'Microphnism' drowns out performing arts
Selamet A. Sjukur


When the Indonesian Embassy in Paris was asked in 1975 to take part inthe Festival de Jeux d'Automne in dijon, France, where 14 countries were set to present their folk performing arts, it lacked the means to invite a group to come from its homeland.

Instead, it engaged a number of Indonesians who were by chance in paris at the time. They were 16 people from the nine years to 42 years old, volunteers consisting of students, diplomats' children and the cultural attache himself. They had no significant experience in music, nor were their voices conventionally acceptable.

As for instruments, the only handy ones for the event - consisting of a stage performance and procession - were the angklung (a traditional bamboo instrument from West Java) of the embassy. Unfortunately, many of them were damaged after being kept in a room warmed by a heater as the lack of humidity warped the bamboo.

There also was a critical problem of time, as everything neede to be finished in three months.

In such a situation, any determination to train the participants in a customary way would have been insane. All the problems of instruments and human resources needed to be turned around to their advantage in a short time, which meant making the most of the broken angklung and the volunteers' limited ability. Adaptation to the situation was needed, in place of asking them to do folklore as initially required. It needed to be something which was not beyond their capacity, something easy to remember and done step by step orally.

No notation was needed except for the leaders' memories.
When it was finally presented in the festival, the audience as well as the director of the festival, Mr. Levavasseur, found that the Indonesian folk music sounded so contemporary to the European ear! The makeshift group was unexpectedly awarded the Golden Record of The Charles Cros Academy, usurping Zamfir, the famous Rumanian pan-flute player, the winner of the prize the preceding two years.

Putting aside the differences between the folklore and the traditional, the anecdote gives rise to the following observations.

* It is curious that what is folklore and contemporary can be so easily confused simply because both are strange to whoever is unfamiliar with them.

* Can we say that what the Indonesian volunteers did is not folklore and consequently should not be included in a folk performing arts festival? Or, on the contrary, were they the same as what happened in the folklore (something to do with oral transfer and memory), despite the fact the time span was different?

* Is it still possible today to distinguish clearly the music of common people from savant music, by taking into consideration the mentioned anecdote, the gamelan (Balinese or Javanese), Pakistani Quawali, etc?

Music examples (audio recording) form the anecdote: Tetabeuhan Sungut, or "mouthing the gamelan" (a capella) and Sepur Mendem, or "drunken train" (voices plus angklung).

With the arrival of the gamelan in the West at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, French composer Claude Debussy adored the instrument.

There is an undeniable aesthetic relationship between gamelan (of Parakan Salak) and Debussy, not because he was influenced by the instrument, but for the reason there was something in him whose resonancehe found in the gamelan. It is more a question if who is attracted by whom rather than who influences whom. Love has nothing to do with domination.

He knew nothing about gamelan until the end of his life, and yet his music reflects the Javanese sound culture without sounding Javanese.

It is the same with Josi Evangelista's Inmobilis in Mobili (motionless Move) which is inspired by Javanese gamelan.

On the other hand, Lou Harrison knows gamelan quite welland his double concerto for Violin, Cello and Gamelan reminds us of something Javanese which does not exist. It is not his intention, anyhow, to imitate the gamelan, but he instead glosses it into semantics.

Within limited combinations of concept, means and realization, the game of "old and new" itself is quasi limitless.

Ludicrous lover

"Sir,hell is paved with good intentions," Johnson said.

Music is universal, vector of integration, and interest in world music is mounting.

We feel the necessity of preserving traditional music from decay.
The Egyptians have done their best to conserve mummified remains even though the culture of making mummies has passed.

No one is angry because the now popular campur sari has bled the once famous kroncong to death.

If the interest in the world music has become evident all over Europe and America, the cause is not only the excellent work of musicologists. The industry of tourism excites the curiosity for an ever wider scope (geographically as well as culturally), and the music industry (recordings, concerts and festivals) has an important role in this "give and take." Last December, there was an unbelievable program in Châtelet Theater in Paris. Ligeti's piano concerto was followed by two groups of pygmies from Aka, Central Africa. The idea was perfect, to reveal the hidden aesthetic affinity between music of "advanced civilization" and the life in the jungle. A specialist in pygmy music, a musicologist Aarom, was engaged to speak to the audience in behalf of the tribe.

The pianist, Eimert, was not only a high level musician but also capable of explaining clearly the most difficult music reasoning to the public. It was sad, however, to see the pygmies were forced to adapt themselves to the habits of European concertgoers (the aquarium-like stage with effulgent lighting, the frontal attitude, etc.) and whose music needed to be explained by a foreigner.

Concerning the universality of music, it is as stubbornly stupid as the politicized meaning of tradition. Both add nothing to music but instead reduce music to nothing.

There are a lot of pther problems which are down to earth and more urgent, such as how to let people be aware that whatever we do in daily life has something to do with art, in one way or another. That included how a woman uses a lipstick, why a child chooses a certain school bag and not others, how to convince the TV programmers that art news is also needed just as sports news is, and that verbal comments on images detract from the enjoyment of onlookers.

We unconsciously face a very dangerous culture, the culture of shouting.

Everyone preaches more loudly than needed, and no one understands what is said. It is like the misuse of microphone, just to make sounds louder (excessively) without the least attention to the quality. Microphones are used badly everywhere, in concerts, in seminars (which the participants chat among themselves), for mosques, to call car drivers, etc.

Microphonism is more concrete than universalism and traditionalism. Nationalism, in its usual narrow sense, is the worst.
So it is actually our national epidemic desease.

The article is adapted from a paper submitted to Traditional Arts: Its Place in the 21st Century, a seminar organized by CCF Jakarta from May 4 to May 7.

(The Jakarta Post Saturday, May 6, 2000)


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