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RASAAffect and Intuition in Javanese Musical Aesthetics$

Marc Benamou

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195189438

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195189438.001.0001

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The Musical Scene in Solo

The Musical Scene in Solo

(p.3) One The Musical Scene in Solo

Marc Benamou

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 1 sets the scene, providing a brief musical portrait of the city of Solo with some attention to history. Institutional (the royal court, the academies, the radio station) and noninstitutional contexts for gamelan music are contrasted, and some of the many kinds of music excluded from the study are outlined. Performance contexts, such as dance and wayang (shadow theater) accompaniment, are described, as well as the dramatis personae—the musicians whose words form the corpus of the book.

Keywords:   gamelan, Solo, royal court, institution, academy, wayang, history, dance

The City of Solo

Solo is a crowded city of about half a million people.1 It consists mostly of densely packed one-story dwellings, with storefronts in two- and three- story buildings lining many of the main thoroughfares. Situated in a rich alluvial plain near the geographic center of Java, it is surrounded by rice and tobacco fields and agriculturally based villages of various sizes. It is thus a market center for the surrounding countryside (I have heard it said that the daytime population of 700,000 drops down to 400,000 at night), and the city has one of the largest textile industries in Indonesia. All political power has been in the hands of the national government since Independence in 1945 (even city employees are national civil servants).

Historically important and still relevant to Solonese self-definition are the city's two active royal courts, which, first under Dutch control, and even more so since Independence, have served a primarily ceremonial role. Both of these (p.4) are housed in vast eighteenth-century palaces and are headed by sovereigns who retain the respect and allegiance of a certain proportion of the general populace. The Susuhunan (or Sunan) Pakubuwånå (currently number XIII, in a contested succession), considered the king of Solo, is the head of the senior line. His palace is the Karaton Suråkartå Hadiningrat, called the Kraton for short. The junior line is headed by the sovereign prince Pangéran Adipati Ariå Mangkunegårå (currently number IX), whose palace is the Purå Mangkunegaran (or, simply, the Mangkunegaran).

The present monarchy traces its lineage back to the prophet Mohammed on one side and the mythical heroes of the Mahabharata on the other (and, curiously, through both sides, back to Adam).2 More recently, it looks back to a glorious past in its progenitor, the large and powerful kingdom of Mataram (founded, or rather resurrected, toward the end of the sixteenth century). Around 1745, Mataram's royal seat was moved from Kartåsurå to a new location eleven kilometers to the east.3 The new site was a village called Sålå, which was displaced to build the new Kraton (“royal palace,” from ratu, “king”). The place was renamed Suråkartå Hadiningrat, which is why the city still has two names, Surakarta and Solo (in their Indonesian spellings), of which the latter is more common in everyday speech.

The reason for the move was that the old palace had been occupied by a series of invaders. Kartåsurå was thus contaminated and its symbolic power as the center of the universe was rendered suspect.4 As a result of these calamities, the sunan's (monarch's) legitimacy was called into question, and several princes broke away, hoping to challenge the throne. In 1749 Pakubuwånå II died, shortly after turning control of his kingdom over to the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or the Dutch East India Company), in the hopes that this would secure the throne for his son. Near the end of a decade-long war of succession, a treaty was signed between Prince Mangkubumi (Pakubuwånå II's brother) and the VOC, in which the former kingdom of Mataram was divided in half; two years later the half belonging to the sunan was divided again. To the Sunanate of Surakarta, then, were added the Sultanate of Yogyakarta (the seat of which was sixty kilometers to the southwest) and the Mangkunegaran Principality (in Solo). Yogyakarta was later divided into the Sultanate and the Pakualaman,5 so that both court cities each have a senior and a junior royal line.

(p.5) Music at the Palaces

The Solonese royal houses have had no political power for some time.6 Nevertheless, there remains a certain rivalry between Solo and Yogyakarta, as well as between the Kasunanan (the sunan's palace—another way of referring to the Kraton) and the Mangkunegaran. Each court, as well as the Kepatihan (the patih's, or prime minister's palace—now defunct), developed its own distinctive musical style. The differences, which are beginning to attenuate, involve(d) repertoire, to some extent, as well as characteristic ways of working out pieces (garap).

At least up until national independence, the court traditions were the standards that defined excellence not only in music but in all of the Javanese arts, including literature, dance, shadow puppets and puppetry, kerises (elaborate iron daggers), and batik cloth.7 The last truly opulent reign in Solo was that of Sunan Pakubuwånå X (reigned 1893–1939). He had several thousand abdi dalem (servants and retainers), a fair number of whom were musicians and dancers.8 Court music was distinguished not only by the quality of the players and singers, but also by the sheer size and number of the various bronze ensembles that go under the name of gamelan. Among these were (and are) certain spiritually powerful heirlooms, called pusåkås, which constitute one of the ruler's sources of potency and legitimacy in the eyes of his subjects.9

Over the past few decades, the courts have steadily lost both in prestige and in their power to command respect, devotion, and reverence. During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, many of the great court musicians were hired away by the (p.6) new centers of gamelan tradition—the local station of the national radio network (Radio Republik Indonesia, or RRI) and the newly formed government-run arts schools. By the time of my first visit, most of these musicians had died. Very few of the old-style abdi dalem are left in the courts, which have consequently resorted more and more to bringing in outside musicians.10

Of the two palaces in Solo, the Mangkunegaran, in the 1980s and 1990s, had maintained what were generally regarded to be higher musical standards. Several musicians (including one at the Kraton!) told me that the playing at the Mangkunegaran was technically more proficient, and it certainly did sound more polished (even foreigners with only a casual acquaintance with the tradition sensed this). This was due in part to its having always been more open both to modernization and to the outside world in general. It is quite a bit smaller than the Kraton and was visibly more prosperous.11 Its musicians, nearly all of whom could be described as part time, were certainly not able to live on what they were paid. Yet they received far more than the merest gesture of recompense they get at the Kraton.12

Conversely, though, whereas the level of musicianship at the Kraton was generally weaker than at the Mangkunegaran, the participants at the former tended to be more motivated by devotion to their king and to court tradition, and by the unique atmosphere they found at the palace. This last factor should not be underestimated—one of the musicians I spoke to mentioned it as his main reason for attending rehearsals and performances there. True, by refusing to adapt to the modern world, the Kraton may have dug its own grave. But when one enters the series of portals, progressing from the monumental outer (p.7) ones to the progressively more intimate inner ones, and finally reaches the vast, infinitely calm great courtyard—with its black sand brought from the dangerous south coast, the realm of the powerful spirit queen of the South Sea; its tall, octagonal tower at the top of which each successive ruler weds the spirit queen; its three bangsals (rectangular “bandstands”); its rows of slow-growing sawo kecik trees (a variety of sapodilla); its long, weatherworn loggias delimiting the space; and its magnificent, gilded pendhåpå,13 in which the most important rehearsals and ceremonies are held (and in which, formerly, the sunan received his officials)—one then enters another era and leaves behind the worries and commotion of modern living. It is the only place in the city where one does not hear the almost constant revving of combustion engines, and where one feels out of place wearing Western dress.

The profound tranquility of the Kraton has a direct effect on the music played there. Sukanto (see footnote 9 and the section on my teachers at the end of this chapter) once told me that it is no longer possible to play calm pieces in a truly calm way: the world is just too ramai (lively, bustling, noisy, crowded). He was born in 1922, and the population of Java had nearly tripled during his lifetime. Along the same lines, Sudarsono of Kentingan once told me that everything at the Kraton is more subdued, including the colors that Kraton people wear, and that this influences the way they play. No wonder, then, that the music heard there, for all its technical faults, was often said to possess a unique råså, or inner feeling.

In 2006 I observed many of the ceremonial activities during the week of sekatèn, which celebrates the prophet Mohammed's birthday. These involve an elaborate procession, complete with gamelans and enormous decorated rice-mountains (all carried on poles), from the inner courtyard out through successive doorways and over to the royal mosque. They also include the almost continual sounding of the two massive sekatèn gamelans in alternation. I am happy to report that as of 2006 the Kraton, to put it crudely, still put on a great show.

Other Institutional Settings

The RRI (radio station) musicians, in contrast with the palace musicians, are all civil servants, and so could, around 1990, almost live off their wages. They were probably the most technically competent musicians attached to an institution, (p.8) since they spent most of their working time playing or singing. Activity at RRI has diminished considerably in recent years, however, and many of its best musicians have retired. In the early days of the radio station, it was very much dominated by experts from the Kraton and the Mangkunegaran, but it gradually forged its own style of playing midway between the “classical” court ways and the more popular, modern idioms favored by the shadow-puppet troupes. Nearly all of the best-known pesindhèns, or female vocalists, of the cassette era worked at some point for RRI.

The other major institution, STSI (Sekolah Tinggi Seni Indonesia [National Advanced School for the Arts])—now called ISI (Institut Seni Indonesia [National Institute for the Arts])—also started out as an offshoot of the court traditions. Called ASKI (Akademi Seni Karawitan Indonesia [National Academy of Traditional Javanese Arts]) when it was founded, in 1964, it had a predecessor in KoKar (Konservatori Karawitan), now SMKI (Sekolah Menengah Karawitan Indonesia [National High School of Traditional Javanese Music]), which was founded in 1950. These two institutions (the high school and the institute), while to some extent cut off from the rest of the gamelan world, have revolutionized karawitan14 in several important ways. First among them is the increased reliance on notation.15

Notation for gamelan music was first invented, as a result of Dutch influence, in the late nineteenth century. Before then, and for some time afterward, the music was composed, performed, and learned aurally. In and around Solo one still encounters village musicians who cannot read music, but they are relatively few, and they generally seem to regard this as a handicap. Santosa (1990:ch. 45) reports that, out of 175 Solonese musicians surveyed, 82 percent said that the best way to learn gamelan music was through notation or through a combination of notation and imitation. Presumably even a higher percentage would say that one ought at least to know how to read notation—being nonliterate in Java, as elsewhere, is a matter of shame. Suhartå told me that nonreading village singers, when performing in a competition, hold notation in front of them—often open to the wrong page or upside-down—hoping it will look like they are singing from it like everyone else. I have observed the same phenomenon in more relaxed settings as well.

Even though notation has existed for over a century, it took several decades before it was used as a pedagogical tool. At first it was relied upon by musicians only as an aid to memorizing the melodic outline of a piece (the only (p.9) melody that was written down). None of the more complex parts were notated, and it was certainly never used in performance. With the founding of KoKar, new pedagogical techniques were sought, with which students could learn all the instrumental parts in a relatively short time. The shift from informal to institutionalized music education had begun several decades earlier, with the establishment of music schools, for the educated classes, that were privately run by court musicians. At KoKar, however, notation was used for the first time in actually learning to play. Gradually it became more acceptable to use notation (of the melodic outline) during rehearsals and performances.16 Nevertheless, there remains a strong oral element in karawitan, even when notation is used. I know from studying, rehearsing, and performing with Javanese musicians, that they relate to the written notes differently than I do, as a Western classically trained musician. Even when reading from a vocal “score” (in which all of the singers' notes are written out), they usually rely on it more as a mnemonic aid than as a blueprint to be slavishly followed. (Mistakes in the notation, for instance, do not seem to bother them.) Similarly, when I memorize from notation, my memory is entirely visual, whereas Javanese musicians seem to remember pieces largely aurally, whether they've learned them using their eyes or their ears. Moreover, talented Javanese musicians have an astonishing ability to absorb and remember the gestalt of extremely complex parts, just by listening to them in real time, even when approaching an instrument for the first time. They are not thrown off by the many variants their teachers often put in every time they repeat the same passage. By contrast, when I (and all other Westerners I have talked to about this) learn a part on a new instrument without notation, we need to sit down with an audio recording and imitate it exactly, note by note, playing and replaying the recording in bits and pieces.

It must be said that not all musicians trained at SMKI and STSI/ISI rely on notation to the same degree. Those who depend on it more are generally hindered by one of the following factors: a poorer memory than most, laziness, less time spent rehearsing and performing, or lack of experience outside school. This last point is of great importance, for virtually all the successful musicians who were conservatory trained had had a solid foundation before they began their formal schooling. This foundation was in most cases acquired the old-fashioned way: joining a group, and, over a period of years, gradually making one's way up from simpler to more complex parts. (In a traditional setting, the less-talented musicians never leave the simpler parts, or else simply stop participating.) The years spent on the simpler parts (typically kenong or (p.10) saron)17 were spent watching and listening, learning the repertoire, and absorbing the musical language in much the same way that children learn languages—that is, through observation, imitation, and participation rather than through conscious analysis.

