Sun, 25 May 2003

Oni obsessed with being an artist of character

Iwan Seti, Contributor, Jakarta

Musician Oni Krisnerwinto, 34, is clear about wanting to make an impression in Indonesia's music scene.

"I want to do something (to improve it). Criticizing things without actually doing anything is the same thing as lying."

So the Yogyakarta native formed Sa'unine String Quartet, in which he plays first violin, together with fellow musicians Syahrier Helmy (second violinist), Surtihadi (viola) and Dimawan Krisnowo Adji (cello).

Established in 1989, the quartet plays a wide range of music, from bebop, funk, rock and pop to jazz and classical music, despite playing only stringed instruments.

This variety of styles has helped the band create its distinctive sound, and earned the group compliments from not only critics and audiences but also musicians and singers, many of whom have asked the group to accompany them in performances.

Oni's place in the local music scene does not end there, he is also a concert master, assistant conductor and a conductor for noted orchestra groups, such as the Twilite Orchestra and the Erwin Gutawa Orchestra.

Music has been Oni's passion since he was a kid growing up in a musical family.

"The greatest (musical) motivation was my father. If I asked for a toy, for instance, I had to wait for a year to get it. But if my guitar did not sound right, I would get a new one in a few days," he said.

He learned guitar from his brother and son after, the fourth of six siblings formed a band with his brothers and performed regularly at churches.

During this time Oni went to Sekolah Menengah Music (music high school), and took violin as his major even though he never owned his own violin until his last year of study.

"I borrowed one from my friend. While waiting for my friend to finish practicing with it, I would learn other musical instruments, such as the saxophone, bass, the piano and others," he said.

This helped Oni gain a good command of other instruments.

Oni's studies concentrated mostly on classical music, but outside of school Oni joined some bands from other high schools, and participated in band festivals.

In one festival in Semarang, in 1988, his band brought home five awards, and Oni won the award for best bassist.

"At that point, I was faced with two choices, play bass in a band, or be a violinist and concentrate on classical music. After talking to my father, I decided to stick with my original goal, and opted for the latter."

That choice allowed him to concentrate on the final examination, and he graduated from school with honors.

He then went to the Yogyakarta-based Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI) in 1989, where he continued to major in violin. In his spare time Oni often played saxophone in cafes.

At that time, one of the leading trends in the pop music scene was the use of orchestras, as groups such as Madonna, Deep Purple, and Metallica used them in their recordings.

Indonesia was influenced by this trend and orchestras grew and developed in this country, leading to the emergence of groups such as the Twilite Orchestra, the Erwin Gutawa Orchestra, and the Dian Indonesia Orchestra. Oni himself joined the Nusantara Chamber Orchestra.

The problem, however, was that the popularity of orchestra music grew faster than the availability of qualified musicians.

"In the end, along with some friends from ISI, I often jumped from one orchestra to another. In reality, no orchestras in Indonesia have permanent musicians," said Oni.

Oni has also played in albums and concerts of pop groups like KLa Project, Padi and Sheila On 7.

The abundant opportunities, however, have not satisfied Oni as he wants to further explore different musical avenues and polish his technical skills. That was why he established Sa'unine, a Javanese word meaning "however it may sound".

"Initially, we played standard classical music. Then a Japanese friend lent us a CD of the orchestra group Turtle Island, which played Jazz. At that point we also started to play jazz."

With Sa'unine, Oni and friends moved from campus to campus performing and began to attract attention. In 1996, the group also played alongside a theater performance.

After that, Oni got a job composing music to be played by an orchestra.

"Not all songs can be performed using an orchestra, so that was a bit difficult. Luckily back in high school, I worked with pop songs from Queen, for example, and the soundtrack of Hawaii Five O," said Oni. He said he was inspired by noted musician Erwin Gutawa.

Last year, in collaboration with artist Sujiwo Tejo, he composed music for Gallery of Kisses, a musical from EKI Production.

"Musicals are a new thing in Indonesian entertainment circles. So, for sure I was quite nervous about composing the music. However, working with a multi-talented artist like Sujiwo Tejo really boosted my spirits," he said.

Working in these two opposing musical streams, classical and pop, motivates Oni to learn more about music.

"It seems that classical music is more prestigious and requires more of a command of technical ability to play. However, there have been times I also could not play a pop song smoothly without referring to a musical sheet. Yet, comparatively, many pop musicians compose and play songs without any knowledge of musical theory," he said.

"My obsession is to be an artist whose work has its own character, like Jan Garbaret (saxophonist)."

Nonetheless, Oni feels that he still has a long way to go. His hectic schedule of playing in concerts, composing music and performing at recording sessions has not made it any easier.

"I really wish for some spare time, where I can simply read books, go fishing or ride a bike," he said, laughing.