Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dutch Indonesian Encounters Day 3

I'm writing the morning after the third (and final) day of the Dutch Indonesian Musical Encounters symposium in Leiden - a long day in which I chaired two sessions and was a discussant for Sumarsam - the well-known gamelan teacher and ethnomusicologist, author of the book Gamelan (1995). 7 hours of non-stop talk was capped by a trip to the Tong-Tong Festival (formerly known as the Pasar Malam Besar) in Den Haag in the company of Sumarsam, composer Franki Raden, Triyono Bramantyo (dean of the faculty of performing arts at ISI Yogyakarta) and symposium organiser Els Bogaerts.

In the morning session Pak Bramantyo spoke about how the Netherlands has played only a very minor role in Indonesian musicology since Jaap Kunst's time. He hoped that the symposium would revive interest in ethnomusicology and interest in Indonesia in general (!). Pak Bram then showed a video of his 2009 research in Sulawesi Tengah - a small ensemble composed of 3 instrumentalists playing plucked string instruments and an end-blown flute and a singer in a jilbab sung plaintive songs without great enthusiasm while sitting in a row of blue plastic chairs. Pak Bramantyo later said that he was in search of 'genuine' music untainted by the modern world.

His discussant Ben Arps responded that the reason why no Indonesian PhD students had come to the Netherlands to study ethnomusicology wasthat ethnomusicology is 'very poorly institutionalised' in the Dutch academy in general. Kunst himself held an 'extraordinary' position at Amsterdam university, outside of the regular departmental structure, and no strong centres of academic ethnomusicology research had emerged since. In contrast, the Netherlands 'had not fared badly' in the practice of Indonesian music. Music and the performing arts in general have played important roles in keeping public interest in Indonesia alive in the Netherlands. Here Indonesians have been involved - as teachers, visiting artists and so on.

Wim van Zanten, my old colleague from the PAATI project, then spoke about theory and practice in Sundanese music. He argued that models proposed by Sundanese theorist Kusumadinata (stimulated by Jaap Kunst) were overly elaborate and hard for musicians to understand. Kusumadinata's notation system cannot be understood without first knowing modal theory. Sundanese musicians refer to notes by strings (which are either tuned up or down depending on the tuning mode). Musicians don't actually need notation, though it is useful for analysis. He then argued for the benefits of an artist in residence system (as he said is common in the US) whereby an Indonesian musician might teach an ethnic music while studying for a PhD. He gave the example of Uking Sukri who used money gained from teaching in the Netherlands to repair his house, and Yus Wiradiredja, who used his pay check to bankroll 3 cassette tapes of Islamic music. He played one of these tapes Pancering Hidup (2003) which was actually quite nice. He also played some other hybrid Cianjuran musical examples -- a collaboration of jazz pianist Bubi Chen with Uking Sukri and rehearsal footage from Dangiang Perhiangan's work with Dutch jazz pianist Rob Agerbeek (described as 'Soendanese crossover' in the Tong-Tong Festival's schedule).

Wim's discussant Lutgard Mutsaers (author of Rockin' Ramona) picked up Wim's comment that Sundanese musicians don't require theory. She wanted to know whether any Indonesian scholars have contested Wim's work. Wim argued that Indonesians have been hampered from intellectual exchange (including participation in international conferences etc) due to poor knowledge of English. This he admitted is changing - but graduallly. Some pointed to Soeharto as a culprit.

Franki Raden jumped in to say that Soeharto actually neglected arts and culture - which was sometimes a benign neglect. Soeharto should therefore not be blamed for the state of the arts. Much depended on who was the Dikjen for the arts. During Edi Setwayati's term there were many positive changes - she shook up the system for the better. Other ministers and director generals were corrupt and allowed research money to be corrupted. Much research remains of very poor quality. Franki added that the main reason that the government has shown an interest in his own national orchestra project is to prop up tourism. He admitted he didn't care about the government's motives, as long as they provided support.