Besides new pedagogical techniques and the increased use of notation, the music schools introduced the most radical departure from accepted practice in recent history: consciously avant-garde music. As far back as anyone knows, gamelan music, like all living traditions, has been in a constant state of flux. Some aspects of current practice that may be taken for granted as permanent characteristics of the music, such as solo vocal introductions (båwås), the use of the ciblon drum18 in palace pieces, or the linking together of pieces into long suites, were added to the tradition in the last hundred years or so. Conversely, some practices that were common in the not-so distant past have died out. And musicians have always, it seems, enjoyed trying out new, amusing, or even shocking interpretations on each other. However, the notion of creating music whose sole purpose is to be innovative, regardless of who might want to listen, may be distinct from previous developments.

Judith Becker, in her book Traditional Music in Modern Java, argues that some of the innovations in gamelan composition since Independence were unprecedented in kind. These included the introduction of harmony (gamelan music had been essentially polyphonic and heterophonic19), and of new meters that contrasted with the exclusively binary organization that had previously dominated, a redefining of the composer's role in musical creation, and the reinterpretation of the modal system. The music she analyzed, by the composers (p.11) Nartosabdho and Wasitodipuro, can for the most part be categorized as gendhing kréasi baru (“newly created pieces”—often shortened to gendhing kréasi). The Musical Scene in Solo: III:2 These pieces, while often quite innovative, are generally in a lighthearted, catchy style based on dolanan (children's game songs).20 The Musical Scene in Solo: IV:6

Even more radical than gendhing kréasi are the developments that go under the rubric of gamelan kontèmporèr (contemporary gamelan), which, according to Rustopo (1991:13–15), began in the 1970s21 with the founding of the PKJT (Pusat Kesenian Jawa Tengah—“Arts Center of Central Java”), a government-run institution attached to ASKI that was devoted to experimentation in the arts. The PKJT was the brainchild of Gendhon Humardani, the founder of ASKI, who came to believe very strongly that the only way for the Javanese arts to survive was (1) for trained artists to bring them in line with the zeitgeist of the modern era; and (2) to raise the general public's consciousness so that it could appreciate the new art forms (Rustopo 1991:84).22 Whereas Humardani saw this as a way of giving the “traditional” and “folk”23 arts a new lease on life (for instance, by quickening the pace of and drastically abridging a 65-minute court dance for stage presentation), it eventually turned into an avant-garde movement not unlike the earlier ones in Europe and the United States, which had sought to épater le bourgeois. By the 1980s, Javanese composers were creating music that was, in Rustopo's words, “strange, non-conformist, naughty” (1991:28). The music is characterized by many of the things audiences in the West came to expect from avant-garde music in the 1960s: experimentation with timbre (unusual playing techniques), chance procedures, incorporation of the spoken word, tape sampling, the abandonment of melody as a focal point—in short, a fundamental questioning of the basic conventions of music-making, and a constant search for the new.24

While the gendhing kréasi—especially those in the style of Nartosabdho—are very much liked, and have largely achieved Humardani's goal of bringing the tradition up to date, the avant-garde composers have had virtually no impact on (p.12) music-making outside ASKI/STSI/ISI. Indeed, their music was never, to my knowledge, performed in a noninstitutional setting the whole time I was in Solo. They have, on the other hand, had quite an impact on the international gamelan scene, especially in England and the West Coast of the United States.

Just how much of a stylistic rupture with traditional music gamelan kontèmporèr represents, compared to gendhing kréasi, can be seen in the degree to which ensemble leaders mix the styles with older ones. Whereas gendhing kréasi can follow rather effortlessly and seamlessly from traditional pieces (say, in a musical suite, or in shadow-puppet accompaniment), gamelan kontèmporèr pieces are almost never incorporated into a traditional context. The main exception to this, if one is willing to call it a traditional context, is in the accompaniment to dance, which may call for a succession of vastly differing moods.25 When traditional music is used within such a mercurial musical context, however, it is as if the older style of music is embedded within the new, with quotation marks around it à la Charles Ives, rather than simply coexisting on an equal footing. Consciously innovative music is often used more and more in wayang (shadow theater) accompaniment, which increasingly makes use of set, rehearsed sequences, instead of choosing, in performance, from an existing repertoire of expected pieces for different types of scenes.26 But this music is rarely truly avant-garde—shadow theater troupes remain committed, by and large, to pleasing their audiences.

To summarize, then, institutions like STSI have been at the forefront of certain fundamental changes in musical practice. Some innovations, like an increased reliance on notation, have had far-reaching effects. Others, like radical stylistic experimentation, seem to be limited to a small circle of aficionados.

Lest I give the impression that STSI's primary role has been as a purveyor of Western aesthetics and as a fomenter of musical change, let me mention the other kinds of activity that went on at the school in the early 1990s. The lion's share of the curriculum was devoted to the teaching of both Kraton and Mangkunegaran styles, as well as those of Yogyakarta, Banyumas (western Central Java), West Java, and Bali. The school increasingly has sponsored research, the results of which have been made available in research reports deposited locally, national and institutional journals, and books published by the STSI press. In the early years, research was mostly carried out by instructional staff, but with the opening of the master's program in performing arts in 2000, there have been important contributions made by graduate students as well.

In the 1990–91 academic year, the four departments were Karawitan (gamelan and vocal music, with fifty-two instructors), Pedhalangan (shadow puppetry, (p.13) thirty-one instructors), Tari (dance, seventy-three instructors), and Seni Rupa (visual arts, twenty instructors). The teachers of Solonese music used to include older, court-trained musicians (foremost among them, Martopangrawit and Mloyowidodo), but none of those who taught at the school are still alive. Increasingly, experts from outside the palaces also give lessons at STSI/ISI. But the vast majority of instructors are ASKI/STSI alumni, growing numbers of whom have earned graduate degrees abroad.

Over the years, the school has sent musicians and dancers on tour to all parts of the globe, most frequently to the United States, England, France, and Japan. Beginning in the 1950s and continuing to the present, gamelan ensembles have sprung up in those four countries, as well as in the Netherlands, Canada, and Australia, among others. Many of the teachers for these ensembles have come from STSI/ISI. Conversely, the school has had several dozen foreign students enroll in it, or use it as a base for doctoral research (as did I). As a result of this international contact, the curriculum more and more resembles that of music schools in the United States and elsewhere.

One similarity is in the emphasis on “classical” and “contemporary” repertoire. Whereas Western music schools have tended to shun popular music,27 STSI seemed to have banished the kréasi styles that were popularized by the recording industry (one exception is the Pedhalangan [Shadow Puppetry] Department, which included gendhing kréasi in its musical accompaniment classes). The omission was not accidental: one influential teacher, for instance, once dismissively referred to Nartosabdho as a “pop” composer. But Javanese—and U.S.—music schools are not simply motivated by classical-centered snobbery: there is a feeling that popular music (in all senses of the term) hardly needs an institution to either teach or maintain it.

In recent years, the primary object of disdain (and despair) of the music faculty at STSI/ISI has been another genre that blends popular idioms with elements of gamelan music, campursari (literally, “mixed essence” or “mixing the best parts”). Unlike for gendhing kréasi, their sentiments are shared with many “outside” musicians,28 who see this relatively new hybrid genre as a threat to the very existence of more traditional—and especially classical—music. Campursari seems to have been invented, as early as the 1960s, at RRI, where the Western-trained kroncong musicians and the traditional gamelan practitioners employed at the station joined forces in a novel combination.29 Kroncong is itself a hybrid genre, containing mostly Portuguese elements, and may be considered Indonesia's first national genre. Its instrumentation usually consists of various plucked and bowed string (p.14) instruments as well as a transverse flute, all brought to Indonesia from Europe. In its Javanese version, however—called langgam if it is sung in Javanese—it has long had a strong gamelan influence (imitations of gamelan instruments by some of the strings, vocal ornaments, “impure” diatonic tuning, chord progressions uncharacteristic of European common practice style). Eventually campursari entered a kind of revival (around the late 1980s), at which time the instrumentation came to center around the electronic keyboard (of which there may be one or several), to which are usually added traditional double-headed barrel drums, as well as a variable assortment of other Western and Javanese instruments.

For the first few decades of its existence, very few people paid campursari any notice, but in the past few years its popularity has taken off, perhaps surpassing even that of dangdut (Supanggah 2003:3), an Indonesian popular genre based mainly on Bollywood film music that has been widely listened and danced to across Indonesia, particularly by working-class Muslims. Supanggah attributes its success to a variety of factors: it is more practical than gamelan music, it is versatile with respect to the repertoires it draws on, and, above all, it connotes modernity. If I dwell on it here, it is because it is perceived as draining the resources of traditional karawitan (gamelan music)—younger singers no longer want to get paid less to sing the harder classical repertoire, people holding rituals prefer campursari to gamelan music, and audiences at ritual events may even grab the rebab (spike fiddle) after one or two pieces to force the musicians to switch to campursari or dangdut (Supanggah, July 4, 2003).

An anecdote may serve to illustrate both its ubiquity and the resentment it engenders among some gamelan musicians. In 2003 one of the members of the music faculty at STSI was holding a ritual celebration following his son's circumcision. This was a typically large affair, with several hundred guests seated in a cavernous, rented reception hall. The music was provided by a small campursari group consisting primarily of a keyboardist, a drummer playing Javanese and Sundanese drums, and several vocalists. I was sitting with other musicians, who together could easily have formed a large gamelan ensemble (and would have been glad to have done so). They became increasingly irritated at the music that was provided (which, it was said, had been chosen at the instigation of the family of the celebrant's mother, over the protestations of his father). The usual order for such celebrations is USDEK: unjukan (drinks), sop (soup), dhahar (“eat”—a plateful of rice upon which are placed two or three dishes of seasoned meat and vegetables), es krim (ice cream), kondur (go home). The musicians I was with decided—in an act of spontaneous, unspoken, collective protest—to reverse the order of the last two items. Attendees at large events in Java, when they leave, tend to leave as a group very quickly—it seems that no one wants to be the last one. My companions started a trend that spread like wildfire, with the result that by the time the young helpers came out with the obligatory ice cream, virtually no one was left to eat it.

(p.15) In this age of postcolonial studies and global ethnoscapes (to borrow Appadurai's term) it is no longer possible to think of hybridity (or synergy, or transculturation) as a special case (Appadurai 1991, Ashcroft et al. 2000). It is, in fact, constitutive of the postcolonial condition, which, because it affects both the former colonizer and the former colonized, typifies the experience of nearly every human being on the planet. And Javanese music has certainly been influenced by—or at the very least coexisted with—Western music for many generations. But there is something about campursari that seems particularly disturbing: almost everything that makes traditional gamelan music distinctively beautiful—its rich timbres, its nondiatonic tunings, its many layers of complex melodic interaction, its subtle manipulation of time, its profound relationship to Javanese philosophy and etiquette, its wide panoply of moods—seems to be missing from campursari. All that is left is its sensuous, immediately appealing side, and even that seems distorted or cheapened by the diatonic, electronically produced sounds of the keyboard. Most worrisome to those who are fond of traditional gamelan music is the way in which the Javanese elements are somehow framed as a marked case (in the linguistic sense)—although mixtures between East and West no longer shock or amuse, there is a certain self-consciousness about the way campursari singers use the Javanese language or include gamelan instruments other than the drums. To paraphrase Marc Perlman (1999), Javanese music has become ethnic music.

If STSI/ISI has studiously avoided certain strains of popular culture in its performance curriculum (much less so on the musicological side), this is not necessarily because of a desire to distance itself from the populace at large. In fact quite the opposite is evident in the new graduate program in penciptaan seni (composition/performance), which encourages students to be inspired by Indonesian traditions and to take their works back to the masyarakat (society, citizenry, public) (Buku Panduan 2005:2–3). An effort is hence made to separate modernization from Westernization. Townspeople, from whatever region of Indonesia is the chosen focus, are often included as participants in the culminating projects for the master's degree—that is, some of them help to create and perform the piece—and a major criterion in judging these projects is how the masyarakat responds to the event.

