Monday, April 03, 2006

ALTERA ENIGMA - In Depth Interview

ALTERA ENIGMA , what a cool name for an even more cool band!
This Australian-Indonesian self-proclaimed "progressive experimental metal" band consists of Jason De Ron (ex-PARAMAECIUM, Aussie doom/death band), Jeff Arwadi (Indonesian avant-metal KEKAL) and Kenny Cheong (a jazz fusion bassist). All of the musicians above have been playing music for over 10 years, and they have been together as ALTERA ENIGMA since 2003. Their debut CD "Alteration" is released in 2006, and to be honest, displays their maturity in songwriting and musicianship.

Here's the chat with NeKroblog! Read on! (I'll post the "Alteration" CD review soon)....



Jason DeRon

• Nekro: You call your band as “progressive metal”, but yet your music is different (and way better) than most of progressive metal indie bands around. Are you satisfied with the current “progressive metal” movements filled with countless silly unoriginal boring DREAM THEATER wanna-be’s?

Jason: Altera Enigma is really only “Progressive Metal” because it is the closest description that we can use. I usually try to use the term “Progressive Metal Fusion” or “Fusion Influenced Progressive Metal”. As you said, we are very different than a lot of other Progressive bands, as a lot Progressive bands are influenced by power metal, and that is something I do not listen to or like. I draw more from Jazz Fusion than anything else. I'm not interested in doing what Dream Theater do; None of the members of Altera Enigma want to. Dream Theater do what they do very well, but I would rather try to do something different.

• Nekro: What metal music means to you?

Jason: Metal is a style of music I have listened to since the mid 1980's. It is still a great genre, and has some incredibly talented musicians playing it. However it can be narrow minded and self focused. And I think the genre suffers for it. The range of emotions that metal music can convey is very limited; it is really only anger and sadness. There are bands that are breaking this mold (Opeth comes to mind), and in Altera Enigma we made a deliberate decision to try to explore different emotional colours and sounds. I think metal has a lot of potential to grow still, but is often constrained by commercial considerations. A band that sounds like Slipknot is going to sell a lot more albums than a band who tries to do something different. The independent scene is so important. It contains bands that are really exploring their music and their creativity rather than trying to get on 'Headbanger's Ball” on MTV. So to answer your question; I think metal is in many ways limiting to a musician, but also contains a lot of potential.

• Nekro: Do you consider your music modern? Why?

Jason: I don't know. I have never really thought about it. It was never a consideration when we were writing the album. It avoids sounding like 1980's metal, which a lot of Prog Metal can do. The keyboards are used in a more modern way, and we avoid the static harmony of a lot of metal bands, and have brought the harmony of Jazz Fusion into a metal context. Fans are tell us that the way we blend Jazz Fusion and Metal is something new. I honestly don't know if our music is modern or not. I hope so.

• Questions about guitars to Jason and Jeff:

• Nekro: What a solo guitar means to you, Jason & Jeff?

Jason: A guitar solo is an opportunity to express emotion, to explore harmony and ideas in real time and to play what I feel the song needs. I never write guitar solos ahead of time, they are all improvised. A solo is a vehicle to express emotion. If it doesn't do this then, in my opinion, it shouldn't be included in the song.

Jeff: For me, solo guitar means that you can freely express your own emotions using a guitar as the main instrument that stands out from the rest.. It’s the same thing as doing lead vocals..

• Nekro: Is there any philosophical meaning when you play a guitar solo?

Jason: The main meaning behind a guitar solo for me is expression of emotion. For me this is more important that perfection; I would rather an emotional solo that has some small mistakes in it than a carefully rehearsed solo that has taken so many attempts to record that by the time it is done is it cold and emotionless. “Perfection” in a musical sense can be a dangerous thing. This is especially true in Progressive music where everything is expected to faultless. A “Perfect” solo can be cold, sterile and not move the listener. A solo where the player truly expresses themselves is a great thing. With todays digital technology, in the studio just about every single mistake can be removed from any recording, but this is often at the expense of the song. On “Alteration” there are a few small errors in our playing that I deliberately decided should be there because they were part of a great take and I did not want to ruin the energy or emotion by cutting it up or doing another take. A lot of Progressive Fans would probably disagree with this, but I think that it is important that a recording sound human and not like a machine. Even in Progressive music . . . perhaps especially in Progressive Music because it has a tendency to be very cold and sterile.

Jeff: The melodies created from the guitar solos that can have some certain philosophical meanings, but they do not appear when/while I play.. They appear after I play.. You know what I mean..

• Nekro: How important technical skills, especially speed, needed for making a great guitar solo?

Jason: Speed and technical skills are only tools that can help a musician express themselves. However. often the overuse of them leads to the complete opposite. A shredding solo often loses it's emotional content, even though speed can express emotion too. One of my favorite Jazz musicians is the saxophonist John Coltrane who could express himself equally well through one or two notes or through a wall of blisteringly fast notes. My favorite guitarist is Larry Carlton who hardly ever plays fast, but is the most emotional player I have ever heard. The same can be said for BB King. Both these players can express a whole range of emotion through a few well chosen notes. The most important thing is that a player expresses themselves. If technical skills aid this, then great. But they are not required for a musician to create a solo that says what the player intended.

Jeff: It depends.. It is important if you want to express some anger into the music.. Fast solos with whammy bar helps a lot.. But if you want to express some relaxed feelings, that doesn’t important..

