Ambient sounds inspired by Bali.
Island Of The Gods' Dan Mitchell (formerly of the London fashion retailer LN-CC) doubtless knew this when he tapped Sterk for his Island Explorers series. Bahasa joins a fine lineage of records that includes Black Merlin's Kosua and Hipnotik Tradisi, and Merrick Adams and Mo Morris' Admiral Byrd. For Sterk, the project was personal, too. His late grandfather was born and raised in Indonesia, and this was Sterk's first trip there. "Having Indonesian heritage and having some of that culture infused in my upbringing, it really felt like coming home," he said of visiting Bali.
Sterk returned to Amsterdam with reams of recordings, much of it taken from jam sessions that lasted 30 minutes or longer. In Bali, he built a makeshift studio in a villa where he would record using a modest collection of hardware (including a small modular synth borrowed from the Indonesian DJ Dea Barandana), and collaborated with Jonny Nash and the Desa Babakan Gamelan Ensemble. The results show that gamelan music can be as versatile as it is distinctive. On "Kalapa Garden," the lilting metallophone is accented with plinking reverb and synthetic hand drumming. On "Temple On A Road," distant, distorted chanting is rendered innocuous by the ensemble's soothing tones.
The ringing gamelan notes on "Moving Ornaments" evoke a heady sea breeze, sounding as though the instruments are literally blowing in the wind. Tracks such as "Looking Back," meanwhile, showcase one of Sterk's defining tricks: the delicate fusion of the traditional and modern, in this case a flanging reverb that subtly transfigures customary sounds. It's one of the album's many transcendental moments (hear the lapping waves and siren sighs of "All These Seas," featuring Aardvarck, or the languid blear of "Time Before Time"). The closing track, "The Beginning And End," is truly stunning, a sonic reiki treatment of strings and chimes.
Bahasa is trancelike in the meditative sense rather than being dancey. You might expect to hear it while enjoying a hot stone massage at a plush Canggu resort (in fact, "Kalapa Garden" might be named after such a resort). While some entrants in the Island Explorers series were inspired by inhospitable wilderness, Bahasa is an unflaggingly relaxing experience. Its aim is not to challenge but to calm, and it successfully recreates the atmosphere of Balinese zen that attracts so many visitors to the island.