One other prominent institution in Solo that sponsors Javanese arts is the Taman Budaya Surakarta (or TBS; “Surakarta Cultural Center [‘Garden,’ literally]”). Its primary institutional function is as a venue for artists brought in from the outside, and it has a relatively small permanent staff. It occupies a large plot of land, not far from STSI/ISI, on the eastern edge of town. The buildings include an enclosed theater (one of very few in Solo), an art gallery, and what in 1992 was said to be the largest pendhåpå in Java. During the period of my research, TBS frequently sponsored wayangs (shadow plays), dance performances, art exhibits, drama, gamelan concerts, workshops, competitions, festivals, and conferences. It also published the occasional collection of gamelan or vocal notation. (p.16) The emphasis was on innovation, and on traditional forms that were rarely heard in a public, institutional setting. Among them were dhalang kentrung, an Islamic epic narrative sung to frame drums from the north coast of Java; tayuban, female singer/dancers accompanied by gamelan; and even dancers and musicians from the Kraton who rarely perform anywhere outside the palace. Several friends reported that, during the worst of the economic crisis, TBS was less active in its promotion of the arts and was used more as a relief distribution center for the general population. By 2006, however, it had certainly returned to its former role.

Noninstitutional (“Outside”) Settings

All of the above institutions share one thing in common: they are all, among other things, helping to keep the palace traditions alive. They are also all in a position of prestige. They have access to government funding, they can hire the most highly trained teachers, they have the best gamelans and the most impressive performance spaces, and they put on the most dazzling displays of Javanese culture. As a result, the term luar [I] (njåbå [Ng], njawi [K]), meaning “outside,” which originally referred to people, places, and practices outside the palace walls, is commonly used at all these institutions to refer to extrainstitutional artistic practices and practitioners. My sense is that the term may designate anything from “those ignorant masses who haven't had the opportunity to find out all the intricacies of the true palace style” to “those happily naive musicians who aren't constrained by all of these petty rules.” It seems to be used only by people on the inside of the institution in question (most often the Kraton or STSI/ISI), or by people who have had access to “inside” knowledge, even if they are not affiliated with an institution.

In fact, the vast majority of the music-making in and around Solo is, and always has been, done by orang luar [I] (“outsiders”). All over the city there are amateur and professional gamelan groups not directly connected to any of the above institutions. Santosa (1990), in surveying two districts of Solo, which together cover about half the area of the city and had a collective population of about 250,000, found sixty such groups, twenty-nine of which were active at the time he collected his data. Many of the remaining thirty-one, which were inactive at the time the survey was taken, became active at various other times of the year. The most common reason for a group to stop rehearsing, besides the loss of its leader or of its rehearsal space, was the onset of the rainy season. The most common reason for an inactive group to start rehearsing again was the imminence of the yearly gamelan competition sponsored by RRI. Since 1992, it must be said, the incidence of the radio-sponsored gamelan competitions has been at best spotty, with it being held fewer years than not.

Each group in Santosa's study had between fifteen and thirty members, most of whom were working class, with no more than a primary education. Roughly (p.17) 20 percent of those surveyed said they depended on the supplemental or primary income they got from their musical activities.

About half of all the ensembles Santosa surveyed were women's groups, although proportionally fewer of the active ones were. This undoubtedly is because many of the women's groups only performed at the yearly competitions. In fact, during my main research period (1989–92) there were usually about sixty or seventy women's groups in the citywide contest, as opposed to only about a dozen men's groups.

While the level of playing in some of the all-female groups reached quite a high standard (at least on the contest pieces), owing no doubt to increasingly cutthroat competition, women instrumentalists remained decidedly on the unpaid/unskilled end of the amateur-professional continuum. Highly skilled female instrumentalists were once fairly common, it seems, in the villages and especially in dhalang (puppeteer) families. The few remaining female instrumentalists with extensive performance experience are all from this sort of background.30 Female groups entering a competition vied for the services of these expert gendèr (double-mallet metallophone), gambang (xylophone), and kendhang (drum) players and paid them well, just as the male groups paid their “ringers” extra. (Suhartå, who often judges competitions, was once told that it cost about Rp 750,000 [over $300]—a year's rent, at the time, for a middle-class house in Solo—for a group to get to the finals at the district level. This included money for transportation, food, and musicians' fees; it may also have included the cost of uniforms.)

Despite their ardent desire to win, women who joined gamelan groups were reputed to be motivated more by social than by musical considerations. According to several of the men who taught all-female groups, women spent more time worrying about what they would eat during rehearsals (the food did tend to be varied, plentiful, and very tasty!) and what color of costumes they would wear than about whether they had mastered their respective parts. Indeed, with the notable exception of the hired specialists, most of the women in the all-female groups I observed did not seem to take themselves very seriously as musicians. Among male musicians, the abbreviation PKK (Pembinaan Kesejahteraan Keluarga31) is a derogatory way of referring to a simplified way of playing or singing, suitable only for beginners. Some of this dilettantism might be (p.18) attributable to class differences. Whereas male musicians and pesindhèns (female vocalists) are typically working class, my impression is that the women in all-female groups are frequently middle class and do not generally wish to be thought of as professional musicians.

The class difference between bourgeois housewives and professional musicians is made abundantly clear in a wonderful passage from a post-Independence cookbook:32

All of the foregoing recipes for Javanese desserts go under the rubric of keleman (“moist cakes”)—all delicious, but not exactly high-class food; that is, they're not for serving to guests at a grand, formal celebration. One could serve them, but only to our fellow musicians.

Actually, this is being disrespectful to our fellow musicians: why shouldn't they be served the same food as the other guests, rather than just getting snacks? Aren't they the very people who bring pleasure to the guests?

Once, in Surakarta, a group of musicians staged a boycott, refusing to eat such food. As soon as the hosts realized what was happening, the musicians got served the same food as the other guests.33

It used to be that when a hostess who was holding a ritual celebration gave orders of what to buy at the market, saying “Buy musicians' food,” what she really meant was, “food not for honored guests.34

(p.19) Finally, in discussing the gender makeup of ensembles, mention must be made of mixed groups. These would not be allowed to participate in an official competition since they do not fit into the two categories. The few that I knew in the vicinity of Solo tended to be in outlying villages and to have a high incidence of kinship ties among the members. One, though, was at a hospital in town. All the mixed groups I observed were just as serious about music as any of the male groups.

If the dozen ensembles I rehearsed and performed with in and around Solo, and the many others I heard about from friends, are any indication, the typical group was either centered around a neighborhood (playing a gamelan set owned by the kantor kelurahan—a sort of mini branch of the town hall—or by one of the wealthier citizens), a workplace, or an association (such as the Veterans' Cooperative).35 A very few musicians had gamelans of their own and would teach groups at home. Wherever rehearsals were held, anyone was welcome to join in, especially if he or she could perform one of the more difficult parts. In the early 1990s, foreigners with chops seemed particularly welcome, but in 2006 some of my foreign friends were at times reluctant to take advantage of the privilege extended to them, intuiting some resentment that may never have been directly expressed (they sensed that if they “hogged,” say, the gendèr some local musicians who loved to play never got the chance). A few avid musicians would belong to many groups, making the rounds throughout the week, thus filling their evenings with rehearsals and performances. The participants would chip in to pay a teacher, or he was hired by the sponsoring individual or organization.

Many of the teachers of “outside” groups are from one of the government-run institutions. A very few of them, however, are completely independent and manage to make a living by leading bapak-bapak (gentlemen's) and ibu-ibu (ladies') groups, by performing here and there, by giving private lessons to foreigners, or by some employment not related to music. They are respected musicians, however, and could easily have gotten jobs at the radio station or at one of the schools, if they had wanted. Because of their refusal to conform to the regulated life of a civil servant (and because, it must be said, of their eccentric personalities), they are seen as freedom-loving renegades embodying the true (p.20) spirit of creativity. They are invariably referred to as senimans, a neo-Sanskrit word (seni [Sanskrit], “genius” + -wan, possessive suffix) clearly created to translate the English word artist (or the Dutch equivalent, kunstenaar).36 But lest we assume too quickly that this Romantic view of the artist is a recent European import, let me point out that even the early-nineteenth-century Serat Centhini paints male musicians as recusant rakes.37

Rehearsals were usually held once a week. Some groups met during the day, especially the women's groups and the ones connected with work. The more serious-minded groups generally rehearsed in the evening, starting at a fairly indeterminate time—usually around 7:30 or 8:00 (or, during the rainy season, whenever the rain let up a bit). Each session would generally last about four hours, with frequent breaks for refreshments (sweet tea and light snacks) and chitchat, during which time the teacher would go over problem spots with individual participants who had had trouble during the preceding piece. Other than that, very little verbal instruction was given, and pieces were practically never stopped in the middle, even if the performers were faltering.

Experienced groups with enough repertoire would go through the normal order for evening music, progressing through the six melodic modes, and from slow-paced, dignified pieces to the gay, boisterous ones. A few expert groups would not always announce the pieces beforehand: the appropriate instrument or singer would perform the introduction for a particular piece, and the others would enter at the right point and continue through to the end, sometimes without ever knowing the name of the piece they had just played. Sukanto told me that it used to be standard practice at the Kraton, both in rehearsals and performances, never to announce a piece verbally. Musicians were expected to know their entire repertoire cold, and it was not uncommon for one of them, if the chosen piece was unfamiliar or simply rusty, to sweat bullets while mentally cursing the rebab (spike fiddle) player.

The less-advanced groups often had a blackboard upon which notation for the evening's pieces was written. Or, more commonly, photocopies of notation were circulated. Titles of pieces were always announced beforehand. Very often pieces were combined into suites (typically the more advanced the group, the longer the suite). Theoretically there is much leeway and room for surprises in the pieces to be linked together. But in practice each group tended to be fairly consistent in this regard, so that often only the first piece of a suite was announced, and anyone who had attended rehearsals regularly would know what to expect.

Each group had its own favorite ending piece, which was rarely announced, and which was usually one of the signature pieces used by the palace or radio (p.21) ensembles at the end of their broadcasts. The closing number was always more sedate than the ones immediately preceding it and had a text that bestowed a blessing on those present, or on the nation as a whole. After the last piece, the members would disperse instantly, just as they did at any group event I attended. As these events often lasted past midnight, people had to get home so they could face the next day (which, for most people, began around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m.). In addition, nobody wanted to be left behind—a fate considered especially unpleasant in a place where the unofficial motto is mangan ora mangan angger ngumpul (“Food or no food, as long as you gather together,” or, more freely, “Company is all the food you need”).

The custom of beginning with serious pieces and ending with exuberant ones seems to be increasingly disregarded. This may be due to a decline in priyayi (aristocratic) sponsorship, since the most serious pieces came out of the court tradition.38 Other factors, certainly, are the competition gamelan music faces with lively popular music of all sorts, and the perceived incompatibility of large, meditative pieces with modern life. Part of the impetus may also come from wayang (shadow theater), which has to compete with television and movies and so has become more and more concerned with entertainment.39 Whatever the reason, over the past couple of decades, during rehearsals of “outside” groups, to the already ubiquitous gendhing kréasi in the style of Nartosabdho have been added increasing numbers of langgams and gendhing Sragènan.40 Musicians in these groups seem to crave light, upbeat fare.

