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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Gamelan: The Traditional Sounds of Indonesia, includes Music CD by Henry Spiller, Michael Bakan (World Music Series: ABC-CLIO) This is an introduction to the familiar music of Indonesia - both as sounds and cultural phenomena. It examines the meaning and significance of traditional Indonesian musical expressions and explores the agricultural roots of modern day dangdut dancing.
The mysterious islands of Java and Bali have produced appropriately exotic musical ensembles: the bronze percussion orchestras called gamelan. This complex music, with instruments and scales unfamiliar to Western ears, is an integral part of the culture of Indonesia. Wilting in an engaging style, the author speaks both as scholar and performer to untwine the complicated strands of gamelan and make the music accessible to students and fans of world music.

Covering the history, cultural significance, and present form of gamelan, this book is a comprehensive treatment of the music of Indonesia, with emphasis on the music of the Cirebonese of North Java and the Sundanese of West Java. Numerous photographs of instruments, performances, and people, along with a CD of richly annotated musical examples, bring the music to life. This scholarly yet accessible book is valuable as a course text or as an addition to a comprehensive library collection.

Excerpt: In the World Music series, top ethnomusicologists take the reader behind the scenes to explore everything relating to some of the world's most infectious music—traditions, composers, musicians, instruments, genres, studios, record labels, and audiences. Standard features include:

  • A brief, general introductory section on music and culture in the region
  • A detailed overview of musical traditions in the region, with attention to salient aspects of the music's cultural context
  • A case study of one or two specific musical genres, including sections on the basics of the music (instrumentation, style, repertoire), its cultural context (performance venues, function of music in the society, recording industry, social and political significance), and biographical/musical profiles of prominent musicians

What are the "traditional sounds" of Indonesia? Ever since contact between the Indonesian archipelago and the West began many centuries ago, the Western imagination has been captivated by the region's seemingly endless supply of exotic, even miraculous, things—spices, coffee, and rubber; orangutans and Komodo dragons; the name of the mysterious spy Matahari ("matahari" means "sun" in Indonesian; its literal translation is "eye of the day") and a convenient word to describe lunatic behavior ("running amok"); unusual social practices ranging from matrilineal descent reckoning and headhunting to tooth-filing and ritual homosexual acts; the list goes on and on. Is it any wonder that the West expects—even demands—that "traditional" Indonesian music be similarly exotic? And in many cases it is. Westerners have long found the bronze percussion ensemble music of Java and Bali—gamelan music—to meet and exceed expectations of exoticism.

It has been almost thirty years since I first heard the exotic sounds of a gamelan ensemble emanating from somewhere in the performing arts building at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where I was a first-year music major. I was sitting in an ear-training class, practicing singing and identifying intervals with my classmates, when all of a sudden an unearthly, ponderous, utterly unidentifiable noise penetrated the walls. It wasn't particularly loud, but it was quite distinctive and strangely compelling; it certainly made a startling contrast with the weak singing sounds my fellow students and I were making. "It sounds like they got the gamelan going," the teacher commented, and I wondered to myself, "what on earth could a gamelan be?"

I made it a point to search out the room in which this strange thing was kept, where I discovered that a "gamelan" was a collection of strange-looking percussion instruments. (Somehow, I knew instinctively that the term referred to the whole collection of instruments; I never asked the question I have since heard countless first-timers ask—"which one is the gamelan?") Unlike the musical instruments to which I was accustomed, such as pianos and guitars, with their neat symmetry and manufactured perfection, there was a sort of Fred Flintstone qual-

ity about these gamelan instruments—each key and pot was irregularly shaped and sized and attached to the intricately hand-carved stands with uneven nails or rustic-looking ropes. The golden metal from which the keys and pots were made seemed to glow mysteriously. I found the whole package to be invitingly inscrutable; it looked timelessly ancient, mystical, and most definitely exotic.

While I thought the gamelan was quite fascinating, I didn't succumb to its exotic appeal until many months later, when I discovered that a number of fellow students with whom I wanted to be friends played in the University's gamelan ensemble. I didn't realize it at the time, but socializing is also the motivation for many Indonesians who become involved in playing gamelan music. Of course, gamelan instruments don't strike Indonesians as particularly exotic, nor do they find the sounds unfamiliar or strange, but since Indonesians tend to value gregariousness, they often find themselves attracted to the social aspects of playing gamelan.

