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District 14: Nada Workshop

| Documentation by Koh Maan Lin |

12 September 2020. 11am - 2pm

Gamelan Studio

The goal of the Nada workshop was for the elderly to create sounds inspired by the photographs each dancer took from last week’s workshop on Rupa. I met with Rose and Jonit, the two facilitators of the workshop and Iskandar. They discussed how to interact with the elderly and shared some concerns on how receptive they would be, and went over the agenda for the day’s activities. Rose said that she would let the elderly experiment with the different instruments around the studio, and let them record ambient noises from outdoors if they liked.

Soon after, the elderly trickled in one by one, followed by the 2 youth participants. Rose and Iskandar then began to give a brief rundown of the day’s activities. Rose demonstrated the different ways you could make sounds and music through vocalising, and using her body and the walls to create percussion. Afterwards, they begin to talk about different styles and eras of music, from the traditional to favourite classics like Bengawan Solo. The elderly began to talk about their favourite songs. One of the makciks got emotional talking about a song that meant a lot to her, and there was a general consensus that songs from the 1960s were the best as they were the most relatable. For a while, Rose took music requests from the elderly and played them on her computer, while everyone chatted about their memories with music and Geylang Serai. It was nice to see the elderly warming up to each other and connecting through shared experiences. The makciks traded stories about how they were told not to sing or dance in the kitchen, lest they grow up to marry a much older man. So, they would hum quietly to themselves to avoid nagging from their mothers.

Next, Rose tried out some musical exercises with them. She played out a few notes on the gangsa and invited everyone to vocalise those notes together. They then did the same with other instruments like the trompong and the reyong. Rose also demonstrated layering vocals on top of each other with Iskandar to give the elderly and the 2 youth participants some ideas as to what they can do later on their own. Time was given to the participants to walk around and try out the different instruments, and when the jam session was over, the sets of photographs were handed out. Everyone took their time to sift through each photo and the facilitators explained the thought process that went through each shot, and discussed the emotions present with the participants.

One of the pakciks was very enthusiastic and did a very joyous karaoke rendition of one of his favourite songs with Rose. This was surprising to the facilitators because he was very reserved in the first workshop, and even refused to write the letter. It was interesting and heartwarming to see him being able to express himself in a way that resonated with him, and genuinely have fun during the workshop. Then, the other elderly participants began to record their own soundscapes as well. Most of them had a preference for the gangsa and the gong, and vocalisation. Another pakcik had a very interesting response to the photos - he did a radio DJ style commentary over some music with Iskandar, and it really struck home how emotions can be expressed in many different ways. The 2 youth participants (Firdaus and Anwar) also had different interpretations of the photographs. For example, Firdaus played a rhythmical tune on the drum while vocalising, and Anwar played a melancholic tune on the gangsa. Where the elderly seemed like they were doing whatever felt right and fun to them, Firdaus and Anwar had a clear vision of what they wanted to express and record. This made me think about the generational differences in terms of translating the feelings from one medium to another, and how emotions really transcend senses and objects.

After everyone’s recordings were collected, I went out with Nurbaiyah to buy some drinks for the participants to thank them for attending today’s workshop. We talked a bit about the elderly’s experiences and reactions, then walked back to Gamelan Studio to give the drinks to the participants. They were seated in a circle conversing with each other and about the different kinds of music in their life. Then, we took some photos as a group and ended the session.


As much as we will attempt to record the process, this journal does not necessarily reflect the artistic direction or intention of the work. This is our interpretation as we experience it with the artists and collaborators.

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