(p.22) At many rehearsals I attended, alcohol was circulated among the men (usually beer and store-bought imitation whisky,41 mixed in a bottle), so that by the end of the evening the mood was lively indeed. At a typical rehearsal, the alcohol consumption increased as the night wore on, and this encouraged musicians to interject more and more humor into the music, and to flirt with the female singer(s), or pesindhèn(s). Indeed, it was this flirting that, for some, was essential to the success of the event. In the male ensembles it was considered essential to have at least one pesindhèn present. In some groups there seemed to be designated “pesindhèn finders,” and on one occasion, when these had failed in their mission, the men in the group milled about restlessly without playing, until a pesindhèn was found. In contrast, it used to be common practice to play gendhing bonang42 until enough people were present for a full ensemble. But even for pieces with rebab it is not necessary to have all the parts in order to make gamelan music; minimally, a drum, a gong (or gong substitute), and two or three melodic lines can suffice. Indeed, several male musicians told me that serious pieces are actually more enjoyable without a pesindhèn present, because most pesindhèns do not know how to bring out the particular mood of each piece. The pesindhèn's presence in the predominantly male, heterosexual world of gamelan, then, may be valued more for the sexual interest she gives to the evening than for purely musical reasons, although her voice certainly contributes to the sexual content of the lighter repertoire. That is, while flirting is what is sought from the pesindhèn, this can consist of body language and repartee during breaks from the music, or it can be incorporated into the music itself. II:2, The Musical Scene in Solo 38:38–41:39 Examples of the latter might be the gérong's senggakan during a pesindhèn's palaran,43 or instrumental interaction with the pesindhèn's line—a sort of musical teasing—during one of her andhegans (cadenza-like breaks).IV:8,The Musical Scene in Solo


It is difficult to overestimate the sexual overtones of Javanese gamelan music and the dances that are associated with it. While hardly flirtatious, the songs that accompany the bedhåyå and srimpi court dances, which are among the most sacred and awe-inspiring in the entire repertoire, are ripe with erotic content. II:1 The Musical Scene in Solo Part of their eroticism comes from associations between the female dancers and sexual availability. Harjonegoro, an eminent batik-maker and expert on Javanese court culture, once told me that bedhåyå dancers were actually just glorified (p.23) talèdhèk (singer/dancer/prostitutes of former times).44 Peggy Choy explores the historical connection between another kind of Javanese dancer and talèdhèks in an article on the golèk dance (1984). In it she draws a connection between the branyak (bold, spirited) style of dancing that comes out of the talèdhèk tradition and Kangjeng Ratu Kidul (the spirit Queen of the South Sea), who is linked to the sacred bedhåyå dances in many ways.45 For one thing, the most sacred of Surakarta dances, the Bedhåyå Ketawang, commemorates the sexual union between Ratu Kidul and Sultan Agung (a sixteenth-century Javanese king), and all subsequent kings in the line that culminates with the current king of Solo.46 The dancers who perform the Bedhåyå Ketawang in a sense become Ratu Kidul during the dance, and so were also potential concubines of the king (or of another high-ranking official, should the king choose to “bequeath” one of them to him). This is why the king's own daughters, until recently, were never allowed to dance the Bedhåyå Ketawang (Soeratman 1989:87–88, 154–55, 176). The eroticism of bedhåyå dances is also quite evident in the texts of the songs, which are often esoteric, but nonetheless unequivocal in their sexual imagery.47

The texts used in more ordinary musical contexts also often have sexual overtones. Senggakans (short, sung interjections) are perhaps the most notorious.48 But ordinary gérong texts may also be about male-female relations. An example is “Kéntir-kéntir ing samodrå…” (“Adrift in the ocean…”), cited by Sastro Tugiyo (April 29, 1992; May 6, 1992), who also said that such texts have been, at various times, discouraged by the government. Other examples may be found in the texts to dolanans (“play songs”), which are nominally children's songs. According to Sukanto, however, these songs are actually intended for adults, and they have double meanings that tend to the pornographic (May 12, 1992). The words to andhegans (vocal cadenzas) may also be overtly or covertly sexual (an example, given to me by Sukanto, is the “Ombèn, ombènandhegan to gendhing Perkutut Manggung49).

I have mentioned how males behave at a rehearsal, but what of the pesindhèns themselves? The degree to which they participate in the flirting varies from (p.24) person to person (as does, of course, the men's badinage). Typically, though, a pesindhèn will show bemusement at the proceedings, perhaps smiling coyly. If things get too bawdy, though, she might retreat into impeccable decorum (like Arletty's character Garance in the 1944 film Les Enfants du Paradis). Pesindhèns are in a sense the voices that launch a thousand ships. Generally, they are the ones who maintain self-control throughout the night (thus contradicting the commonplace that men in Java are more consistently refined, more capable of self-discipline).50

Performance Contexts

With the exception of the very worst ones, “outside” groups were often called upon to give hour-long live concerts at the national radio station, or to perform for a private ceremonial event, such as a wedding, a circumcision, or the thirty-five-day commemoration of a child's birth. These were the main occasions during which people could hear live gamelan music—always amplified through sound systems of dubious fidelity. (Recorded gamelan music, on the other hand, could be heard almost anywhere, almost anytime, whether coming from shops or restaurants, or from people's home radios or tape players.) If the gamelan was played at night as entertainment after the ritual itself, the music and atmosphere were very similar to what I experienced at rehearsals (in fact, the same word, klenèngan—a formal or informal music-making session featuring gamelan music—was often used for both). The space nearest the gamelan was usually occupied by men, who smoked and drank tea or alcohol as they sat on woven plastic or grass mats playing cards. Sometimes a nonmusician would request a particular piece or a general kind of piece, and occasionally a man (or, less frequently, a woman), typically old and toothless, would get up and dance to the music with movements distinctly related to the choreographed palace dances, but much freer. Similar, but more subdued and with fewer guests, were the monthly klenèngans held every thirty-five days at the house of a prominent musician or patron. All these events often lasted until 4:00 a.m. or beyond: participants told me that they forgot their cares and didn't notice the passage of time if the music and mood were good.

In 2003 there were three monthly klenèngans devoted specifically to the more classical repertoire (which rarely lasted past 2:00 a.m.): Malam Anggårå Kasih at SMKI, the group Pujånggå Laras at a house rented by foreigners in (p.25) Lawéyan, and a get-together at the house of Rahayu Supanggah. Of these, only the first two were still active in 2006 (by then the house in Lawéyan was no longer available, and the Pujånggå Laras group often met at Supanggah's house, with the result that the two merged into one). Malam Anggårå Kasih is not strictly an “outside” group, since it is sponsored by SMKI with some donations from foreign gamelan students. Most of the participants are students and faculty from STSI/ISI. Pujånggå Laras is sponsored by a group of mostly North American gamelan musicians who wanted to do something to help keep traditional gamelan music alive. Some participants feel that the level of musicianship was higher at Rahayu Supanggah's previous klenèngans, attributing the difference to the “envelopes” (cash payments) distributed at the Pujånggå Laras events (the idea being that some musicians who are not in the top tier come because they need the money). In 2006, at the Pujånggå Laras event, while the older musicians were eating (the average age is over fifty) students from STSI/ISI often took over. It must be said that the current generation of students demonstrates overall a strong desire to learn from the older generations and includes some very talented musicians. All these events are looked forward to and relished by the participants, who otherwise never have the chance to play and hear some of their favorite pieces, nor to challenge themselves with the particular difficulties the older repertoire entails.

A word should be said here about why so many Javanese performances last (or lasted) all night. People who pay attention to the teachings of kejawèn or “Javanese mysticism”—who probably used to include most of the population, to some degree—believe that spiritual power and self-control can only be gained through ascetic practices in which earthly desires are held in check. Foremost among these are the desire for food and sleep. As a result, it is a good thing for men to be able to stay up all night—especially on certain dates of the Javanese calendar, when spirits roam more than usual—and traditional forms of ritual entertainment are often designed to help one do this.51

Of all the nocturnal pastimes involving music, the most richly meaningful, the one most highly regarded, is watching a wayang kulit, an all-night shadow play using perforated leather puppets and accompanied by gamelan music (its name is often shortened to wayang, although in fact there are many different types of wayang). Wayang has been as central to Javanese culture as television has been to the modern-day United States, in its power both to entertain and to shape consciousness. It is scarcely possible to talk about Javanese politics, ethics, epistemology, psychology—or music—without reference to wayang. Ubiquitous, it is one of those art forms that has bridged court, mercantile center, and village.

In 1992 a good troupe cost upwards of $2,000 (U.S.) a night—more than two years' salary for most people. Consequently, paying for a wayang performance, (p.26) particularly if it is by a famous puppeteer, brings much prestige, and many people go into debt as a result. Those who do sponsor a wayang at their home do so for the same ritual events, cited above, that they might hire a gamelan group for. In addition, companies or government agencies might put on a wayang for an important occasion, such as the opening of a new bank branch or the yearly Independence Day celebration.52 If the dhalang (puppeteer) was popular, he and some of his twenty or so musicians could earn enough to live on solely from performing (the lowest-paid musician in a well-known troupe got around $10 a night, while the highest paid received around $30—the dhalang, of course, would make much more than that). In contrast, all performers in any but the top troupes—the vast majority, that is—would have to have had supplemental income.

Wayang was by far the most popular traditional art form at the time of my fieldwork. Dhalangs have been able to maintain its popularity by shifting the emphasis from serious lessons about life and the Javanese worldview to entertainment and often ribald humor. Jokes and lighthearted songs, as far as anyone remembers, have always been part of wayang; but, more and more, wayangs are being turned into variety shows that feature sexy pesindhèns and singers of langgam (sentimental, often diatonic songs in Javanese), stand-up comedians (some of them literally “stand up” at one side of the screen, hovering above musicians and dhalang alike), and rock songs rearranged for gamelan. I once saw, in the early 1990s, a male transvestite dancer, hired for the occasion, stand up and do a shadow dance in the spot where the dhalang usually sits.53 At the time these acts pushed the limits of the art form. Nowadays they would be considered rather ordinary, and additional innovations have become the norm.

Some of the more popular dhalangs, for instance, disregard the accepted order of scenes, so that there is no longer a long, slow build-up, in a succession of waves of increasing intensity, over the eight-hour drama.54 A noisy battle scene might be introduced at the very beginning of the drama, right after the overture; a spectator could either think of this as interesting or engaging, or else unnecessary, unsatisfying, or annoying, depending on his or her point of view.

Another change, which has happened gradually, is the increased use of prearranged music. It used to be that one of the essential skills of wayang accompaniment was the ability to react instantly to what the dhalang called for. It was possible for an entire group to do this because certain conventions were respected, so that at any given moment in the drama musicians would choose from a somewhat limited set of possibilities (which, still, in their totality (p.27) numbered into the hundreds of pieces to be started or stopped on a dime!). Nowadays it is more common for each troupe to work out in advance not only the pieces to be performed for a particular story, but also a specific arrangement of those pieces, often involving written-out choral singing.

In these innovations two things are lost: a sense of spontaneity and a beautiful simplicity predicated on making an entire world come to life out of shadows, pentatonic gamelan music, and the dhalang's voice. Few aficionados would consider these recent alterations of the tradition to be improvements. Yet, so far, they have succeeded in keeping wayang from getting buried in mothballs. A few dhalangs have achieved star status, which also increases wayang's mass appeal, and helps it compete with—and sometimes take advantage of—newer, glitzy diversions like television.

Other “outside” art forms that use professional musicians are kethoprak—a popular “folk” theater form whose plots revolve around Javanese historical figures—and wayang wong [Ng] (wayang orang [I], literally, “people puppets”)—a more court-based theater tradition with mythological stories, in which the actors occasionally sing and dance.55 Wayang wong's popularity has declined steadily over the past several decades, perhaps because the narration and dialogue use many difficult, archaic words, and because the plot moves more slowly than in kethoprak. The primary venues in Solo are the auditorium at RRI and the theater in the Sri Wedari amusement park, which was formerly connected to both the Kraton and the Mangkunegaran; since Independence it has been run by the city of Solo (Susilo 1984:119). Wayang wong was officially created by Sultan Hamengkubuwånå I of Yogyakarta in the mid-eighteenth century (Soedarsono 1984:19).56 It is important to note that official, court-centered histories usually ascribe a court origin to all of the court arts, whether they were actually first practiced inside or outside the palace walls. Wayang wong certainly reached its apogee at the Kraton in Yogyakarta and the Mangkunegaran in Solo. Wayang kulit also had a strong palace tradition, which is now all but defunct. In recent decades, in Solo at least, both wayang wong and wayang kulit have flourished more outside of the palaces than in, and so may be thought of as “outside” traditions.

Choreographed dancing with gamelan accompaniment is frequently performed on a small scale at weddings. The larger-scale choreographies are staged (p.28) mostly in institutional settings. As in the case of music, institution-sponsored dances carry on the court tradition (unless they are consciously avant-garde or folk inspired). At the broadest level, court dances were divided into three categories: female, male, and theatrical (Brakel-Papenhuijzen 1995:24 ff.). Female dancing meant primarily the sacred, ritual srimpi and bedhåyå ensemble dances, though the “outside” golèk and gambyong dances were cleaned up and stylized, and incorporated into the court tradition as well. Male dancing meant warrior dances—stylized enactments of battles. Aside from wayang wong, theater forms that involve dance include langendriyan (the Javanese answer to opera, in which the actors dance as well as sing) and wayang topèng (masked dance drama). A more recent, fast-paced form of danced theater, sendratari, or drama tari, draws on all of these older forms to tell a historical or mythological story. According to Brakel-Papenhuijzen (1995:51), it was modeled on ballet. Frequently, excerpts from any of these theatrical genres are performed as set pieces, either with live or recorded music. Such excerpts may be performed in institutional or “outside” settings (mainly at weddings).

