By Barrionics [Rico Reyes, Johanna Poethig, Anne Perez]
“In the Philippines, in Asia, and on the shores of Africa, European art forms met on an equal footing with indigenous traditions. In the seventeenth century the mannerist and baroque traditions even crossed with the outermost boundaries of the Iberian expansion to meddle in other worlds, including Japan and the court of the Great Mogul, to the extent that one can speak of a “baroque planet”.
– Serge Gruzinski, Ultra Baroque exhibition catalogue[i]
The vanguard styling of Barrionics exemplify the latest developments in electronic music, designed environments, and folk traditions. The hybrid name Barrionics combines the words barrio (rural village) and electronic, signifying a blend of musical styles and aesthetics. ‘Barrio’, in this case, connotes not just the locale of the rural village disengaged from the urban centres of high artistic production, but also a musical style that is relegated to the margins of popular music. Physically, socially, and aesthetically ostracized, the notion of the barrio is energized with its hybridization with new digital strategies, synthesizing barrio and electronic into a new art form.
Resembling the development of a “baroque planet”, this musical style echoes the meeting of European musical forms with indigenous traditions. The aesthetic style developing in the 17th Century Europe was described as ‘baroque’, a name used by jewelers for a misshapen pearl. Art critics of the time used the term ‘baroque’ as a pejorative[ii] to describe the emphasis on lustruous surface treatment and unbalanced compositions, favoring diagonal lines, emotionality, and movement, moving away from the earlier philosophies of the Renaissance in using science, mathematics, and philosophy to guide artistic production in a rational and dignified manner. Contemporaneous with the development of European colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, the development of the Baroque style was encouraged by the Catholic Church as a means to counter the Protestant Reformation, consequently becoming the laudable and ubiquitous style used in colonial expansion and indigenous conversion to Christianity, hence the idea of a “baroque planet’.
Four hundred years of exposure, hybridization, dilution, and persistence, the Baroque continues to haunt the Philippines and its artistic production, making works of art with the facile use of religious imagery and the surface emphasis on technique rather than content. The Barrionics is influenced by this dynamic and uses the baroque both as a defining aesthetic style of emotions and irrationality, and as a critique of this lavish façade as a means to perpetual colonization. An amalgam of high art aesthetics rooted in the Baroque, Filipino indigenous traditions and customs, and contemporary digital and electronic artistic innovations is the platform from which the Barrionics launches it works. This new style is called Barrioque (rhymes with karaoke), a blend of baroque aesthetics with Filipino folk sensibilities, processed through the wires of the latest technology. The results are works of art that intersect cultural aesthetics and overcome borders of genres and disciplines. Performance and experimental sound compositions experienced via single-channel video employ sweet song metaphors to push the boundaries of musical styles and to reveal poignant political perspectives while dressed up in the strategies of camp.
Sarung Banggi is a music video based on the song of the same name by Potenciano B. Gregorio, originally written in 1912 in the Buhinon and Bicolano languages of the Philippines[iii]. It was later translated into Tagalog and set to new music arrangement by Constancio de Guzman. The original Sarung Banggi is considered a kundiman[iv], a love-song for serenading. Musicians have used this form as an allegory for nationalism and love of country during times of national conflict. The Barrionics revisits the kundiman and its allegorical subtext to discuss the Bush Administration’s War on Terror, and the deployment of U.S. military to the island of Mindanao for military training and policing of terrorist activities by “invitation” of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The Barrionics looks to the moon and the cosmos to derive significance from these policies seemingly sanctioned by Providence, much like the policy of Manifest Destiny, the continued expansion of the U.S. to the West and into the Philippines a century before. As diwatas or deities, the Barrionics are complicated in this human act and must leave their heavenly habitat under the cloak of night to correct these acts against human rights as subversives. Secrets are exchanged, covert transactions dealt, and malignant marriages consummated in the shadows of moon glow, in the depth of darkness, all in one night, isang gabi, Sarung Banggi.
SARUNG BANGGI (Standard Bikol)
Sarung banggi sa higdaan
Nakadangog ako hinuni nin sarung gamgam;
Sa lubha ko katorogan
Bako kundi simong boses iyo palan.
Dagos ako bangon si sakuyang mata binuklat,
Kadtong kadikloman ako nangalagkalag,
Si sakong pagheling pasiring sa itaas,
Naheling ko simong lauog maliwanag.
ONE EVENING (English)
One evening as in bed I lay
I heard a plaintive song of bird that spurns the light of day,
At first I thought it was a dream,
But soon I knew it was no dream for it was you.
And then still half asleep from my warm cozy bed I did rise,
And tried the darkness deep to pierce with my straining eyes,
Then I looked around I chanced my eyes to raise,
And saw in glorious radiance your lovely face.
Barrionics members are Rico Reyes, an interdisciplinary artist and curator working in video, installation and performance. He is currently a PhD student in the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths College. Anne Perez is a composer of new music that bears primal and modern elements. She has a background in music composition, computer engineering and electronic music from the University of the Philippines, Dartmouth College, and Mills College. Johanna Poethig is a visual, performance and public artist who works both in the studio and public sector. Her works include painting, ceramics, digital media, video and architecturally integrated design.
[i] Serge Gruzinski. 2000. In UltraBaroque: Aspects of Post Latin American Art, ed. Elizabeth Armstrong. San Diego, CA: Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.
[iv] English, Leo James C.Ss.R. 1977. English-Tagalog Dictionary, Manila, Philippines: Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.