The parts I learned were not really very difficult, and at first I quickly became bored with them. It gradually dawned on me, however, that the most important question to ask when I learned a new part was not "how interesting can I make my own part?" but rather "how does my part affect all the others?" Over time, I began to conceive my role in the gamelan ensemble as somebody who "fits in" rather than some-body who "stands out."

Gamelan music of all sorts is about playing together with other people in a unified group in which mutual cooperation is rewarded with harmonious, music. Expert gamelan musicians use their knowledge and skill not so much to stand out and shine in the group, but to blend seamlessly into the complex musical texture and make everybody shine—an approach to exerting power in all social interactions which Indonesians tend to value highly. I did not realize it at the time, but even from the very beginning of my involvement with gamelan music, the musical processes required to play it were retraining my body and mind to think and act in accordance with these values.

Thirty years later, gamelan music no longer sounds especially exotic to me. In fact, I can't imagine my own life without it. Studying gamelan has taken me around the world, introduced me to a host of fascinating people, and led me to hear and play music in new ways. It is humbling to realize that the musical processes that undergird gamelan music—the conventions and techniques by which it is conceived, composed,played, and heard have so profoundly formed and shaped my own personality and values. Of course, music and musical activities are among the most meaningful expressions human beings can produce—it should come as no surprise that the music we hear and play affects who we are, what we think, and how we perceive the world around us.

To my mind, what qualifies music as traditional is not how old it is, but rather how well it teaches, reinforces, and creates the social values of its producers and consumers. Traditional music is not something that is stuck in the past; it grows and changes, just as the people who make and listen to it grow and change, just as the values they share with those close to them change (albeit a bit more slowly). Truly traditional music, then, exploits new resources, acknowledges new requirements, and responds to new situations. Traditional music provides a place for people to try out new approaches to their existing values, to experiment with new ideas, and to synthesize the new with the old. Traditional music is rooted in trenchant musical processes—the general ideas about how people organize their musical activities—but is not limited to particular musical instruments, sounds, or repertories.

It is my hope that this introductory exploration of the musical processes that characterize Indonesian gamelan music (and, in many ways, Southeast Asian music in general) will provide readers with some insights into how music molds individuals and societies; how musical values create, teach, reinforce, and even alter social values; and how musical change is an index of social change. It is easy to forget, amidst the buying and selling of commercial recordings, each of which is the perfected production of superhumanly "talented" artists and advanced technological magic, that musical processes—the doing and sharing of musical activities—have profound meaning and power.

The book begins in Chapter One by describing some Southeast Asian musical processes; these processes are, I argue, particularly Southeast Asian because they are intimately related to Southeast Asian geography and history. Chapter Two discusses a sampling of gamelan ensembles and repertories on the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali, all of which bring those musical processes to bear on different social systems with different values. Chapters Three and Four focus on Sundanese music and dance from the western third of the island of Java. Chapter Three presents two rather different Sundanese gamelan ensembles (gamelan salendro and degung), their music, and their social contexts in some detail. At times these discussions present minute

technical details; these can be skimmed or skipped by readers more interested in the social and cultural side of gamelan music. Chapter Four explores the role of dance in Sundanese society and addresses issues of change, authenticity, and meaning in the performing arts of West Java; I argue that some of the most "traditional sounds" of Indonesia are those that do not necessarily fulfill the Western expectation of exoticism. Chapter Five revisits the musical processes introduced in Chapter One and reflects once again on what it means for music to be traditional in a changing world.

Out of necessity, this book includes many terms in several foreign languages. Since there are quite a few words in various Indonesian languages, it is worth taking a moment to mention a few salient facts about some of these languages. Virtually all Indonesians speak the Indonesian national language (called bahasa Indonesia, which English-speakers usually render as "Indonesian"). Most English speakers can pronounce Indonesian words passably well if they learn a few simple rules. Most of the consonants are pronounced more or less as they are in English, with the exception of `c,' which is pronounced `ch,' and `g,' which is always hard, even when followed by an `e' or and Most Indonesian `r' sounds are rolled (as in Spanish). Indonesians pronounce `a' as English speakers do in the word "father," `e' as in "bed" (or some-times as in "batter"), `i' as in "pizza," `o' as in "poker," and `u' as in "dude." If the same vowel appears two times in a row, it is pronounced twice with a glottal stop in between. An `h' at the end of a word calls for an audible aspiration (forceful exhalation of breath); a `k' at the end of a word is pronounced as a glottal stop.