While the number of tourists visiting Solo is nowhere near the multitude that streams through Yogyakarta and Bali, tourism does play a role in maintaining the traditional arts, especially at the palaces. Throughout the month of September 1991, a spectacular Kraton Festival was held, in the hopes of attracting more tourists to Solo. Superb concerts of many traditional performing arts were held at both palaces. The event was attended by goodly numbers of Indonesians and a few foreign tourists. It introduced the court arts to many people (Javanese and foreign alike) who otherwise would not have known them firsthand. And yet, I couldn't help feeling a certain sadness. Three of the sunan's daughters and a fourth Kraton dancer performed a srimpi dance at the Mangkunegaran (the other palace—a place where, to my knowledge, they had never danced before). The throngs of people were milling about, hovering around the perimeter of the dance area as if at a carnival, while the four dancers performed the long, exquisite, meditative choreography of the sacred dance Anglir Mendhung. Similar incongruities occurred at a royal wedding that was also held at the Mangkunegaran. This time, folding chairs and food were provided for all 4,000 guests. This was a formal, ritual event; yet, in the middle of the procession there were foreign tourists, in shorts, taking pictures from the most obtrusive spots.

A more successful incorporation of foreign visitors into the artistic scene has been the regular series of dance performances at the Mangkunegaran for wealthy Dutch and Japanese tourists. In 1992 these were given about once a month, always in the evening, when the palace was nearly empty. The guests, numbering about thirty, were served dinner, and then led out to the great pendhåpå for the performance, about which they were briefed by a Dutch-speaking member of the Mangkunegaran family. One of the very positive effects of these (p.29) performances was that they helped to revive the almost lost wirèng and langendriyan dances in the Mangkunegaran style, and that they provided extra income for both musicians and dancers alike.57

Blurred Boundaries

In the preceding description of music making in Solo I set up various oppositional categories: institutional/“outside,” court/school/radio, classical/popular, amateur/professional. In doing so, however, I underemphasized the fluidity between them. Indeed, there is a great deal of interaction between and overlap among all of the gamelan groups in Solo. Many of the musicians I saw at the Kraton also showed up at the Mangkunegaran, and some of these were also employees at the City Hall, at RRI, or at the wayang orang theater in Sri Wedari Park. Between one “outside” group and another, again, I often saw some of the same faces reappearing; many of these were also to be seen at the above-mentioned institutions.58

There is a Javanese saying, “Déså måwå cårå, negårå måwå tåtå” [The village has its ways, the city its etiquette].  This was quoted to me by the late Mloyowidodo (May 2, 1992), who had begun his career as a Kraton musician in colonial times. He was quick to point out that neither one is superior. The cårås (ways) of the village cannot simply be dismissed as kasar (coarse) or lugu (simple, straightforward), although, at least materially, the Kraton is unquestionably more alus (refined). One of the anthropologist Walter Williams's interviewees, an older singer who grew up in an impoverished, remote part of central Java, described her nonliterate father's reaction to her decision to leave home as follows: “He did not really want me to leave, but he was always so smooth [alus] and indirect about the way he expressed himself” (1991:112). This strikes me as highly plausible: I was always treated more respectfully by strangers in the village than in the city, even though my presence as a “Dutchman” was probably more intrusive in the village. In terms of etiquette, Javanese peasants are much more alus than they are made (p.30) out to be. Moreover, some of the most kasar linguistic behavior I have witnessed has been inside the Kraton, when people of high status were addressing their social inferiors. In sum, it is an oversimplification to equate “alusness” with the palace, and “kasarness” with the village.

But even demographically, the dichotomy between city folk and country folk has never been rigid. At least as far back as the early nineteenth century, when the extraordinary 3,500-page manuscript of the Serat Centhini (an “encyclopedia” of Javanese customs) was written—and certainly in the twentieth century—the court arts have been influenced by “country ways,” and vice versa.59 Many of the servants and courtiers, including performers, have had country roots. Back when the prestige of the courts was at its zenith, if a ruler heard of a superb musician, dancer, or puppeteer out in a village somewhere, he would make sure that that person ended up in his service. Such people maintained ties with their families in the country, much as those who live in the nation's capital, Jakarta, retain strong regional identities and attachments. Indeed, practically all Solonese seem to have some relation in the country whom they visit from time to time. Thus, not only were the court arts enriched by “outside” influences, but the villages often imitated the palace styles as best they could, although they never had full access to “inside” ways.

Other distinctions for which there are no clear dividing lines are the oppositions between rehearsal and performance, amateur and professional musicians, and classical and folk traditions. In the European tradition, a prototypical rehearsal has the following traits: its primary purpose is improvement rather than enjoyment; there is usually no audience; musicians talk about the music while it is going on or during breaks; pieces are rarely played from start to finish without stopping; and concert dress is usually not worn. A prototypical concert has the opposite traits.

But in the gamelan tradition, pieces are rarely stopped in rehearsal; the primary purpose seems to be for enjoyment rather than improvement; there is very little talk about the music, except during breaks between pieces; and participants might wear the same dress as for a performance. A concert is distinguished mainly by the presence of an audience. Yet there, too, there may be ambiguity. In the Kraton, for instance, the night before the yearly enthronement commemoration, musicians played gendhing bonang (long pieces with no “soft-style” instruments). The one time I attended, a few Japanese gamelan students and I were the only people listening, yet this was a highly formal affair. Conversely, (p.31) when a group “rehearses” in someone's home, neighbors might come by to enjoy the music. There is much variety, however. The distinction between rehearsals and concerts is clearest at the music academies, which have adopted somewhat Europeanized styles of rehearsing and performing.

With amateurism and professionalism, again, there is more of a continuum than in the European tradition. Very few musicians support themselves entirely from performing. Wayang musicians accompanying a famous dhalang (shadow puppeteer) come close, as do those at the national radio stations; almost all of these are very highly skilled. In contrast, some musicians are never paid, never achieve much proficiency, and yet continue to participate in a group. Most musicians fall somewhere in between. The dual criteria of skill and income can be used, then, to establish endpoints on the continuum. But where the distinction really breaks down is in the composition of groups: “amateur” and “professional” musicians usually rehearse or perform together. This is made possible by the wide variation in the degree of complexity of the various parts.60

The terms classical and folk, like all music terms, are embedded in a particular cultural and historic context. Both are terms that have been used for different purposes, and with many different meanings. The prototypes conveyed by the terms as they were applied to European music are, on the one hand, an urban, elite, written, trained, complex, cosmopolitan, professionalized, evolving, composer-oriented tradition; and on the other, a rural, working-class, oral, untrained, simple, localized, amateur, unchanging, anonymous tradition.61 Just how well these prototypes correspond to actual European (and, by extension, Western) practice is debatable (especially regarding the folk prototype).62 With Javanese traditional music they are well-nigh useless. Gamelan music is found both in the cities and in the villages (though there are certainly stylistic differences between the two, and some differences in repertoire); it is music both of the educated elite and of the unschooled poor; it used to be an oral tradition, but now has a mixture of oral and written traits; some very good musicians are formally trained, some are not; some pieces are marvels of simplicity, some are complex by any standard; there have been minutely localized traditions, but increasingly there is transregional standardization; there is no sharp divide between the professional and the amateur; the tradition has continually evolved, undergoing (p.32) countless shifts in fashion, and yet, until recently, music of the past was not sharply set off from music of the present; and, finally, while composers' names are rarely mentioned or put at the top of a notated part, the composers of many pieces in the repertoire (or at least the sovereigns for whom the pieces were composed) are identified in oral accounts.63

Non-Gamelan Music in Solo

Karawitan (traditional gamelan music) is only one of many kinds of music produced and heard in Solo. In fact, some people grow up in Solo without ever paying the slightest attention to the music of the gamelan. Here, then, is a very brief overview of a few of the kinds of music that I observed during my three years there.64 I will not discuss these further in the book, but they must be mentioned to avoid giving the impression of a homogeneous culture with a single musical tradition.

In my neighborhood, the most frequently heard live music was that made by teenagers sitting on the front stoop, strumming on a guitar, and singing Indonesian pop songs. There is a huge pop music industry based mostly in Jakarta (Wallach 2008), in which I am including various rock genres, some of which tend to have niche markets. These had and have local representatives as well (Suranto 1995, Perlman 1999), and they have kept up with global trends with the now-expected speed of the electronic age. Occasionally an Indonesian rock group would come through Solo and give a big, highly amplified concert that could be heard a mile away. Sometimes foreign groups of various kinds would also come through on tour. For instance, I heard an Australian “world beat” group that gave a free concert at STSI as well as a Dutch classical vocalist and pianist at a privately run arts center in town. Sometimes there would be a festival in which musical groups from other regions of Java or from other islands would perform. Another kind of non-Javanese music was that catering to the minority Chinese population. I once heard Buddhist ritual music being played at a Chinese funeral in the old Chinese part of town. Much more common was Chinese karaoke, which was sung at expensive Chinese restaurants (where Indonesian and English—and, much more rarely, Javanese—songs were also mixed in). Yet another kind of singing in a foreign language is tahlilan and yasinan, a kind of monotone Arabic chanting done on ritual occasions. Strictly speaking, I suppose, these are not music, as they are both prayers, consisting in reading selected verses from the Kur'an. They are, however, musical, and at least one participant in a yasinan (p.33) group told me that for him it was, indeed, a form of musical art. During my principal research period, in the world of gamelan musicians it was rare to hear either genre. In 2006 it was extremely common—one indication of the increased Islamicization of Indonesia, acknowledged by all.65

There are also several kinds of traditional Javanese music not performed on gamelan. (I will not describe tembang [Ng]—traditional Javanese singing—here, as it is often included in karawitan, and will be discussed elsewhere.) One kind of ensemble, which I heard in monthly live broadcasts from the national radio station, is called larasmadyå [J]. It consists of mixed choral singing in octaves (either using måcåpat66 texts or Islamic poetry—in which case it is called santiswaran [J]), accompanied by frame drums (terbang [J,I]), a pair of hand-held bronze or iron tubular bells (kemanak), and a ciblon drum.67 In the villages, if funds are short, it may replace a gamelan concert (klenèngan) or wayang on ritual occasions. Most of the groups that sang at the radio station were from the vicinity of Klathèn (often spelled Klaten), a town between Solo and Yogyakarta. I knew of only two groups in Solo that rehearsed regularly, one of which was at the Kraton.

Siteran, also a gamelan substitute, is a portable ensemble in which one or several zithers play approximations of the instrumental lines in a gamelan piece, along with a ciblon, singers (some of whom may be doubling as instrumentalists), and a gong substitute. This is a common form of itinerant music making (barangan [J]), for which the gong substitute is a blown gong (gong bumbung [J]—actually, a form of low-pitched trumpet that imitates the sound of the gong) rather than the less portable gong kemodhong [J] (a pair of bossed bronze plates that create acoustic beats when struck together and are suspended over large resonators). Another kind of door-to-door music is that afforded by the lively drumming of monkey trainers, who put on shows for anyone who wants to pay them a small fee. This is called tlèdhèk kethèk (monkey dance). Along the same lines, the intra- and intercity buses are commonly boarded by itinerant musicians who, for the most part, plucked or strummed lutes of various shapes and sizes, which are sometimes amplified with much distortion.68 The array of homemade instruments is astonishing, and many are no doubt unique.

Kroncong groups are somewhat rare and less visible than gamelans, but there was one in the early 1990s that rehearsed in a Satpam (security guard) station not far from my house. In 2006 there was an excellent small kroncong group that (p.34) performed at a famous warung on the south side of town.69 Like gamelan music, kroncong is now considered old-fashioned (Supanggah 2003), and, as previously mentioned, the two have merged into campursari, which has greatly overtaken them both in popularity. Supanggah (2003:1) estimates that nearly every village now has a campursari group. In his district just outside the city limits of Solo, there were three gamelan groups that rehearsed weekly on the gamelan at his house (an unusually large number nowadays for any neighborhood) and no kroncong groups, whereas there were five campursari groups (probably not an unusually large number).

