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Music of Death and New Creation: Experiences in the World of Balinese Gamelan Beleganjur (review)

From: Notes
Volume 57, Number 2, December 2000
pp. 412-414 | 10.1353/not.2000.0073

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Notes 57.2 (2000) 412-414

Book Review

Music of Death and New Creation:
Experiences in the World of Balinese Gamelan Beleganjur

Music of Death and New Creation: Experiences in the World of Balinese Gamelan Beleganjur. By Michael B. Bakan. (Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. [xxii, 384 p. + 1 compact disc. ISBN 0-226-03487-9 (cloth), 0-226-03488-7 (pbk.). $60 (cloth), $30 (pbk.).]

This book is an account of the music of the Balinese gamelan beleganjur and the author's experiences studying and learning it. This type of gamelan, consisting of gongs, cymbals, kettle-gongs, and drums, is used primarily for processions in death rites and temple festivals. As one of over twenty types in Bali, it has been overlooked in the extant literature. Michael B. Bakan's book fills this gap beautifully. He concentrates much of the book on four other overlooked subjects in ethnomusicology and Balinese studies: traditional pedagogy and reflexive learning encounters, the lives and stories of his teachers, the battles of political ideology in public performance, and the competition-driven world of modern Balinese musical culture as realized particularly in kreasi beleganjur--newly composed pieces for the gamelan beleganjur. Bakan maps the four movements of a kreasi beleganjur piece into the four parts of the book.

The introduction ("Part One: Awit-Awit") is a reflexive meditation upon accumulating knowledge in fieldwork situations, from believing one knows something in preliminary study to the shattering of that knowledge in subsequent research. Bakan examines his encounter with this process during several research trips to Bali. He had expected later research to validate his earlier work; instead, his previously constructed romantic visions of Bali were dashed physically (by way of accidents and dog bites), emotionally, and musically. This level of reflexivity is found throughout the text and is typical of some recent work in the field. (See, for example, Michelle Kisliuk, Seize the Dance! BaAka Musical Life and the Ethnography of Performance [New York: Oxford University Press, 1998] and Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology, ed. Gregory Barz and Timothy Cooley [New York: Oxford University Press, 1997]). Consequently, Bakan proposes an alternative epistemology in ethnomusicology that moves away from the model of "music in (or as) culture" to one that incorporates the ethnomusicologist as "music-maker and fieldworker" and moves toward people (insiders and outsiders) rather than culture (pp. 13-18).

In part 2 ("Kawitan"), Bakan explores the traditional repertory of the gamelan beleganjur, highlights the innovations in kreasi beleganjur, contextualizes beleganjur contests (lomba beleganjur), and introduces his teachers, Ketut Sukarata and Ketut Gede Asnawa. Kreasi beleganjur developed in 1986 and is linked directly to local efforts to direct Balinese male youth (teenagers, unmarried young men) toward productive and musical activity. Bakan clearly shows -- through transcriptions, recorded examples on the accompanying compact disc, and extensive explanation -- how kreasi beleganjur musical elements evolved from traditional beleganjur. The kreasi style took on aspects of the modern gamelan gong kebyar and became far more virtuosic and complex than the traditional style; it also added sharp, masculine choreography. Both of Bakan's teachers, though particularly Asnawa, helped form it.

Part 3 ("Pengawak") brings the reader into the musical and political world of music contests and introduces the theme of the imposition of Indonesian national cultural ideology on Balinese culture. Bakan examines concepts of competition and talent in Balinese culture, unpacks rhetoric from musicians at lomba beleganjur contests, and investigates the phenomenon of multiple and changing "winners." On one occasion, the ruling Indonesian political party, Golongan Karya (GOLKAR), replaced the winning club of a competition with another club from a district that better supported GOLKAR in elections (p. 228).

Another example of political or ideological impositions on Balinese culture concerns women's beleganjur clubs, beleganjur wanita. These emerged in 1994 and owe their existence to the official Indonesian promotion of emansipasi (women's emancipation) as part of President Suharto's New Order ideology. The idea of women playing beleganjur--the epitome of masculinity, heroism, strength, and bravery -- was difficult for many Balinese (particularly men) to accept. Bakan includes many revealing quotations in this chapter (chap. 6, "Agendas of Gender") and discovers that, though...



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