Many Indonesians speak a regional language other than Indonesian among their families and friends, saving Indonesian for official situations or to speak to Indonesians from other parts of the country. The two most widely spoken regional languages in Indonesia are Javanese and Sun-danese. Both of these languages have a few pronunciation peculiarities. Javanese distinguish between dental `d' and alveolar sounds; for the dental version, the tongue is right on the upper teeth, while for the alveolar version, the tongue is behind the upper teeth on the alveolar ridge, resulting in a slightly less explosive attack. Javanese make a similar distinction between dental `t' and an alveolar 'th'; a Javanese 'th' is not pronounced as in "the," but rather more like the 'th' in the name "Esther." Sundanese language includes a special vowel that is spelled `eu' and pronounced like the `e' in "the"; English speak-

ers are not used to saying this vowel except in unaccented syllables, and so find many Sundanese words difficult to pronounce. A Sundanese word that ends in a vowel is pronounced with a glottal stop at the end.

Indonesian, Javanese, and Sundanese (along with many other Southeast Asian languages) belong to the Austronesian language family, and share many words and grammatical constructions between them. They also have borrowed many words from the languages of other cultures with whom they have come into contact, including Sanskrit, Arabic, Portuguese, Dutch, and English. Americans are frequently amused to come across an Indonesian word that has clearly been borrowed from English, but whose pronunciation and spelling have changed.

One common feature that many English speakers find startling about Austronesian languages is that they often make no adjustment to a noun to indicate whether it is singular or plural. Thus, the word gamelan might mean "one bronze percussion orchestra" or "many bronze percussion orchestras." Native speakers rely on the word's con-text in a sentence to figure out the meaning. Readers of this book will also have to rely on context, too; a sentence beginning with "the gamelan is" obviously is about one gamelan, while "the gamelan are" is clearly about more than one gamelan.

Musical Ritual in Mexico City : From the Aztec to NAFTA by Mark Pedelty (University of Texas Press) On the Zócalo, the main square of Mexico City, Mexico's entire musical history is performed every day. "Mexica" percussionists drum and dance to the music of Aztec rituals on the open plaza. Inside the Metropolitan Cathedral, choristers sing colonial villan­cicos. Outside the National Palace, the Mexican army marching band plays the "Himno Nacional," a vestige of the nineteenth century. And all around the square, people listen to the contemporary sounds of pop, rock, and música grugera. In all, some seven centuries of music maintain a living presence in the modern city.

This book offers an up-to-date, comprehensive history and ethnography of musical rituals in the world's largest city. Mark Pedelty details the dominant musical rites of the Aztec, colonial, national, revolutionary, modern, and contemporary eras, analyzing the role that musical ritual played in governance, resistance, and social change. His approach is twofold. Historical chapters describe the rituals and their functions, while ethnographic chapters explore how these musical forms continue to resonate in contemporary Mexican society. As a whole, the book is at once descriptive documentary, critical analysis, and celebration of Mexico's vibrant musical culture. From Mexica ceremonies to mariachi concerts, it provides a living record of cultural continuity, change, and vitality.

Excerpt: Mexico City has been the cultural and political heart of the Mexican nation since the Mexica founded their capital there in 1325. In a matter of decades, the Aztec settlement grew into the metropolis of Tenochti­tlán, an island city on Lake Texcoco. Although neither the ancient city of Tenochtitlán nor Lake Texcoco can be found today, traces of both re-main, buried just a few meters below the surface of modern Mexico City.

Similarly, layers of time have created a cultural foundation for the modern city. The past can still be seen, felt, and heard in the capital. For example, on the zócalo, the main square of Mexico City, Mexico's entire musical history is performed every day. "Mexica" percussionists drum and dance in the square's cemented central part. Inside the Metropolitan Cathedral, on the northern edge of the zócalo, choristers sing colo­nial villancicos. Meanwhile, just outside the National Palace, to the east of the square, the Mexican army marching band plays the "Himno na­cional," a vestige of the nineteenth century. These remarkable sounds are subsumed and incorporated into the city's soundscape, no longer a dominant cultural force but vital nonetheless as reminders of Mexico's past. Although pop, rock, and música grupera dominate the contempo­rary soundscape of the world's largest city, these more subtle echoes con­tinue to resonate as well. We can learn a great deal by digging through these musical layers. With that in mind, this book presents an aural ex­cavation of the city's musical history and a snapshot of its contemporary musical life. The goal is not just to detail past and present musical rituals, however, but to explore the inextricable relationship between the two.

