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THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, February 12-19, 1998
By Tony Montague

Randy Raine-Reusch is just back from Southeast Asia and he's already looking for a museum of ethnomusicology. Not one to visit, but one to house the collection of more than a thousand instruments he has accumulated in the course of his many trips to the continent. It's not just that he doesn't have adequate room for them all, while he was in Borneo last month his garage burned down, and he's worried. "Many of these instruments are rare," he confides in the course of an interview in his East Vancouver home, on the day of his return. "And some are simply not replaceable."

The main purpose of the latest journey wasn't, however, to collect more instruments. Raine-Reusch has been hired by the Dutch label Pan to make field recordings of traditional musicians in the Malaysian province of Sarawak (on the northwest coast of Borneo) and subsequently to produce a CD of their music. There are eight major cultural groups in Sarawak, with 28 distinct subgroups. "Some of them are extremely remote," says Raine- Reusch. "Some only play at particular times of year, and some only perform in sacred ceremonies that are not allowed to be recorded. But I've got a fair sampling as a first stab, and hopefully I can continue in years to come."

Along with the Melanau and Chinese populations of the coast, and the nearby Bidayuh, Raine-Reusch recorded the Iban and Orang Ulu peoples of Sarawak's interior. The Orang Ulu, which means the "upriver folk", are the most difficult to reach. They live in the highlands, where you have to do the toughest jungle travelling - that means two-day boat rides and up to 16 hours in a Land Cruiser on logging roads. Once it rains there in the rainy season, which is just finishing, the roads turn to a mud so slippery you can't stand up on it. So driving is very hazardous, but it's all part of the excitement.  I recorded music on the sape - a beautiful Instrument akin to a lute - some on both bamboo and metal jaw harps, the nose flute, the tube zither, the gong, the drum - as well as vocal music.

Raine-Reusch also recorded material played on the keluri - a type of mouth organ made out of a gourd, with six bamboo pipes emerging from its top. It was this instrument, a distant ancestor of the harmonica, that first led him to Sarawak in 1989. "The keluri was traditionally used by the Orang Ulu in line dances that were part of different ceremonies, such as dances by women in honour of returning headhunter parties. As the culture has changed - with the arrival of Christianity and Islam, among other things - the dances aren't performed any more, and the keluri has almost gone. I've only met two men, the youngest of whom is almost 60, that can play well, have a full repertoire, and remember the dances."

"It's funny that though keluris have almost vanished upriver, in Kuching [capital of Sarawak] there's something of a revival - for which I'm partly responsible," continues Raine-Reusch. "I bought a whole bunch in town, and that spurred a number of other people to go and buy them. They didn't know how to play, so I taught them what I'd learned from listening to tapes in a museum and meeting the few remaining musicians. I've just ordered 50 to be made and I said I might want another couple of hundred in years to come. My whole idea is to stimulate the manufacture of these instruments again, and to train some young guys to do it, so the keluri can survive. The Orang Ulu don't even grow the gourds any more. I've been asking people from a region where they're still found to give me seeds. It will all take a few years, but hopefully I'll be successful."

Raine-Reusch has brought back five keluris, along with assorted flutes, jaw harps, a couple of traditional gambus (related to the familiar oud of the Arabic world), and an Iban drum, "The Iban are hard-core drummers, and were also the fiercest of the headhunters," Raine-Reusch explains. "It's really something to see these guys. Some of them are tattooed from head to toe.  The traditional designs are stunning, though nowadays eagles and motorbikes are starting to appear. But it's hard to get to hear their music, because there have to be ceremonies before they'll play, so I was fortunate to be able to make some recordings."

"One of the things the Iban men do is to sit in a circle and drum, using interlocking rhythms in a kind of drinking competition," he goes on. "While they drum, they pass a glass filled with a very potent rice wine with their right hands. The rhythms are complex, and must be maintained. If anyone falters, he has to drain the whole glass in one gulp. Then they continue around again. Usually, it's the same guy who makes  a mistake, and he gets drunker and drunker and drunker. It's quite hilarious but requires an amazing amount of skill. I've got that on both tape and film. The rice wine is famous for making your joints ache next day. Not only does your head hurt, but your whole body is screaming in pain!"

In addition to collecting and recording unusual ethnic instruments, Raine-Reusch also plays many of them himself - mainly with Asza, the Vancouver-based world-music quartet he helped to found five years ago. He's particularly pleased to have brought back several examples of a bizarre percussion  instrument known as a kromoi - enough for every member of Asza to play. The kromoi consists of two large snail shells stuck on either prong of a bamboo "fork". The two shells touch, and when a small stick is passed rapidly between them they strike one another repeatedly. "Up close you can hear the hard ring of the shell," says Raine-Reusch. "But at a small distance, and with a number of them played together, they sound exactly like rain-forest frogs. In fact, they re used to call frogs. ItÕs really quite exciting!"

It's a busy time for the musicians of Asza, who are involved in a range of projects, as individuals and as members of other bands. Raine-Reusch is off to Borneo again in the spring to continue his recordings, but before that he travels to Japan to play the ichigenkin, a traditional single-string instrument, in a concert with the Iemoto (hereditary head) of the main ichigenkin school in Tokyo. "I studied there some years ago, and they were shocked that I would improvise music. So then I started to teach the Iemoto, which is unheard of. WeÕll be doing some improvisation together, and one of my pieces as well. She wants to tour with me internationally. It's a high honour and I'm pretty excited - and just a bit nervous," adds Raine-Reusch with a laugh!


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