Sunday, February 06, 2011

Iraniran: Symbolism and Song

Working on the film, Rangsa ni Tonun, while simultaneously preparing for the exhibition ‘Fiber Face 3’ has yielded some satisfying, serendipitous overlap. The looms that we are bringing, the Ompus Okta, their heirloom textiles, the heirloom textiles from Muara – all will lend coherence to the opening of Fiber Face 3 because they also appear in the film. When they enter the “spotlight” section of the exhibition where the Batak textiles will be hanging, observant people will feel like they have walked into the ambience of the film.

The object of central symbolic importance is Ompu Sihol’s iraniran or reel. I brought it with me from The Netherlands because we hadn’t been able to find one in the Batak area (the one that we tried to make was big and clumsy). Ompu Sihol (my weaving teacher in Harian Boho in 1980) had shown me, more than 30 years ago, how to use it and the yarn that she had wrapped was still on it. We used it to re-shoot the iraniran component of the film. Ompu Okta said she had never used one before. (She told me that in Uluan the warp winder without a central peg had been used to wind newly-spun yarn. Such are the regional variations in Batak weaving techniques and equipment.) It took her awhile to get the hang of it, but eventually she could wrap flawlessly, though more carefully and slowly than Ompu Sihol who had mastered it and could do it quickly and without thinking.

Pak Jerry congratulates a satisfied Ompu Okta on her new yarn wrapping skill.
When Ompu Sihol demonstrated it for me, she had sung a weaving song and I had recorded it. At my request, Joop Bal in Oosterbeek had digitized the old cassette and I passed it on to Nashir. It had been my hope that we would find more such songs in the Batak area, but we did not. They have also disappeared. Nashir, in turn, played Ompu Sihol’s song for the ethnomusicologists in Medan, Irwansyah Harahap and Rithaony Hutajulu who are collecting old melodies. He hoped that Ritha would be willing to learn the song and sing it while wrapping yarn for the film. What actually transpired was far more exciting.

We used Ompu Sihol’s old, crackly voice in the film while Ompu Okta winds yarn...and it leads into the Suarasama version. Irwansyah worked Ompu Sihol’s song into a new composition. It will be the theme song of the film. We are calling it The Weaving Song and it is dedicated to the memory of Ompu Sihol. Nashir is fond of pointing out that the iraniran symbolizes the essence of the film: it belonged to Ompu Sihol and it is used by Ompu Okta who plays the first Batak weaver. It represents the passage of knowledge from one generation to the next and it celebrates the vast weaving knowledge of the two most important weavers in the film.

The symbolic heart of the film: Ompu Okta using Ompu Sihol's iraniran.
On the last day of January, Irwansyah invited members of Suarasama to his home and, playing by ear, listening to Ritha sing the song and also listening to the recording of Ompu Sihol, they completed the joyful melody with its teasing words and added complex original Batak instrumentation (percussion, wind and strings). I watched and listened as the musicians presented different alternatives, discussed amongst themselves which would be better and why, settled on one, and then rehearsed it until it seemed to be part of their flesh and blood and they could play it with heart and soul. Another member of Suarasama recorded it professionally. Then Mas Nashir did a video recording of it. I hope that it becomes an add-on at the end of the film. The film, Rangsa ni Tonun, has revived not just an ancient text and some weaving techniques, but also some forgotten music.

Postscript: All of the players dressed up in Batak textiles for Nashir’s video recording of the song. I noticed that the shoulder cloth that Ritha was wearing had precisely the ikat that I had been trying, unsuccessfully, to find for the exhibition. She was willing to allow me to include it in the exhibition, yet another overlap with the film.

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