Such research requires not only historiographic examination but also

ethnographic analysis. Both methods are applied here. Each chapter narrates the development, execution, and social functions of the main musical modes of a given historical period. Each historical survey is followed by a chapter describing how the same musical forms resonate to-day. For example, Chapter 2 is about Aztec music and ritual observance. Chapter 3 focuses on the ways in which Aztec ritual music is performed today, nearly five hundred years after the Conquest. The rituals of the Aztec Empire have been radically transformed, becoming rituals of re­newal and even resistance when performed in the present. The sacred huehuetl drum no longer provides the soundtrack for sacrifice but in-stead renews the spirit of middle-class office workers and college stu­dents gathered in the zócalo. The conch trumpet no longer signals the hour of bloodletting; it entertains throngs of tourists at archaeological sites. The slit-gong teponaztli no longer plays for rituals of state but instead enlivens archaeomusicological ensembles at the National Mu­seum of Anthropology.

Catholic rites (Chapter 4) that once legitimated Spanish rule have likewise lost their social centrality, taking on new, often antithetical cul­tural meanings in the postcolonial present (Chapter 5). A similar fate was met by the profane jarabe, a ritualized dance that challenged the co­lonial hegemony of Spanish theocrats. The radical colonial dance be-came an official ritual of national identity after the first Mexican Revo­lution (1810-1821), only to fade into fossilized "folk" status after the next (1910-1921). The growth, florescence, death, and rebirth of the jarabe and other musical forms of nineteenth-century Mexico are examined in Chapters 6 and 7. Modern musical styles, from the revolutionary corrido to postmodern rock, are similarly detailed in Chapters 8-16. The book concludes with a spectacular ritual event, the presidential inauguration of Vicente Fox, a dramatic ceremony recapitulating 700 years of Mexi­can ritual history.

Each of the musical movements described here has experienced a fairly similar life-trajectory, moving from creative obscurity to social dominance, only to be replaced in the next era by other musical forms and ritual regimes. Although each assemblage of sound has been qui­eted through time, none has been silenced altogether. Echoes of the musical past continue to resonate in Mexico City's museums, theaters, concert halls, restaurants, and parks. To understand those echoes, we must return to the beginning, when a relatively small Aztec band first reached the shores of Lake Texcoco.

Song of the Outcasts: An Introduction to Flamenco (with CD) by Robin Totton (Amadeus Press) Flamenco has taken the world by storm in recent years. From London to New York and Los Angeles to Tokyo , not to mention lively festivals in Spain , huge crowds come to experience the power of flamenco. Ironically, though, if the performance is authentic – and much in the tourist trade is not – the uninitiated may find it utterly baffling. The music itself, and the use of the voice to sing it, are entirely unfamiliar. The rhythms are exotic and strange, the intensity of feeling startling.

Yet for the Andalusians flamenco has been familiar for a thousand years: it is the song of the outcasts, the poorest of the poor. Though it is not exclusively the music of the Gypsies, they are its catalysts and spiritual torchbearers, and so their story helps us to understand the music. In Song of the Outcasts, author Robin Totton writes – and offers the music on the accompanying 75-minute CD sampler – from his life among them.

Totton is uniquely qualified to write about flamenco; he has been exploring flamenco for nearly a decade and has come as close to flamenco as any outsider can hope to do. Totten has published a guide to Andalusia and is British correspondent for the flamenco magazine El Olivo. A scholar and teacher of broad interests, he holds degrees from Oxford , has studied at the Sorbonne and Colegio de España, Salamanca . Totton has played variously guitar and viola, as well as singing in Michael Tippett's Morley College Choir, Oxford University Operatic Society, Choeur Philharmonique de Paris, and the Sorbonne choir.

Clearly Totton has fallen under the spell of flamenco, and, in Song of the Outcasts readers follow as he walks through the poetic song forms, the rhythmic guitar, and the flamboyant dance, as well as the vocabulary, names, and places, of the simmering emotion and living art of flamenco.


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