Wim came back that his own work was not entirely ignored by Indonesians. Uking Sukri adopted Wim's system of notation for teaching, for example. Pak Bramantyo later reported that Kusumadinata's influence in the academies had faded. While he once occupied an important place (and was well known due to his music textbooks taught in pre-university levels), few were familiar with his theories today.

This session on 'Academia, Musicologists and Institutes' wass followed by two artist talks by composers Klaus Kuiper and Sinta Wullur. Klaus argued that his identity was not predicated on his citizenship in a nation-state but rather as a music-maker. He had us look at his piece Golden Rain (1991) score for piano trio plus clarinet. This was inspired by Hujan Mas recorded in the classic album Morning of the World (1967). Another piece titled Sonata da Camera (1997/9), written for the contemporary gamelan ensemble Gending and performed at the Yogya gamelan festival to a constantly laughing and applauding audience, made many gestures to pop music. These were not intentional - they just happened. 'I steal everywhere', Kalus admitted, referencing Stravinsky's famous quote that poor artists borrow while great artists steal.

Henk Mak van Dijk pointed to how Kupiers' music contrasted with his own stereotyped impressions of Indonesia. Henk viewed Indonesia through a nostalgic tempo doeloe lens as without conflict, while Klaus' music emphasises clash. He also referred to Linda Bandara's piece for gamelan written in 1937. Klaus noted that Gending plays on a gamelan slendro as this provides a challenge for the composers in the group. Usually in Holland gamelan provides an inspiration, a starting point. But Kuipers has a deeper engagement - at the level of structure and technique (for example kotekan, which suffuses his music). Sumarsam pointed out that some of the enjoyment of Kuipers' music in Java might be his integration of Balinese techniques - this provides a pleasant surprise. Kuipers said that he had actually been criticised in Java for not being Javanese enough. Kuipers also reported that he has written for Indonesian gamelan ensembles. An ideal pattern for him is for musicians to learn their parts individually and then come together for 2 weeks of rfehearsl. It is important for parts to be first internalised - so that scores are not referenced in rehearsal or performance. He also prefers to work without a conductor.

Sinta Wullur played examples of her music and spoke about her compositional processes. She likened her work to experimentation in a lab. Her harmonic elements are derived from McPhee's transcriptions - she took his 7 scales and used rotation to make chords. She has used these same chords consistently since 1993. She thinks about climax and tension through Bach. Sinta also played a bit of her opera - Sinta's Liberation for chromatic gamelan, orchestra, Western-trained voices and wayang kulit (performed by Joko Susilo) and spoke about her attempts to integrate Indonesian, Indian and European music in Indi Go.

Reporter Joss Wibisono spoke about how he was 'pangling' - in between recognising and not recognising - when confronted with Sinta's music. He had difficulty recognising gamelan due to chromaticism of sounds, and European structures. Sinta described herself as 'a child of two cultures' in her presentation title and said she saw herself as a new race, a new entitty. She said her music appealed particularly to percussionists. The vibraphone or marimba is a very poor cousin to the bronze instruments of gamelan, with their rich sonic qualities. She said she would like to bring her chromatic gamelan to Indonesia and see how Indonesians might use it. She is looking for partners.

Discussion returned again to Linda Bandara, whose own specially made gamelan (apparently diatonic) was constructed in 1925 and is now housed in the ethnological museum in Vienna.

Franki Raden said that much of the interest of gamelan was lost by tuning it to a Western scale. Sinta said that ehe wanted to experiment with Steve Reich/Phillip Glass like figurations in combination with gamelan patterns - the chromatic gamelan was ideal for this, she argued.

Jos Jansen applauded Sinta's opera - saying that in it she no longer felt she had to prove herself, she just makes the music shet wants to.

Sumarsam offered the finding that Raffles' gamelan in Claydon House is probably the first diatonic gamelan.

Renadi said that retuned gamelan is not unique to the West. Krakatau uses a 10 toned slendro-based gamelan with tuned synthesizer to make chromatic effect. Reference was also made to the Gamelan Supra.

