Asa Tone's Debut 'Temporary Music' Balances Technology and Nature
Melati Malay, Tristan Arp, and Kaazi team up as Asa Tone for Temporary Music, which mixes traditional Indonesian instrumentation and electronics.
31 January 2020
The introduction to Asa Tone's Temporary Music is a bait-and-switch. A voice is here to narrate, possibly to guide each listener on how to approach the group's debut album, but what arrives instead is lovingly abstract. Disjointed phrases sputter out from a voice that exists somewhere between haunting and mystifying due to the constant glitching. Feelings of the uncanny valley pop up, and by the end, all you're left with as a listener are a few words and enticing motifs (and a song title) to hang onto – "waving", "empty time", and "everyone repeating". This intro is ultimately necessary as it lays the groundwork for the listener to find a compelling vision in this project beyond it being an endearing exploration and meshing of sounds halfway across the world.
Asa Tone is the collaboration of Melati Malay, Tristan Arp, and Kaazi. Malay – one half of the group Young Magic – set up a recording studio in Indonesia with the other two for her annual return home back in 2018. Temporary Music is the result of that ten-day recording session centered around a mix of traditional Indonesian instrumentation and electronic equipment. The interplay of these two styles – including all their connotations – is the immediate draw on every track. The heavy use of Rindik instrumentation – essentially bamboo xylophones – evokes a calming naturalistic setting. Meanwhile, the Infinite Jets pedal and a few other instruments disrupt that peace with an unavoidable 21st-century technological interference. The meshing of sounds here is as natural as the meshing of cultures. There's no question of whether they should or not; it's about reveling in the fact that global harmony is possible.
The first two tracks following the introduction – "Perpetual Motion Via Jungle Transport" and "Visit From Tokay" – were released as lead singles, and the urgency in each compared to the rest of the album makes it easy to explain why. "Perpetual Motion…" is lush with subtle deviations in that repeating initial Rindik rhythm. Notes get jolted out of the original rhythm with echo-like effects, and it makes for a great repeat listen as there could be little surprises down in the mix you might have missed before. "Visit From Tokay" is probably the best stand-alone track here with an emphasis on a steady percussion and some melodic flourishes, especially in the song's breakdown in the middle.
Elsewhere, the project's limitations become apparent. Many of the songs move laterally without taking enough detours or risks. On "Inexplicable Notion (Location Specific)", we get a glimpse of how the songs should maybe develop further at around the three-minute mark with the Suling flute finding a bit of a rhythm to latch onto, but it's mixed down to where it's almost drowned out. The steadiness of each track, while creating a lovely ambient feel, also plays into the low-stakes, relaxed vibe of the whole project. That the songs average three minutes in length doesn't help either. I would have loved to have heard some longer versions of these tracks that pushed them to their breaking point. They also might have better captured the improvisational/jam session feel depicted in the backstory.
The album comes full circle with the voice's return on "Each Pool a Lifetime" and ends on the idea of "completing the shape". Again, it's abstract to the point of some necessary extrapolation, and what I've settled on, in regards to this project, is the need to venture out and fulfill our creative urgencies through others. The collaboration of like-minded people with the same background doesn't amount to much when considering what's possible. There's a complete version of us, of music, out there to find when we get past limitations, whatever they may be. Now, while these particular tracks may be too limited in scope to properly convey that, they certainly have me thinking about it. That's certainly enough for this lovely passion project.