• Nekro: Tell me your ideal electric guitar; if you were endorsed with a guitar company for a custom-made guitar, what kind of guitar do you wish to get? If so, also with the details……

Jason: It would be a semi hollow body; that way it would allow a wide range of tones, from high gain to a nice rich smooth jazz tone. Something along the lines of a Gibson ES-335. It would need a nice comfortable action, with the strings nice and close to the fretboard, and have a high gain pick up in the bridge position and a rich Vintage Gibson Sounding PAF pick up at the bridge position.

Jeff: My dream guitar is the one who can have the nice warm clean tone like a hollow-body jazz guitar, and at the same time the powerful clear crunchy tone if I use metal distortion and hi-gain amp.. I am thinking like putting a hi-gain Seymour Duncan humbucker pickup, at the bridge of a semi-hollow jazz guitar..


Gibson ES335 with humbucker??? Would sound nice.... It looks nice already! ;) -nekro

• Nekro: For a band that is mainly instrumental, what kind of message do you wish to share with your listeners? Do you think instrumental songs can be as strong as the ones with lyrics in order to get the message out to the masses?

Jason: The message of Alteration was that human being change, that change is inevitable.
Music without lyrics won't ever be as clear in the message it conveys; but it certainly can express just as much. It's message just isn't as obvious; the listener needs to be involved in the music in a deeper way to really get the most out of it.


Kenny Cheong

• Nekro: On Audiostreet.net, you posted a black metal song. Can you tell me what black metal means to you; and what do you think is the most interesting point of black metal?

Jason: Black metal is a statement against the mainstream. Or at least it used to be. It is so mainstream now that any 'shock value' it had is gone. You can see Black Metal on MTV now. I am not a fan of Black Metal and never really have been. The song we posted was not really Black Metal in my opinion - I mean after all it had political lyrics - but because Jeff used his old vocal style and there were blast beats in it it came out sounding a little like black metal. I just wrote music that would go with the the lyrics, which were very angry, I didn't set out to write a black metal song.



• Nekro: “NGC3370” is a damn good song, and it’s my favorite instrumental from “Alteration”. What does the title stand for?

Jason: NGC 3370 is a Spiral Galaxy that is similar in size to the Milky Way and about 100 million lights away. The photo of it taken by the Hubble Space Telescope is absolutely amazing. I had it on the desktop of computer I was recording the album on. NGC 3370 was actually the working title for the song, but it just stuck and we ended up keeping it as the title.

• Nekro: Jason, you seem to be very comfortable writing songs in 2 or 3 chords. Can you tell us why?

Jason: I really enjoyed exploring what could be done with a single theme. I like the idea of taking a melody, or chord progression and expanding it, playing with it, stretching it and seeing all the different things that can be done with it. NGC 3370 is great example of this. The whole song developed from a single idea and a simple chord progression. I wanted to see how many different musical ideas I could get from a simple idea, and a two-chord chord progression. Limiting your choices when you are trying create something often makes you think in different ways and helps you to break out of what you would normally do. I often write this way, and have since my days back in Paramaecium; it ensures that a song evolves organically and fluently rather than sounding like a bunch of separate ideas crammed together into one song.

• Nekro: If you have to choose one chord for a song, which chord do you want to play?

Jason: It would be a Lydian based Maj9#11 Chord. I love the tonality of the Lydian mode. Lydian Chords are beautifully ambiguous and are very rewarding modes to explore: It contains the beauty and consonance of a Major Chord, but also the darkness of the #11. It is a great scale to explore because you are free to develop the light or dark side of the mode or both at the same time.

Jeff: E-Tritone (E, A#, G), I don’t know the real name of that chord.. I’ve heard this one was forbidden to be played or used in the past because it sounds “evil” or “devilish”, but it sounds good to me.. Not that the evil sounds good to me, but this tritone is.. I use lots of Tritone chords in my songs.. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tritone

• Nekro: If you can only have 1 bar for a song: which signature do you prefer, 4/4 or odd-time?

Jason: 4/4. It allows for greater flexibility. It can be as simple or complex as s needed. Listen to anything by Return To Forever to see just how crazy 4/4 can sound when needed.

Jeff: 4/4 signature but with free beats inside it.. That would sound “extremely chaotic”..


Jeff Arwadi


• Nekro: Jeff, can you tell me the reason behind the song “Pasivitas Sudut Pandang”? Do you satisfied with it? It’s different from songs you usually write for KEKAL. To be honest, I can’t enjoy this song as much as the others you wrote.

Jeff: I am satisfied.. Yes.. The song was actually written back in 2001 when KEKAL was playing very “metal”.. Even though I played in Kekal and wrote most of the songs, I always started to write songs that basically far from metal.. Some songs can be “metalized” (or to borrow Jason’s term: “Kekalized”), but some cannot.. Songs that cannot be “Kekalized” remain at my own personal archive and never used in KEKAL.. “Pasivitas Sudut Pandang” was taken from my archive.. When I searched out for suitable songs for “Alteration” album, I found out that this one fits the most with the rest of the songs on the album..

• Nekro: Thx Thx Thx…… Any comments or insults to Nekroblog readers?

Jason: Thanks for the interview and review. Anyone interested can check out our website at www.alteraenigma.com, and download a brand new and exclusive MP3 from Altera Enigma at http://www.audiostreet.net/alteraenigma The track isn't on the album, and is only available from Audiostreet. Thanks Nekro!

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