During my period of research, in most neighborhoods men took turns on the night watch (ronda [I]), walking through the streets in small groups between midnight and 3:00 a.m. As they proceeded, they played percussive rhythms similar to the clapping patterns used in gamelan music, which they performed on bamboo sticks of various lengths. Finally, I must mention the sounds of the street vendors, which, though perhaps not intended as music, filled my neighborhood day and night. Aside from the vocal calls (such as a piercing, slowly falling saaaaaaaaa-tééééééé, reminiscent of the Kraton bedhåyå singers), there were, among others, a smallish gong (ice cream); a high, clanging bell (coconut ice cream); a steam whistle (puthu, a sweet rice and coconut snack); and a hollow clacking sound (noodles).

A Note on “Tradition”

In the foregoing I have used the word traditional several times. Since the remainder of this study focuses on traditional music, an explanation of why this is so, and what I mean by the term, is in order. The term has been problematized by innumerable authors, and it cries out for clarification. With respect to Javanese culture, penetrating critiques have been made by Florida (1993 and 1995), Pemberton (1994), and Lindsay (1985), and by the British dance ethnographer Hughes-Freeland (1993). The straightforward use of the term has been called into question because of the political uses to which “tradition” is put; because it is not always clear what is “traditional” and what is not (for one thing, many “traditional” practices turn out to be of recent or foreign origin); and because of the selective nature of what is presented as “traditional.” Pemberton, in particular, has shown how “traditional” Javanese culture was created in reaction to the Dutch presence, and how this notion was used by the New Order regime (1966–98) to maintain the status quo. One could argue, though, that whatever forces shaped “traditional” Javanese culture, and however different pre-colonial Java may have been from what resulted from Dutch contact, this is now what is thought of as Javanese.

(p.35) It is likely that people in every culture intuitively agree as to what is traditional and what is not, though they may argue about the fine points. The Solonese certainly fit this pattern. Everyone agrees that bathik is traditional—though some say that lurik (a coarser, handwoven striped cloth) is even more traditional, even more Javanese; blue jeans, on the other hand, are not even in the running. Traditional is thus a handy way of reflecting a distinction that people make in practice, and no one has offered a suitable alternative. And because it reflects a conception of the arts held by the people I spoke with, I use it freely, without supercilious quotation marks.70

I believe, following Wittgenstein, that one can use a word without being able to define it. Nevertheless, because I might otherwise be misunderstood, I will try to circumscribe my use of the term traditional. The closest I can come to a definition is “Any shared practice (a repertoire, a style, a context, a medium) that is perceived (1) as having persisted through several generations (cf. the Latin traditio, from tradere, “to hand over,” “to entrust,”  “to bequeath”)—or, more specifically, as having predated living memory or Independence; and (2) as being characteristic of (and not necessarily unique to) the group of people in question (a family, a town, a linguistic group).” This definition attempts to reflect ordinary Javanese and English usage while at the same time answering some of the concerns of the above-mentioned critics. Note that there is nothing here about the actual origins of the practice, nor the degree of change that the practice has undergone. What concerns me is the perception of age, continuity, and group identity, not the actual timelessness or boundedness71 (which we can assume are always fictional) of the tradition. I will leave to others the important work of analyzing why a practice might or might not be perceived in this way.

There is no point in hiding the fact that in general I prefer traditional music to modern hybrids, for reasons I will not go into here. But the answer as to why I have chosen this focus—despite increasing discomfort, among ethnomusicologists, with representing the Other as stuck in a static loop of unchanging ways—has to do more with particularities and happenstance than with an ideological or theoretical stance. The traditional music of central Java is especially (p.36) rich in repertoire and in interpretations of this repertoire; its sounds are especially distinctive (and, to me, uniquely satisfying). Moreover, it is a kind of music into which I had already been initiated before I began my fieldwork. This in itself is not free from political overtones: why, for instance, was central Javanese karawitan among the first non-Western musics to be incorporated into music departments in the United States, starting in the late 1950s? That said, I did not join a college gamelan group because it represented the “high cultures of the East,” but simply because it was there. In a sense, then, there was a well-beaten path that led me to Solonese gamelan music.

The fact that many ethnomusicologists before me have already written about this tradition has its downsides, to be sure: What about all of the lesser-known musics of Indonesia? And what of the nontraditional musics that have arisen in response to modern living conditions? Yet it has the distinct advantage of allowing for a selective, focused study that is somewhat freed from the descriptive exigencies of a first encounter. In other words, it is thus more feasible to do a study that goes into the same kind of depth and specificity that musicologists have long applied to Western art music.72

Where My Teachers Fit In

Since I have represented my teachers' individual voices throughout the book, I would like to introduce them one by one: they are the characters around which my narrative is woven. I will include here only the ones whose conversations I have cited extensively.

My principal singing teacher, as mentioned above, was Suhartå (born c. 1945). He grew up in Delanggu, a town several miles southwest of Solo. Both his parents sang: his mother at home, his father with local gamelan groups. He graduated from SMKI in Solo, studied in Yogyakarta for a year, then entered ASKI in Solo a few years later. I have thirty-five one-hundred-minute tapes with him in Indonesian with occasional forays into Javanese.

My rebab teacher was R. M. Sukanto Sastrodarsono (1921–94). He was of noble birth and grew up in one of the old neighborhoods surrounding the Mangkunegaran Palace in Solo. He completed a Dutch education through the end of junior high school (mulo), and first learned karawitan mostly in his own neighborhood. When SMKI opened in 1950 he was hired in the research division. He continued to study karawitan from the eminent palace musicians who taught at SMKI. Later he taught for many years in the United States. Upon his return to Indonesia, he was active in maintaining the musical activities at the Kraton, and, as a result, in 1989 was given the title K.R.M.T. Bojrodiningrat by (p.37) Susuhunan (King) Pakubuwånå XII. I have roughly eleven ninety-minute tapes with him in Indonesian sprinkled with Dutch, English, and Javanese.

One of my first gamelan teachers, Rahayu Supanggah, is a consummate performer, composer, and ethnomusicologist. We first met in Paris in 1981, where he was working on his doctorate, after having taught in Java and Australia. He was born into a puppeteer family in 1949 and grew up in the villages of the hilly Boyolali area to the west of Solo. By the time he attended SMKI he had already absorbed much musical know-how. He received his Sarjana (bachelor's degree) in karawitan from ASKI in 1978, where he taught for many years, becoming the head of the then-named STSI in 1997. Subsequently he was the founding director of the graduate program in performing arts at STSI/ISI, a position that allowed him, to a greater extent, to pursue his international career as a composer and musician, primarily for theater and dance productions. He remains on the teaching faculty of ISI, but most recently he has put more of his energies into writing, composing, and performing, for which he travels widely and often. I have no tapes of the two of us from my main period of research, but I do have several dozen pages of fieldnotes of our conversations. Our language of communication has shifted over the years (first French, now mostly Indonesian).

My relationship with Sudarsono was primarily as a member of his various gamelan groups. I also studied drumming and senggakan73 with him privately, and had several sessions just of conversation. He was born in Boyolali in 1948 (he and Supanggah knew each other as children). He attended SMKI and ASKI, where he studied with several eminent court musicians. Uniquely among my teachers, he has never been a civil servant. He taught several gamelan groups, some of them consisting of all women, some of them mixed (one of them was unusual in that both men and women played instruments together, in almost equal numbers). He continues to teach at least one mixed group that I joined briefly in 2006. He has been a mentor to many foreigners studying karawitan in Solo and has always welcomed them into his ensembles. I have roughly four one-hundred-minute cassettes with him in fast-paced Indonesian.

The remaining four teachers are all from an older generation (roughly the same age as Sukanto), and I approached all of them, towards the end of my stay, not as a karawitan student, but as a researcher. R. T. Mloyowidodo (1911–97) was known for several years as the oldest living musical expert in Solo. He was particularly admired for his astonishing memory (several hundred pieces memorized backwards and forwards) and for his outstanding bonang (p.38) playing.74 He came from a family of court musicians, and he himself was hired at the Kraton under Susuhunan Pakubuwånå X (reigned 1893–1939). After leaving the court he taught at SMKI and STSI. He was an instrumentalist at heart, utterly uninterested in vocal music, but otherwise eminently knowledgable and articulate. I have one and a half one-hundred-minute tapes with him in Javanese.

Sutarman Sastråsuwignyå (1920–2000—also known as Sutarman Pråjånagårå), acknowledged to be the foremost expert on Solonese vocal music, was born in the same neighborhood as Sukanto. His father, whom he rarely saw, was a minor aristocrat and a good musician. As a teenager Sutarman was a singer of kroncong, but then realized that he could excel if he switched to karawitan. He worked at SMKI for many years as a teacher and researcher, but did not teach at any of the government schools after 1973. He had a complete gamelan at home, where he gave private and group lessons. I have just over three one-hundred-minute cassettes with him in Indonesian with some Javanese.

Sastro Tugiyo (1922–2002) was regarded by many as the best båwå singer of his generation.75 His voice can be heard on countless commercially recorded cassettes. In addition, he was an accomplished instrumentalist. He learned the rudiments of karawitan as a boy in Delanggu (the same town Suhartå is from), but once a week he attended the then-recently opened karawitan school in Solo called Kawruh Kaniyagan (KåKå—not to be confused with KoKar). This school was only for aristocrats, but Sastro Tugiyo was able to tag along with a friend of his who was of noble birth. Just before the Japanese invasion, he did a stint teaching karawitan in Borneo. In 1959 he joined the RRI, retiring in 1981. He traveled abroad once to Japan (with Mloyowidodo). As of 1992 he still sang occasionally and taught amateur gamelan groups. I have four-and-a-half tapes with him of varying lengths, in Indonesian.

Last, but not by any means least, Sudarsono Wignyosaputro (1927–2003) was well known as a teacher of gamelan and vocal music (less so as a performer). His grandfather was a court musician, starting with the reign of Susuhunan Pakubuwånå IX (1862–93). Wignyosaputro received a public Dutch education and taught elementary school for many years. Having learned the basics of karawitan at home, as a young man he continued his musical education informally at SMKI. He taught vocal music part time at STSI. I have two-and-a-half one-hundred-minute cassettes with him in Indonesian and Javanese.

Let me close this chapter with a few observations about my teachers in general. Nearly all of them were male. They were all married and had all raised children. They were all literate, some more profoundly so than others. Their levels of formal education ranged from grade school to graduate school, but this (p.39) range is deceptive: nearly all were quite intellectual, in the sense of being given to theorizing.76 Most of them had been born into poor families; a few had priyayi (aristocratic) backgrounds (although this is no guarantee of wealth). Some were from the village, some from the city, but all had received extensive musical training in Solo proper. Most of them were affiliated with one of the major music institutions, and none of them seemed to consider themselves to be orang luar [I] (“outsiders”), although most of them had grown up in an “outside” musical environment, that is, in a village setting far removed from a centralized institution.

My teachers' ages fell into two broad groups: those who were old enough to remember the reign of Pakubuwånå X (reigned 1893–1939), and those born around 1945, the time of Independence. The first group included some court musicians, while the second group was made up entirely of people who had studied at SMKI and ASKI.

All of my teachers were at least bilingual (in Javanese and Indonesian, usually with Javanese dominating). Several of them spoke three or four languages fluently. All of them, I believe, had been abroad at least once. They were not generally drawn to any musics besides karawitan, although a few had had experience performing some Western-influenced music when they were young.

Of my teachers involved directly in my research, two were Christian. The rest were mostly “Islam KTP” (“identity-card Muslims”). This means that they had to choose a religion for their identity cards, and since the default religion is Islam, that is what they put.77 They drank alcohol quite freely and I never knew them to worship at a mosque. If they fasted it was either for Javanese reasons or out of solidarity with those who were fasting out of religious conviction. Two of my older teachers, both priyayis, practiced kejawèn (Javanese mysticism) regularly; the others also probably did as well, but less regularly.

Finally, all of my teachers had dedicated their lives to performing, understanding, and teaching karawitan, and they all shared their expertise with unceasing grace and generosity.


