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Saturday, 19 January 2019


This is my modest review of Kicau-Bilau, an electro-acoustic musical group that I prefer to honor as a lyrical & hauntingly emotive Nusantara soundscaping group.

Kicau-Bilau is formed by a young husband & wife team, Jihan & Irfan. I came to know them about three years ago when they were busking in several spots around the city of George Town, Penang. Penang streets can be unforgivingly noisy for street musicians, but they were persistence. At times, I invited them to perform at the five-foot way of Rozana's Refreshing Batik, my wife's shop & studio at Lebuh Acheh. Sometimes, I joined them, together with my daughter Ainina. Performing on the streets is a good training ground for aspiring musicians.

I had also invited Irfan & Jihan as guest soundscapers for my H3RO & gemaBELAS community tours. At one short-lived time, they established 23 (pronounced DuaTiga), a rented shophouse that they turned into a mini cafe, gallery & performing space. My wife & I later became their surrogate parents in Penang. Through countless talks or what I refer to as 'kebun ilmu' (discussion sessions), we passionately exchanged our ideas about what we like to refer to as a Nusantara soundscape. We felt that one needs to be local first in order to be global.

Irfan & Jihan were occassionally joined by their friends Wak & Wawa, who complimented their soundscapes with improvised body movements.

Kicau-Bilau's musical journey can be an interesting topic by itself. Im not going into that because I'm lazy. I think they can narrate it better than me. Go check out their facebook and instagram.

Ok, lets start with the name first. The word 'kicau' means chirping, in reference to birds singing. As for 'Bilau', I don't know, don't ask me. My guess is that it means chaos or unstable energy.

Kicau-Bilau perhaps refer to the act of singing in the midst of chaos or unstable energy. I suspect they were refering to the act of 'chirping' in the chaotic urban soundscape of George Town. The name is also a creative twist of 'kacau-bilau'. It means disturbance. Kicau-Bilau can thus be read as their creative response to our disturbing soundscape, again I suspect. 

Why 'Nusantara soundscapers'? 

There is an academic writing on Nusantara music by Prof. Wan Zawawi Ibrahim, which I cant remember and too lazy to check now. I hope he is not reading this. I refer to him as my 'brader-prof' . Sorry bro. Anyway, those nerdy type can try to google him and his writing on it. 

I will try to explain according to my casual understanding. 

Nusantara refers to a geographical region in the south east of Asia. Historically it was called the Malay Archipelago. Geographically, the archipelago was originally a plateau called Sunda, before further tectonic & climatic changes gradually shaped the region into its current form. 

Nusantara soundscape is consisted of a rich array of natural, animal & man-made sounds that are rooted in the rich spiritual, historical, political, socio-cultural, ecological and geographical characteristics of this tropical region. 

Kicau-Bilau's music can be experienced as a Nusantara soundscape. They explore & arrange the rich array of both natural & man-made sounds into an emotionally-engaging soundscape experience. The experience is intrinsically reflective of the region's natural climate & habitat, as well as its rich spiritual & cultural traditions. There are of course expansive historical discourses on Nusantara. But this review is not meant to give us an academic lecture on it. 

Back to Kicau-Bilau. 

Irfan & Jihan deploy an open-ended setting that allows their improvisation to flow endlessly like a meandering river. Like a slow river, their sounds are soothing. 

The setting can also be read as a resonating quantum field in which a natural or man-made urban space is creatively engaged to unveil new layers of aural experience. The chosen space is not passive or neutral, but integral or even central in creating the final sound experience. 

Kicau-Bilau uses principles such as open-endedness, non-linearity, inter-connectivity, inclusiveness, interactivity and participative. These principles can be found in many forms of traditional music in the Nusantara region. Their engagement is driven by honesty, gratitude, love, compassion, respect and humility especially towards their chosen setting. 

In such setting, space & moment are aurally-charged by the synergy between their inner-waves, their audience members and the chosen location. The result can be described as calmness, peacefulness, centeredness, balanced, flowing, tranquility, bliss, and many more. These experiences have been scientifically argued as good remedies for stress, imsonia, depression, anxiety and several other mental health symptoms. They are also argued as having positive physiological impact to our body.

Kicau-bilau re-iterates the fact that all of us are micro ripples within inter-connected, complex & inter-dependent macrocosmic waves. Such inter-connectivity or inter-dependency is taken as a sacred bond in many forms of Eastern cosmologies. Theoretical physicists may refer to this as 'quantum entanglement'.  Few sustainability theorists may refer to this as a form of spiritual ecology. We are a part of a larger field of quantum wave patterns. Whatever ripples we chose to generate, will determine the kinds of larger wave interference patterns or quantum field. We relate to this field as our 'inner experiences'. Hopefully the experiences will dissolve our self-centric or ego-based sense of separation into a unified quantum field of infinite wholeness or oneness. 


Both Jihan & Irfan, whilst enjoying their soundscaping journey, are also testing several potentials in approaching sounds from an Eastern cosmological perspective.  One of which is the possibility of using sounds as healing. The healing potential of Nusantara soundscape may help us in dealing with the increasingly alarming mental health issues in Malaysia and the rest of the world. 

Our noisy world needs to hear more of Kicau-Bilau's Nusantara soundscapes.  The scapes resonate with compassion without having to desperately yell loudly or shout noisily. The currency is honesty & staying true to one's inner nature with endless gratitudes towards Nature. 

Keep on chirping Kicau-Bilau. 

7 tingkat permai, Penang. 
20 January 2019.

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