Georgia’s fertile musical soil usually produces an abundance of indigenous music, with our musicians serving as ambassadors, carrying the sounds far afield. But not all local innovation comes from the process of woodshedding in the Appalachian foothills, and for Athens musician Kai Riedl, it took a trip halfway around the globe—to Indonesia and back several times over—to build the foundation for JavaSounds, his newest musical enterprise. For Reidl, exportation gave way to importation and Georgia pines to Javanese rice paddies— the trade routes open with the goal of collaboration, exploration and mutual musical growth in mind.
“I’ve been listening to this kind of music since I was in my mid-teens,” Riedl says, recalling a friend who gave him a CD of exotic Indonesian music, full of chiming, keening strings, clattering, ringing gongs and primal percussion. He first experimented with east/west fusion as a member of the now-defunct Athens band Macha, a group that got moderate millennial attention for its employment of traditional Indonesian gamelan—an instrumental ensemble characterized by percussive metal gongs, drums and strings—with spacey indie rock. “I think my interests pretty much lie in travel, and I have to have a relationship with music. Combining them on that first trip [to Indonesia] 10 years ago was pretty fantastic, [traveling] guerrilla style, if you will. And so my interest pretty much grew from there to that first trip, and being prepared to enjoy music from around the world.”
Riedl also is a professor of religious studies at the University of Georgia, and recently taught a class on the relationship between music and religions. For him, music is more than something to listen to—it’s something to experience fully, through listening but also through creating, through recording, through manipulating and through sharing. And with JavaSounds and Our New Silence, tandem projects focusing on creating bridges between melodic, hypnotic Indonesian music and the Western world, he gets to do just that.
JavaSounds is an ongoing field recording project that has so far borne the fruit of five trips to Indonesia, while Our New Silence is a way for Riedl to recontextualize those sounds—it’s both a remix project involving local musicians, and the name of a live collaborative presentation that took place in Athens earlier this spring and may resurface in the future. “Two distinct sides of the same coin,” says Riedl who’s eager to draw attention to musical traditions as well as to find new ways to approach them.
A taste of Java
Riedl took five trips to the Southeast Asian country over the past five years, each time recording more and delving into the traditional musical culture. Local sound engineer Daniel Rickard, formerly of Athens bands Tin Cup Prophette and The Low Lows, accompanied Riedl on three of those trips to provide technical know-how. “I decided to bring someone like Daniel, who has such a great command of the tools, to help,” says Riedl. “I’d tried recording before, but you don’t really realize how hard it is to capture sounds, keep things in tune, keep people focused, keep—at times—even chickens quiet!”
Riedl says his current goal with the JavaSounds project, “is to provide a reliable introduction to Javanese music,” and he plans to do so by offering numerous albums for sale online (at javasounds.org) at one dollar apiece, with one album released per week for 10 weeks. “So I guess I also want to create a new model for music,” he says, “because obviously the one that’s been in place is not working. Our relationship with music has changed. Our gratitude for it has changed. So I’m trying to find a different model for how to present these, both more economically and more formatively.”
Riedl says, though, that the JavaSounds project never started with a definite goal, but that each step has evolved out of the prior. “I have to say that to a large degree there was an element of choicelessness to the whole thing,” he says. “I feel compelled to do these things.
“When I look back on it, I’ve always been politically aware but not very politically active, and trying to expose some of these cultural elements of the Islamic world was my form of political activism, in a sense. And I love the music. Really, once we got back and realized what we had, the goal to release it came to mind, and then to develop some more music out of these parts is now what we’re working on.”
The last element is where Riedl’s companion project, Our New Silence, comes in, featuring a bevy of other Athens musicians and taking JavaSounds’ field recordings as a starting point.
Sounds of ‘Silence’
With numerous local musicians who often flirt with the grey area between mainstream and experimental music—artists like Kyle Dawkins (Georgia Guitar Quartet), Heather McIntosh (The Instruments, Gnarls Barkley), Page Campbell (Hope For Agoldensummer, Creepy) and Killick—Our New Silence reworks the raw material from the JavaSounds recording sessions, lacing pop, rock and electronic textures into the music.
“It’s a giant experiment,” says Riedl. “It should be a good chance to hear some different sounds, learn a little bit about the Islamic world, Indonesia, and hear some of our favorite musicians from there.”
The Our New Silence project is supported by UGA’s Ideas for Creative Exploration, an interdisciplinary initiative for advanced research in the arts. “My goal really is to create really some kind of abstracted Indonesian soundscape for people where they can learn about this music and simultaneously enjoy some music or genres that they may not be familiar with,” says Riedl.
But to tie Riedl, a musical import-export chief, to any one spot—Georgia, Java, or otherwise—is a stretch at best, a disingenuous enterprise at worst. Take a note from cultural experimentalist Thomas Jefferson, who said, “Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains.” Riedl’s passion exists not in Georgia or in Java, but in the fact that their traditions exist separately, and that they can intersect, and that he can make that possible.