(1.) This chapter is meant primarily for readers who have had no direct contact with central Java or who have not read widely about Javanese gamelan traditions. Much of the material here is available elsewhere, but I know of no other overview that assembles all of the elements that will be necessary for a full understanding of what follows in subsequent chapters. The emphasis is on the situation from 1989 to 1992, my primary period of research, but some of my comments are based on a brief visit in 2003 and on six months spent teaching in Solo in 2006. I have tried to use tense to indicate whether a situation has changed or has stayed the same, but whenever I am unsure I have preferred the past tense. Marc Perlman's 1999 ethnographically rich article “The Traditional Javanese Performing Arts in the Twilight of the New Order: Two Letters from Solo” provides evocative and nicely contextualized snapshots of the Solonese musical scene in 1997 and 1998. The situation he describes, roughly midway between my departure in 1992 and my return in 2003, seemed closer to the latter than to the former. The traumatic riots of 1998 and the severe economic hardship that led up to and followed the ousting of Suharto from power made for a bleak picture at the time. This bleakness was still heavy in the air in 2003. By 2006, however, my impression was that Solo was beginning to recover, although the earthquake that was centered south of neighboring Yogyakarta brought its own challenges (primarily in the form of aiding the injured and those whose homes were destroyed just a few miles away—there was relatively little damage in Solo itself). This recovery was not only economic, but psychological and musical as well, and it seemed to me during this last stay that Solo is the most fundamentally unchanging city I know.

(2.) See, for instance, Sindusastra 1978 and Brandon 1970:17.

(3.) Much of what follows is based on Houben 1989. See also Soepomo and Ricklefs 1967, Larson 1987, and Ricklefs 1981. Pemberton 1994 gives a detailed account of the move from Kartåsuråå, with quotations from various Javanese manuscripts.

(4.) See Behrend 1989.

(5.) The similarity in the royal names of the four sovereigns of Yogyakarta and Surakarta is not mere coincidence. They all reflect the concentric model of kingship inherited from India: Pakubuwånå means “nail of the world or universe”; Mangkunegårå means “holding the realm in one's lap”; Hamengkubuwånå, the name of the Sultan of Yogyakarta, means “holding the world or universe in one's lap”; and Pakualam means “nail of the realm (or world).”

(6.) The Sultan of Yogyakarta, by contrast, is also the governor of his district. See Larson 1987 for the history and implications of this important difference.

(7.) Not everyone shares this view—some Javanese take a revisionist approach, claiming that the excellence of the palace arts, based on oral reports going back to the turn of the twentieth century, is something of a myth.

(8.) For instance, he had one hundred bedhåyå dancers alone (Soeratman 1989:87). (A bedhåyå is a sacred, courtly, choreographed group dance with abstract, esoteric symbolism; in Solo it is danced by nine—or sometimes seven—young women.)

(9.) At least as late as the early 1990s (and perhaps still today) the reverence afforded these pusåkås was considerable. On the eve of Javanese New Year, villagers would flock into the city. A dense throng assembled in the palaces, awaiting the moment when those present could fight over the water in which the sacred gongs and other pusåkås had been washed, hoping to take home some of the spiritually charged liquid for its curative powers. Equally telling is a comment made to me by one of my teachers, the late Sukanto, a habitué of the Kraton, upon whom the sunan had bestowed a noble title for his service to the court. He had instructed me to sembah every time I sat down or was about to rise from the marble floor of the main pendhåpå (a large pavilion, open on three sides, with a high-pitched roof). A sembah is an act of obeisance performed by joining one's hands as in a typical Christian prayer position, and raising them before one's face, thumbs pointing inward and fingers pointing outward (while to a Westerner this suggests an attitude of prayer, its meaning is closer to that of genuflection). According to Sukanto, it was not to the ruler (who, at any rate, was usually absent) that one paid one's respects, but rather to the pusåkås that are housed in the inner chambers.

(10.) For a good description of the dance situation in the Kraton in the 1970s and 1980s, see Brakel-Papenhuijzen 1992.

(11.) Among other things, former President Suharto's wife traced her ancestry (remotely) back to a Mangkunegårå prince, and her patronage was said to help keep the court solvent. The Kraton, on the other hand, which still nostalgically considers itself to be, at least spiritually, the center of the (now nonexistent) Kingdom of Java, is perhaps seen by the national government as stealing some of the allegiance that is its due. It is thus in the interest of the administration to limit the Kraton's resources. (There was even talk that after the death of Pakubuwånå XII no successor would be named. This, as it turned out, was not the case, although there is contention as to his legitimate successor.)

(12.) I do not have exact igures for the Mangkunegaran, but I am quite sure that, as of 1992, the musicians there were paid in the thousands of rupiahs for a performance (perhaps two or three U.S. dollars, which was a day's wage for a manual laborer). One Kraton musician told me he was paid the following amounts: Rp 200 (10¢—enough, at that time, for a snack or a very cheap meal) for a regular rehearsal in the big audience hall; Rp 1000 (50¢) for a rehearsal in preparation for a performance; Rp 500 (25¢—an average pedicab fare) for Monggang (a ceremonial gamelan played weekly) and other regular required functions. On many occasions I witnessed what I took to be a mild form of protest at Kraton events. Musicians in Java are usually paid in cash at, or immediately after, a concert. When the time came for musicians at the Kraton to be handed their allocation, which usually happened during the performance, the music was marred by unduly loud chinking noises, as they accepted their stacks of coins (the idea being, I presume, that paper money, by contrast, would have been silent).

(13.) A pendhåpå is a large pavilion, open on three sides, with a high-pitched roof supported by many wooden columns, a bit like an enormous, elegant, banister-less front porch. The one in question was reconstructed after the original was destroyed by fire in 1985 (see Pemberton 1994:181–89, Behrend 1985, and Florida 1993:46; for photos of the pendhåpå, see Tirtaamidjaja 1967 and Florida 1992). Another elaborate pendhåpå, the “banquet hall” immediately to the south, had not been rebuilt as of 1992, and only the empty surface of its foundation remained. It has now been reconstructed, and is again being used for official dinners.

(14.) Karawitan is the word used in Java to refer to traditional gamelan music. “Gamelan” itself refers only to the instruments—not to the music performed on them or the people who do the performing (although in English it is sometimes used in these other senses). See Perlman 1991b for more on the origin and uses of the term karawitan.

(15.) For the definitive treatment of this shift from an oral to a written tradition, see J. Becker 1980. See also Perlman 1991a and 1994, Sumarsam 1995, Brinner 1995, and Lindsay 1985.

(16.) Attitudes during my main period of research were at best ambivalent. Many musicians still frowned on using notation in performance, or even in rehearsal. See, for instance, Sutton in Perlman 1992:17–18. See also chapter 4. My comparatively limited interactions with musicians in 2003 and 2006 seemed to indicate that there is less and less shame associated with relying on notation.

(17.) The kenong is a large pot-gong within the gamelan that is responsible for playing a sparse time-marking part, whereas the saron is a one-octave, single-mallet metallophone with trough resonator. Rahayu Supanggah (in Perlman 1992) denies that there is any set order for learning, but also says that typically one starts with the kethuk (single-toned pot gong) and then moves on to other instruments that carry little melodic responsibility (with the exception of the drum, which has its own form of responsibility).

(18.) The ciblon is a medium-sized, double-headed drum used to accompany dance and played in most lighthearted pieces. The lively, varied patterns played on it are rapid and syncopated and incorporate a large number of distinct strokes.

(19.) I use these terms as a shorthand for something that is not easily described etically. By “polyphonic” I mean music that consists of several melodies that are combined into a unified whole. In gamelan music the unified whole is organized melodically (primarily around important melodic tones—sort of like a Schenkerian middle ground) rather than harmonically. It is thus debatable whether karawitan is heterophonic or polyphonic, since, for Western music to be considered polyphonic, it must be organized harmonically. As Perlman has pointed out (2004:62–74), in some cases relations between parts seem like textbook cases of heterophony (simultaneous variation of a single melody), but in others the parts seem too distinct to be considered mere variants of the same thing: each instrument, each vocal part follows its own norms, its own dialect (a metaphor I have borrowed from Rahayu Supanggah); some of these dialects are closer to each other than others. What is clear, though, is that harmonic considerations rarely enter into a musician's choice of what notes to play (one notable exception is on the gendèr [double-mallet metallophone with tube resonators]). For some of the colonialist implications of the term heterophony as applied to gamelan music see Perlman 2004:62 and 211.

(20.) For an excellent, concise description of dolanan, see Susilo 1984:151–52.

(21.) The English term contemporary seems to have entered the world of Javanese performing arts, as early as 1958, through dance (see Humardani 1991:63–64). The Indonesian term gamelan kontèmporèr seems to date back to a 1985 article by Hardja Susilo (Rustopo 1991:28). Téater kontèmporèr, on the other hand, was already common by 1979 (see Umar Kayam 1981:108ff.). For more on Indonesian contemporary music see, in addition to Rustopo 1991, Mack 2004, and Warde 2002/2003.

(22.) Note that these two programs are curiously at odds with each other, since it should not be necessary to train people to understand art that is culturally and socially relevant to their own lives.

(23.) The two were distinct for him: “traditional” arts were associated with the palaces. See Lindsay 1985:41–43.

(24.) And yet, during the time I was in Solo, as soon as one composer had an idea that worked, others would latch onto it. In any given year one would hear the same sorts of things, over and over, with each successive composition. This is very much the way more traditional forms of gamelan music have always been transmitted: one musician or group would have an idea, and others, hearing it, would quickly imitate it and incorporate it into their own style (Supanggah, pers. comm.). It may be, then, that gamelan kontemporèr, in some respects is not as radical as it purports to be.

(25.) Indeed, it would seem that much of the impetus for avant-garde music originally came from its association with dance. This may have to do with the fact that, until recently, more Javanese dancers studied internationally than did musicians.

(26.) This trend, already noted by Perlman (1999) a decade ago, is, if anything, on the rise.

(27.) See Nettl 1995. The observation is truer in performance than it is in musicology, where popular music is increasingly included.

(28.) See the next section of this chapter for a preliminary discussion of  “outside” and “inside.” It is analyzed in greater depth in chapter 4.

(29.) Most of my information on campursari comes from Supanggah 2003. See also Perlman 1999.

(30.) See S. Weiss 1993 and 1998, and Perlman 1998 for additional information on these performers. See also Kusumadilaga 1981:49, 186; Brinner 1995:88; and Keeler 1987:181.

(31.) “Promotion of Family Welfare,” originally a government program that, under the New Order regime, was then used by the Golkar Party as a means of extending its control. Nowadays, however, the term simply refers to any neighborhood women's association. These associations engage in various activities, such as cooking or sewing lessons, small-scale lotteries (arisan), and gamelan music. Typically they meet at the house of one of the women, usually moving from one place to the next, except, for obvious reasons, in the case of gamelan rehearsals (Supanggah, May 6, 2006).

(32.) The book, by R. A. Soewarsi (“R. A.,” here, presumably stands for Radèn Ajeng, or Radèn Ayu, both noble titles of low rank), was in its sixth edition in 1967.

(33.) In my experience, even now, musicians complain openly if they are not properly fed—whereas I've rarely heard them complain about being underpaid. During wayangs, dhalangs will inject snide (albeit indirect) comments into the dialogue if the food and drink being served to the performers is not up to snuff. According to Minarno, formerly of the Indonesian Consulate in Chicago, there are even inside musical jokes along the same lines: the drummer can play a pattern that mimics the words wis entèk [Ng] (it's all gone).

(34.) Soewarsi 1967:74. Several phrases in this passage are untranslatable. What I've rendered as “our fellow” is actually a word meaning “sibling” or “blood relative” (and, by extension, “friend”). The author is clearly not a musician, yet by using the word sedhèrèk, possibly for its proximity to the Indonesian word saudara, she is showing her solidarity with them while at the same time maintaining social distance. If she really wanted to put them on the same social plane as the reader, she would use a term of respect, such as panjenenganipun, rather than sedhèrèk, which almost has a communist ring to it (perhaps “comrade” would be a better translation). She also subtly maintains her social distance by her choice of language levels for the verb “to eat.” She has been using the kråmå inggil (highly respectful) word dhaharan all along for “food,” when the people involved included the reader or honored guests. When referring to the musicians only, she switches to the plain kråmå (respectful) word nedhå. (Perhaps because the word nedhå is relatively infrequent, she adds, in parentheses, the ngoko [low Javanese] equivalent, mangan.) Similarly, she uses the kråmå madyå (moderately respectful) expression, boten purun, “refused,” rather than boten remen (kråmå) or boten kerså (kråmå inggil). The original text follows, with the Dutch-style spelling intact (except that I've substituted dh for the original d with a dot below it, and th for t with a dot below it):

Dhaharan tjara Djawi sadaja punika dipun wastani golonganing keleman, sadaja sarwa miraos, nanging boten kalebet ing dhedhaharan ageng, tegesipun boten kanggé njugata tamu ing kalaning tijang gadhah damel ageng-agengan. Saupami kawedalaken dados sesegah, namung dados sesegahipun sadhèrèk nijaga.

