ATAS, Tao Music, 1999
Fists of Fury or The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Baguio-style
by Ed Geronia
this isn't a review of some kung-fu fighting video game or a lengthy
treatise on eastern philosophy laden with confusing Confucian maxims.
Rather, this short piece is an attempt at trying to describe to
you the collective sound and fury of Pinikpikan, the eclectic ethnic
percussion ensemble from the Northern highlands of our country.
For those who don't know their native cuisine, the name Pinikpikan
is derived from a Mountain Province chicken dish wherein the fowl
is rhythmically flogged with a stick before its appointment with
the kitchen stove. Politically incorrect and cruel perhaps when
you apply the incessant pounding beat on some hapless hen, but mystifying
and trance-inducing when the same frenzied motion is carried over
to a thumping armada of drums of differing makes and cultural origins.
If you can't get a handle on what the group sounds like, or if you
don't have the stereo turned on playing ATAS, the group's latest
album, follow these simple steps to achieve the approximation of
the distinct Pinikpikan sound.
take several generous handfuls, and I mean handfuls, of the local
god's wrath. Mix it with fifty-eight minutes of raging thunder.
Wait for a few heartbeats and let it steep in the restless spirit
of an ancient bul-ol that has been fermented with the percussive
poetry of the ethnic gongs of Mindanao. Add a veritable dash of
slap-funky lead and bass guitars and as final touches, trypnotic
chants and prayers of street-smart Shamans high on tapuey, betel
nut, and Baguio gold, and the piercing vocal prowess of tribal diva
Yes, I admit, the ATAS album is a western music critic's nightmare.
It is almost too easy to fall into the music-labeling trap and mindlessly
lump Pinikpikan's music into the whole genre we fondly call "World
Music." Or worse, to liken the group to an electrosonic menagerie
of jungle sounds without giving credit to the almost nuclear soul-energy
that the group generates; a primordial version of Tricky and company
who gave up their mellotrons and theremins for gangsas, gabbangs,
and rain sticks. While I am not worried that my Rolling Stone and
Spin-laced music critic's lexicon is inadequate, I do concede that
it's a near impossible task to try and enclose Pinikpikan's music
with something that is as puny and stagnant as a label. The thrum-thrum-thrumming
of the drums, the bop-be-bopping of the bass, and the voice-as-an-instrument-all
these special ingredients of Pinikpikan's music defy classification.
You can only be in performance to believe.
be in a Pinikpikan performance means not having to know you're Lou
Reed or Moby, it means letting yourself get taken over by the carnal
passion of hitting something with force and rhythm. You instantly
would want to grab anything, a key chain, a beer bottle, it doesn't
matter and madly jam with Pinikpikan. The best part about it is
that none of them will stop you. No other group has ever come close
to making the listener a part of the music, an active member in
the communal wall of sound that Pinikpikan has started building
through and around you. Much like the sight of a bruised and bloodied
chicken is hard to forget, Pinikpikan will go on playing in your
head and ringing in your ears long after the gongs have gone through
their final reverberations and their performance has finished.
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