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  • Gongs & Pop Songs: Sounding Minangkabau in Indonesia by Jennifer A. Fraser
  • Megan Collins (bio)
Gongs & Pop Songs: Sounding Minangkabau in Indonesia. Jennifer A. Fraser. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2015. Research in International Studies, Southeast Asia Series, no. 127. xv + 270 pp., photos, tables, musical examples, discography, glossary of Minangkabau-language terms, index, online audio and video resources. ISBN: 978-0-89680-294-0 (hardcover), $60.00; ISBN: 978-0-89680-295-7 (paperback), $23.00; ISBN: 978-0-89680-490-6 (e-book), $23.99.

In this richly detailed ethnographic work, Jennifer Fraser explores how people who identify as Minangkabau use a local gong music called talempong (small, bronze kettle gongs) to frame and construct identity in West Sumatra, Indonesia. An important theme of the book is that the arts "actively foster and create ethnic sensibilities" (134). However, within that, Fraser reminds us that it is imperative to recognize localized difference within moments of ethnic sameness. Talempong music is one mechanism that mobilizes such feelings. I have written about talempong in connection with its Malaysian counterpart, cakelempong, and I am happy to see this ethnography now devoted to it (Collins 2002). Using a cognitive approach to ethnicity through Thomas Turino's concept of cosmopolitanism (2000), Fraser divides talempong into indigenous and cosmopolitan ensembles. The indigenous ensembles, of which there are two types, talempong duduak (a row of kettle gongs on one wooden frame, with one or two players, seated) and talempong pacik (inter-locking handheld kettle gongs, two or three players, processional) are centered in nagari (a village polity specific to Minangkabau) and played at weddings. Intervallic differences between kettle gongs in these ensembles are not standardized and vary from ensemble to ensemble, village to village, as a deliberate aural marker of village autonomy. Specifically, the indigenous ensembles explored in this book, which remain contemporaneous with the newer ones, are talempong Unggan and Paninjauan, that is, from the villages Unggan and Paninjauan.

The cosmopolitan ensembles, for example, orkes talempong (implying a large ensemble, orchestra), which later became talempong kreasi baru (talempong for new creations/new talempong), typically contain kettle-gong sets, on multiple wooden frames, which are tuned in a diatonic-chromatic idiom and employ functional harmony. These, Fraser associates with schools, tourist performances, elite weddings, and music institutions, in particular the tertiary-level Indonesian Arts Institute (Institut Seni Indonesia [ISI]), in Padangpanjang. While for many Minangkabau people, cosmopolitan talempong is now understood as a sonic marker of themselves within Indonesia, Fraser suggests the music was developed in a process typical of elite reformist projects (Turino 2000), where "local elements are plugged into foreign frameworks" (140). The [End Page 134] site of this development was ISI, which Fraser attended as an exchange student in 1998–99 and to which she returned in subsequent research trips. Fraser traces the trajectories of the scene, through extensive interviews, analysis of commercial recordings, notational representation of the music (both Western and cipher), video recordings (accessed on the web), and personal experiences.

In chapter 1, Fraser explores Minangkabau ethnicity within a cognitive frame, sets up her subsequent discussions on the professionalization of West Sumatran performing arts, and introduces the talempong gongs and the Minangkabau pop songs of the title. When considering exchange between money and music, Fraser chooses to use "monetization" rather than the more loaded term "commodification" and advises that it is very important to consider the ethnographic specifics of such exchanges (33).

Chapter 2, "Talempong and Community," is based on fieldwork in the villages of Unggan and Paninjauan. It contains insightful observations about the sonic construction of local identity through talempong music, as performed predominantly at weddings and organized through adat (customary) practices. Fraser was apprenticed to a senior player, and the women performers of these seated talempong ensembles are given a strong voice in the text. The village-specific repertoire, kettle-gong tuning, and the distinct order of gongs on their wooden stand, which changes from piece to piece, combine to express what it "sounds like to be from Unggan, but not Paninjauan or Sialang" (63). While she acknowledges that payment is important to the players, it is not paramount. Rather, music is seen as part of gift-exchange processes...


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