After lunch, Lutgard Mutsaers offered her thoughts about parallels between choro, a popular music of Brazil, and keroncong, and showed a documentary about choro off youtube.

She argued that choro remained a music of the streets - the origin point of keroncong, which was gentrified in the 1930s. A music video Choro Novo was like a keroncong street performance. In contrast the 'krontjong baru' at Tong-Tong was very tame and domesticated.

This was, she said, kroncong as 'high art'.

Discussant Peter Keppy, himself also a kroncong researcher, criticised Lutgard for emphasising connections with very distant musics of Portuguese origin (choro, Hawaiian music etc). He urged her to look at closer connections - gambang kromong and Chinese music particularly. He told an enecdote about how he was talking once with a Chinese friend over a kroncong tape. The conservation stopped and his friend shouted out 'wow, this is a chinese song!' The song was Gambang Semarang, well known as based on a Chinese melody.

Peter said that to him choro music was very different than kroncong. Lutgard was unclear whether she saw a direct genetic relation between choro and kroncong, or whether she just was inspired by the analytical approach taken to choro in Choro: A Social History of a Brazilian Popular Music (Indiana UP, 2005).

The final paper of the symposium was presented by Sumarsam. Sumarsam commented on gendhing mares - a gamelan form that includes trumpet and drum. Sumarsam asked that if gamelan was a sign of Javanese power, why incorporate European instruments? Was this a domestification of exotic sounds or intercultural dialogue? He pointed to the contrasting example of tanjidor, wherein European instruments are fully domesticated (playing an excerpt from Yampolsky's album, In contrast, trumpet and drum play very simple role in gendhing mares. Sumarsam saw this (in line with John Pemberton) as a symbolic means to resituate the Dutch as tolerated guests.

The revival of gendhing mares in a restoration of Bedhaya Semang was at the instigation of a high-ranking prince, who over-ruled the authenticity drive of the scholars and dancers of the court to insist on a more 'sigrak' accompaniment for the entrance and exit of dancers. Sumarsam linked this to the Yogyakarta gamelan festival, which places a stress on hybridity, to demonstrate that gamelan is in-step with the world.

I acted as Sumarsam's discussant. I pointed out that gendhing mares were probably intended not just for Javanese ears but also to impress European visitors to the court with Yogyakarta's martial power. Sumarsam's Javanese ears heard the trumpet and drum as simple embellishments of a complex Javanese musical structure. In contrast, my own ears heard ONLY the trumpet and drum. I alos pointed out how drum-and-trumpet was linked to military bands (oempa) which were omni-present in urban Indonesia in the late colonial period.

The last session, led by symposium organisers Bart Barendregt and Els Bogaerts, focused on future plans for a volume. We were told that contributors should pay more attentio nnto musical materials - not just context. An attempt will be made to balance Indonesian and Dutch perspectives. Peter Nas urged a theoretical integration of the book - with a focus on themes such as hybridity and mediation.

In the evening, as already mentioned, I went off with the Indonesian ocnference participants to the Tong-Tong Festival, where we saw Tohpati Etnomission (jazz fusion uit Indonesie) and a Balinese dance workshop delivered by I Gusti Raka Rasmi and friends.

The concert was fun - the combination of jazz drumming with Sundanese kendang was particularly interesting for me. But Sumarsam and Els found it overly loud.

It was lovely to see Raka in action. I had only seen her previously in old footage and photos from 1952 - when she toured the US and Europe in the Dancers of Bali tour produced by John Coast. Her dancing remained energetic and sprightly, and she interacted with grace and charm with the participants (mostly women and girls of Indonesian descent).

I spoke afterwards briefly with Raka - she spoke about her 'mother' Laura Rosenberg. Els presented Raka with a series of articles written by tour producer Soeprapto about the 1952-3 tour that were published in Mimbar Indonesia.

A tour of the festival's 'Indonesian pavilion' and a meeting with the dalang wayang golek (who remembered me from the 2008 festival) brought the evening to a close.

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