AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 737

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Session 737: Representing and Negotiating Change in Southeast Asian Music.

Organizer: Andrew C. McGraw, Independent Scholar, USA

This panel considers recent developments in the composition, performance and reception of neo-traditional music in Southeast Asia. We analyze “neo-traditional” (as opposed to “avant-garde”) composition as an alternative mode of expression that sidesteps Euro-American models of experimentation—a form that allows radical innovation while bearing witness to distinct local histories and questioning the supposed universal status of the Euro-American avant-garde and aesthetic modernism in general. Our papers are related by our responses to several linked questions. Why and how do contemporary Southeast Asian neo-traditional composers negotiate the fetishizing of tradition by local governments and tourist industries? What are the consequences of aesthetic transgression? How is musical experimentation interwoven with local political economies? How do these artists manipulate their links with global cultural flows to facilitate their reinvention of musical meaning and their efforts at social reform? How do these artists negotiate the flow of global aesthetic movements stemming from the West? How do they work to maintain expressions of aesthetic difference within this global flow? Neo-traditional expression often emerges through what we might term ‘lateral aesthetic networks’ as opposed to Western ‘influence’ which is often imagined as a force from above pressing down upon regional cultures. How do these ascendant lateral aesthetic networks interact with comparatively affluent networks flowing from the West? Ultimately we ask questions connected to issues of power: Who gets to be experimental? Who is the experimental subject? How are categories of race, gender, sexuality, class and nationality connected to experimentation and musical innovation?

“We Are Your Object”: Politics of/and Representation in Contemporary Intercultural Productions Between Balinese and American Artists
Andrew C. McGraw, Independent Scholar, USA

Since the 1970s the Western avant-garde has been most spectacularly expressed in its intercultural celebrations, vaunting the concept of a universal (but implicitly Western-centered) language of the avant-garde. While the ethical desirability of interculturalism was rigorously debated in the 1980s and 1990s, contemporary intercultural productions continue to be problematic and risk devolving into a theater of ethnographic display, gratifying the West’s obsession with cultural loss through the showcasing of avant-garde folklorico. Despite toning down a rhetoric of naïve utopianism and admitting that hybridity is not a symbol of parity, it is nevertheless not entirely clear from contemporary productions what, exactly, the Western avant-garde had learned from the vigorous accusations of neo-imperialism aimed at since the 1980s. How are intercultural performances and the global aesthetic movements which inform them different from cultural imperialism? Are they? This paper analyzes the ethics and politics of interculturalism in Southeast Asia by looking at three recent Western-funded and directed projects involving Balinese musicians: Robert Wilson’s I La Galigo production, the Cudamani/UCLA “Odalan Bali” tour and Evan Ziporyn’s opera “House in Bali.” What long term benefits do local participants, from whom creative resources are extracted in the intercultural artistic encounter, receive for their contributions to global aesthetic networks? Is it possible to imagine the possible benefits of such collaborations for their potential to disrupt mythologies of essentialized Balineseness, discourses on authenticity and the fetishizing of tradition and cultural boundaries?

Borrowing, Stealing, Transforming: Foreign Materials in Balinese Neo-Traditional Music and the Evolution of Local Concepts of the “Work.”
Wayan Sudirana, University of British Columbia, Canada

In this paper I discuss the incorporation of foreign materials in neo-traditional Balinese composition for traditional gamelan percussion orchestras (kreasi baru). Since at least the 1930s, Balinese composers have borrowed foreign materials, transforming them within their own compositions and traditional orchestras so that their original intercultural roots were obscured, and eventually forgotten. I investigate the incorporation of African and Indian materials in experimental compositions by contemporary composers centered in the Ubud and Denpasar areas of Bali. I analyze how these materials are adopted, and in what ways they are transformed in order to align with Balinese playing techniques and aesthetics. I analyze why foreign materials are desirable sources of inspiration to Balinese composers, and especially why Indian and African materials seem to enjoy the most popularity. I investigate the routes by which these materials reach Balinese shores and ears, primarily not through direct contact, but through the complex mediation of Western tourists/scholars. Secondly, I consider the nature and status of the composer and the “work” in Balinese culture. Whereas traditional works were rarely associated with a single, named composer (more often the result of communal creation), contemporary works are always associated with singular, named creators who increasingly seek to protect their materials through appeals to emerging notions of copypright (hak cipta). How does the increasing appeal of borrowing foreign musical materials conflict, or align with the similarly foreign notion of copyright and individual creativity and voice?

An Analysis of Contemporary Lanna Music Composition in Chiang Mai: A Case-Study of the Neo-Traditional Ensemble Changsaton
Thitipol Kanteewong, Chiang Mai University, Thailand

The objective of this paper is to analyze the contemporary composition of neo-traditional music in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Specifically, I analyze new forms of music composition by the ‘Changsaton’ group, an ensemble with a primarily traditional background in Lanna traditional musical forms. However, through their interest in experimentation in various repertoires they have expressed an innovative philosophy of Asian music as a unified, regional form. The ensemble’s performances and workshops have exerted a considerable influence on attitudes to local traditional musics and perspectives on globalization among musicians and audiences in the Chiang Mai area. In this paper, the discipline of ethnomusicology is used as a fundamental method and the paper distills information from ethnographic fieldwork, music recordings, music transcriptions, and formal and informal interviewing. Methods from Western music theory are used to analyze structural forms, musical textures, musical orchestration, music notation, and compositional method. This research focused on three specific contemporary music compositions by the ‘Changsaton’ group; 1) ‘Chang Naow’ - the god of the elephants, 2) ‘Kab Kiew’ - the two rivers Mekong and Nam Ou, and 3) ‘Puja’ - blessing of the spirits. Result of this research show that the ‘Changsaton’ group has considerably transformed traditional techniques in their music composition, including the transformation of melodic lines from the Buddhist chanting, traditional literatures, and tradition tuning systems. Various “foreign” influences, primarily from Japan, Indonesia and the Western modernism are analyzed. Finally, Changsaton’s role in influencing local conceptions on experimentation, maintenance of traditional, regional ethnic identity and globalization are considered.

Becoming Cosmopolitan, Going Nativist: The Project of Indonesian Musik Kontemporer
Christopher J. Miller, Cornell University, USA

The Indonesian term musik kontemporer encompasses an impossibly eclectic variety of musical creativity, united less by a clear notion of what contemporary is than a general sense of what it is not, or not quite: traditional, popular, classical. In this paper, I examine the background to musik kontemporer’s diverse profile: the remarkable alliance in the 1970s and 80s between cosmopolitan senior figures such as Slamet Abdul Sjukur and Suka Hardjana who studied music in the West but then turned nativist, and native composers, especially those at the performing arts academy in Surakarta, who with foundations in gamelan and other traditional Indonesian musics took up the cosmopolitan project of experimentalist art music. The former group hoped for a transcending of the categorical distinction between traditional and contemporary. In their own creative work and in overseeing that of younger composers, both traditionally-based and Western-oriented, they had considerable success in giving concrete form to a cosmopolitan nativist ideal. They did not, and I would argue could not, create a singular coherent model of musical practice, because of the impossibility of completely escaping distinctions based both in musical habitus and the connection to disparate and competing sources of aesthetic authority: Indonesian traditions, European classical music, an international but still predominantly Euro-American avant-garde, and the omnipresent background of industrialized popular culture. Younger composers, like the senior figures who came before, have instead had to renegotiate a persistent dynamic involving these larger musical forces.