Sajektosipun tjara makaten punika kalebet ngesoraken sadhèrèk nijaga, punapaa sadhèrèk nijaga boten dipun segah sami kados ingkang kanggé sugata para tamu sanès-sanèsipun, sami dipun sugata dhahar larihan, mangka nijaga punika dados golonganing tetijang ingkang ndamel suka-remening para tamu.

Ing Surakarta naté wonten golonganing nijaga ambekot boten purun nedha (mangan) sesegah ingkang makaten punika. Sareng kasumerepan kalijan tijang ingkang gadhah damel ladjeng kasugata kados sugatan ingkang kasugataken dhateng para tamu sanès-sanèsipun.

Rumijin wonten tjara, tijang gadhah damel punika, njonja rumah nalika kèngkènan blandjan dhateng peken mawi meling. Tukokna panganan nijaga, ingkang tegesipun boten ngadjèni.

(35.) I use the past tense throughout this section for reasons already explained, but I knew of more than half a dozen groups in 2006 that fit the same general pattern described here.

(36.) Gonda 1973, J. Becker 1994.

(37.) See Kunst 1973:267–68. See also Anderson 1972:7–9 for a description of “what Pigeaud called trekkers en zwervers (travelers and wanderers),” which included all sorts of social deviants.

(38.) Calmness is associated with refinement, exuberance with crudeness. In the past, palace ensembles therefore distinguished themselves by developing their own repertoire of large, difficult, stately pieces and by avoiding the most lively ones (see Warsadiningrat 1987:129 and Supanggah 1991b). All of the traits that, other things being equal, enliven a performance—such as kendhangan ciblon, senggakan, sindhénan, gérongan, and imbal—seem to have had their origins outside of the palaces. It is possible, then, that the impression everyone has of the livelier repertoire taking over is simply a result of “outside” traditions becoming more prominent compared to the court traditions. Clara van Groenendael puts forward a similar interpretation with respect to eroticism in wayang (1985:177). See also the reference to Sears in the following note.

(39.) See, for instance, Walton 1996 and 1997, Perlman 1999, Mrázek 2005 (chapter 8), Curtis 2002, Suratno 2002, J. Susilo 1996, and Nugroho 2003. Sears (1996, chapter 6) argues that the emphasis on entertainment is not merely a reaction to mass media, but can be seen as a continuation of elements that preexisted Dutch interest in wayang, and were particularly prevalent in village styles. And Supanggah (2005) argues that traditional performing arts need not compete with mass media; rather, their exponents can and should make use of the media to strengthen the arts.

(40.) Langgam is a genre of popular sentimental songs in Javanese that is closely related to kroncong. Langgams are often originally composed in a diatonic scale and then transposed into sléndro or pélog for performance with gamelan accompaniment. Sragènan is a recent genre dating from the 1980s that incorporates, among other influences, Nartosabdho-style pieces with the tayuban (ritual celebration where men take turns dancing with a professional singer/dancer) and cokèkan (small ensemble featuring the siter [plucked box zither] and gendèr [double-mallet metallophone]) traditions from the area around the town of Sragèn (Suparno 1998/1999 and Perlman 1999).

(41.) A more traditional form of hard liquor, ciu (locally made rice brandy), was also sometimes used.

(42.) These are pieces that use the loud ensemble, without any vocalists or the softer, “front row” instruments.

(43.) The gérong is a small, unison chorus that functions as an integral part of the gamelan ensemble in a great many pieces. Senggakans are spontaneous-sounding interjections consisting of small snippets of sometimes cryptic text in everyday (as opposed to literary) language set to short, catchy tunes, which are used to liven up the musical atmosphere. A palaran is a solo vocal genre consisting of an elaboration of a verse of måcåpat (classical sung poetry in free rhythm) accompanied by a reduced gamelan.

(44.) This observation seems to be confirmed by Kusumadilaga (1981:179). See Walton 1996 for historical connections between talèdhèks and pesindhèns.

(45.) Choy 1984:63. See also Edi Sedyawati 1984, who makes a similar connection between the court dances and another lively and popular type of dance, gambyong.

(46.) For more on this dance, see Hadiwidjojo 1981, Brakel-Papenhuijzen 1992, and Tirtaamidjaja 1967. For its erotic content specifically, see Florida 1992 and J. Becker 1993:130.

(47.) See Florida 1992, and Serat Pasindhen Badhaya 1983.

(48.) I am indebted to Marc Perlman, who has collected texts to a large number of senggakans, for pointing this out.

(49.) This andhegan is translated and commented on by Nancy Cooper: “Give the bird some water./I'll give it a little fresh water./Feed the singing turtledove./I'll feed it a little rice on the stalk./Early in the morning my turtledove craves milk./In the midday my turtledove craves rice grains./At night my dove craves to be satisfied./At night my turtledove increases his beauty.” As Cooper points out, the sexual overtones are much more explicit in Javanese, since a common euphemism for penis is manuk [Ng] (bird) (1994:353–55).

(50.) I shall return to this topic in chapter 4. I have discussed it elsewhere as well (2002). For another take on the subject, see Sarah Weiss (1993), who bases her analysis on an article by Keeler (1990). Keeler's depiction has been broadly emended by Brenner (1995), whose view is more in keeping with my present point. Weiss has refined her analysis in a recent book (2006). See also Sutton 1984 and 1989, Cooper 1994, and Walton 1996 and 1997. Susan Walton, in particular, has analyzed the interaction between male dhalangs and pesindhèns, and what the latter have to say about it.

(51.) See, for example, Lysloff 1990.

(52.) For a vivid description of a typical ritual performance, see the introduction in Keeler 1987.

(53.) Certain conventions used to be observed in order to allow the dhalang to enter fully into the world of the wayang and to create a feeling of continuity. He was taught never to displace himself from beginning to end of the eight-hour performance—and even never to look behind him.

(54.) See A. L. Becker 1979 for a description of how the night was traditionally structured. And see note 39 for references that describe recent changes.

(55.) For a thorough treatment of wayang wong in Yogyakarta, see Soedarsono 1984. See also Lindsay 1985. For an excellent, concise introduction to the art form and its history, practice, performance context, and musical accompaniment, see Susilo 1984.

(56.) According to Kusumadilaga, though, wayang wong was created in 1731 in Surakarta, at the urging of a “woman of European ethnicity” (1981:168). But what he describes was a masked dance, which must have corresponded either to the modern-day tari topèng (performed by silent, masked dancers), or topèng dhalang (which used to be performed, during wayang's off-season, by masked dhalangs, who occasionally lifted their masks to speak). In either case, even though Kusumadilaga's wayang wong was wayang (mythico-historical drama), and even though it was wong (people), it was probably not what today is called wayang wong.

(57.) A wirèng is a mock battle dance, whereas langendriyan is a dance drama in which the dialogue is sung by the dancers themselves. See Daryono 1999 for a detailed overview of these tourist performances. He also concludes that their overall effect has been positive.

(58.) In the later 1980s and early 1990s the most isolated of all institutions was not the Kraton, but STSI. This is partly because of its location—on the extreme eastern edge of town—but also because the students and teachers there were kept so busy with their various duties. Indeed, many of the teachers were out of touch with the “outside” music-makers and had difficulty joining in with the groups that were on their level of musicianship, simply because the STSI musicians hadn't kept up with recent developments and had also forgotten some of the older repertoire that they had learned as students. On the other hand, they did and do often fill out the ranks for palace rituals (see Devereaux [and Hastanto] 1989). As of 2003 and 2006 STSI/ISI was much less isolated musically: the more ambitious students were participating in various “outside” groups around town, and there were proportionally more “outside” musicians teaching at the school.

(59.) See Sears 1986 and 1996; Sedyawati 1984; Soeratman 1989:97–99; Mardusari 1987; Supanggah 1991b; Brakel-Papenhuijzen 1995:30–31; and Siregar [1990?]:109–16. I am also basing these statements on personal communications from musicians, in particular Rahayu Supanggah, who headed an oral history project in the Solo area.

(60.) Whereas in the European tradition amateur and professional instrumentalists do not often mix, this is not as true of vocalists. See, for instance, Smith 1998. Indeed, one could argue, as does Smith, that the distinction is often very murky, even in the world of Western classical music.

(61.) See Bruno Nettl's entry on “Folk Music” in the New Harvard Dictionary of Music for an impressive attempt to define this protean concept.

(62.) For one thing, as in Java, European folk and classical spheres turn out not to be as separate as they once seemed. Increasingly, musicologists have looked into the points of contact and mutual influences between vernacular and learned traditions in Europe. Outstanding examples are Charles-Dominique 2007, Macchiarella 1995, and Salmen 1983 [1971]. See also the extensive literature on the pastoral trope in eighteenth-century music.

(63.) See, for example, Warsadiningrat 1987, which is subtitled Serat saking Gotèk (Written Based on Oral Reports).

(64.) For a good overview of the various genres of recorded music commonly heard in Solo up through the 1980s, see Yampolsky 1987. And for more recent genres heard around Solo, see Perlman 1999.

(65.) See, for instance, Perlman 1999 and Murtioso 1998. For general overviews of Indonesian Islam in recent years see Beck 2003 and Fealy and Hooker 2006.

(66.) Måcåpat is a category of classical Javanese verse. Its original context is poetry that one sings as one reads. However, texts in måcåpat meters are used in a variety of other musical contexts.

(67.) The ciblon is a medium-sized, double-headed, hand-played barrel drum associated with dance accompaniment.

(68.) For a description of bus music in an area not far from Solo, see Santoso 1995.

(69.) A warung is an inexpensive open-air food stall; this one was larger and more stationary than most.

(70.) For a lively exchange on the self-conscious use of quotation marks, see Harold Fromm's contribution to “Race,” Writing, and Difference, and Henry Louis Gates's reply (1986). Gates's well-argued position on “race” is close to that of Florida's on “traditional.” Florida explains her use of quotation marks as follows: “I will use the semifictional categories ‘traditional Java’ and the ‘modern world,’ not as substantive entities but as fragile constructs that serve to delineate differences between conceptual orders that emerged in time through history” (1995:10). I might add that one other reason for using the quotation marks is to show that one is giving the English equivalent of the Dutch loan word tradisi as used by Indonesians in a particular context. Note that it is precisely because of this connection that I have chosen to remove the quotation marks (not unlike Marcel Duchamp's “Mona Lisa, Shaved”): I find ordinary usage of traditional and tradisi to be quite close to each other, and so the English word works just fine as an approximation for the conceptualization I encountered.

(71.) I am using this word as it has been used in anthropology for the past thirty years or so to refer to the way cultures have often been written about as almost hermetically bounded wholes.

(72.) See, for instance, Dell Hymes's division of ethnography into three stages: systematic, topic oriented, and hypothesis oriented (1996:4–6).

(73.) As already mentioned, this is a kind of sung interjection with lighthearted lyrics. It appears to come quite naturally to Javanese musicians but was very difficult for me (I could rarely catch the words, and I rarely knew when it was time to put in a senggakan). I am probably the first person in Solo ever to take private senggakan lessons (a dubious honor, to be sure).

(74.) The bonang is a two-octave, gong chime played with a pair of cylindrical padded mallets.

(75.) A båwå is an extended solo vocal introduction to a gamelan piece.

(76.) Geertz, too, has remarked on how surprised he was to be constantly launching into deep metaphysical discussions with people who had almost no formal education (1976 [1960]). Be that as it may, many Javanese musicians are not theoretically inclined, especially those among the rank and file.

(77.) Over the past decade, at least, performers have been showing more and more signs of Islamic piety (pesindhèns wearing Muslim clothing, Islamic content in wayangs, and the like)—see, for instance, Murtioso 1998 and Perlman 1999. During my main research period there seemed to be a certain tension between gamelan aficionados and devout Muslims: one American friend who lived in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood had to stop having rehearsals at his house during the month of Ramadan, for example.