the noise from industrial Jakarta, recording the dissonant sounds of an ammonium nitrate factory.
We built a library of field recordings from these sources and used them to write five pieces of music, taking the listener through five different stages of the cycle of ‘nature vs humanity’. Each artist was designated a track to lead on, writing the initial base track then passing it on to the next collaborator to put their stamp on it and add their own sounds and arrangements.
‘Natural’ represents the untouched world in its unaltered state, the way it was before the influence of humankind.
‘Harmony’ explores the emergence of human culture before the advent of mass industry, when we lived in symbiosis with nature and diverse local traditions celebrated the earth around them.
‘Destruction’ represents humanity beginning its disregard for the natural environment, over-exploiting resources and destroying & polluting the planet for profit.
‘Loss’ serves as reminder of the tragic impact humans are having on the environment, permanently altering the planet’s future and wiping out species which have existed for millions of years.
‘Rebirth’ is intended as a hopeful message that it doesn’t have to be this way and we as a society are beginning to take notice of how important our natural environment is; we can still act now to begin reversing the damage we’ve caused over generations, ensuring a future for the planet.
Putting together Seimbang/Balance was in equal parts liberating, exciting and a creative challenge. Working on it during the global pandemic meant we came up against a number of hurdles during the course of the project. Despite all this, the pressure forced us to refine our processes and focus our efforts on documenting what we felt were the most important sounds for the context of the EP.
Comparing what I collected to what my collaborators procured in Indonesia from going through the same process in their own environment made me appreciate the diverse bounty of sounds provided to us by nature and true scale of what we’re at risk of losing if we don’t take action to protect what we have. Using these field recordings to write music was also something new for me and the most creatively freeing aspect of the whole project.
You capture wild sounds in their purest, most natural state, or local people authentically performing their own cultural and artistic traditions. And in order to present them in right spirit of what Seimbang/Balance represents, you cannot allow yourself to obsess over things like tone, timbre or genre as you would when working with standard instruments or electronics. Instead you work with what you have, allowing the element of chance presented by nature’s soundscapes to inform the work you create, or allowing the distinct characteristics of a culture’s artforms to give you boundaries and limits. And the process of letting go of the music you create, passing it onto the next collaborator thousands of miles away to introduce their own ideas truly stops you from dwelling on the kind of things you could easily get into a creative hole over.
Seimbang/Balance is one of the most unique creative projects I’ve worked on and I’m proud of what we made. In the coming months we’ll be releasing the full EP, a documentary mixtape with narration, some visuals from the project and more.
We’d like to thank British Council and Connections Through Culture for making this project possible and facilitating a new creative friendship between the artists involved. Thank you to Ninda and Tito for being such amazing musicians to work with, and to all our teams involved behind the scenes: Tessa, Rama, Nino, Tobias, Bagus, Renggo and everyone else who helped us out.