Comparative Approaches to Musicality as Performance

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This work has been produced thanks to more than four years of work. The first years involved a great deal of self-questioning; moving from being an active creative artist—a composer and performer of experimental music-theatre—to being a theoretician has been a long journey. Suffice to say, on the gradual process which led to the ‘composition’ of this work, I went through many stages of looking back at my own creative work to discover that I had already begun to answer many of the questions posed by my new research into Balinese culture, communicating remarkable information about myself and the way I’ve attempted to confront my world in a physically embodied fashion. My early academic experiments, attending conferences and writing papers, involved at first largely my own compositional work. What I realise now is that I was on a journey towards developing a system of analysis which would be based on both artistic and scientific information, where ‘subjective’ experience would form an equally valid ‘product’ for analysis: it is, after all, only through our own personal experience that we can interface with the world. This process of weaning myself away from my own work to be able to apply my method more generally was a difficult one. Now, however, I realise how important this process has been.

This book consists of four major chapters. Using as its major tool post-Husserlian phenomenology and post-structural theory, the first chapter attempts to redefine ‘music’ not as a thing to be examined and dissected, but a way of interfacing with what I define as “sensual knowledge”, functioning ultimately to influence how we experience reality. Music is more than this alone, and the chapters following the first attempt to come closer to individual performances. The major point of departure is viewing musical experience as a complex type of cultural sign; here a ‘sign’ is not necessarily a specified object or idea, but something which signifies (creates meaning) for someone. This musical sign is placed in a different light in each of these chapters, and the object of analysis moves from the static musical object to the dynamic process of musical performance; the significance of the musical sign is revealed to exist as much in its creation as its material form (as far as it has one). One of the major themes of the work is the investigation of the way ‘musicality’ can be experienced by all the senses. I define this as the ‘multimediality’ of musical processes and the ‘multisensoriality’ of human musical experience. Other major topics include the notion of the embedded and the embodied ‘musical sign’. Here the sign is considered in terms of its semiosis in an ‘embedded’ (fully contextualised) environment and in terms of its ‘embodiment’ in human physicality. The whole first section is devoted to the discussion of an epistemology based on a transferral from product- to process-based thinking, representing a realisation of the importance of the dynamics of a contextualised and embedded situation to all processes of human semiosis. This study is intended to criticise and suggest alternatives to existing approaches to musicality. It is not intended to present a single all-encompassing solution to a problematic, restrictive paradigm stuck deeply in the confines of structuralism; it is rather intended to provide another set of options. I’d also like to take this chance to note that the theories that I propose are intended as models to be built upon rather than as complete edifices resistant to change; I have attempted to make suggestions about the complexity of musical experience based on five years of research in the Netherlands, Indonesia and the United States consisting of the analysis of interviews, meetings, encounters and also deeply personal experiences. Although the work is primarily about Bali, I have chosen to call this work ‘comparative’ because I believe strongly that ‘comparative’ experience is essential to the process of understanding how another culture experiences their music; before analysing the music of another culture, one has to deeply understand one’s own ‘musicality’ and the socially and culturally embedded set of signs that go into making us ‘musical’ human beings.
The major theme of the entire work is the importance of music in creating and perpetuating Balinese culture. Music is demonstrated to be not simply an expression of the current social, political or philosophical situation, but also a cultural force which in turn can influence the way a culture develops. Two terms are related to the expression of Balinese musicality: tradition and innovation, where new artistic works are explored in terms of either perpetuating strong cultural givens inculcated by society (tradition) or breaking away with radical new ideas (innovation), acting to change the society in which the artist lives. Interculturality as a musical issue is also explored in terms of how and why people belonging to certain cultures are turning more and more to other cultures to answer many of the questions which aren’t sufficiently breached within their own cultural confines. This issue is dealt with in terms of what I refer to as self-reflexive interculturality which involves an artist finding in another culture what they expect or need to find rather than what is actually there, leading to western creations like utopia and exoticism.

Balinese culture has influenced artists and theoreticians from the West who are attracted to this remarkably well-preserved culture. Through the perpetuation of complex cultural systems, the Balinese have been able to remain largely self-sufficient; not being too ‘adversely’ affected by outside influence. Their culture is for us a truly unique phenomenon, a structure that provides a coherent significative context to Balinese existence, supporting and perpetuating an intricately complex matrix of sound, movement and action. For the Balinese, music is certainly more than simply a diversion, but an important sacred and secular meaning-bearing phenomenon. In order to try and encompass this in theoretical terms it is necessary to open the discussion into a large number of different fields, including anthropology, linguistics, ethnomusicology, performance and ritual theory to name a few. I hope the reader enjoys the philosophical and theoretical journey I considered necessary in th.is work
Bali has been experienced as the fantasy come true for anthropologists throughout the twentieth century, having all the right elements to be the perfect specimen for fieldwork; it is a relatively isolated island paradise with an enormous amount of mystical and exotic charm. Post-colonial theory, however, has made us aware of possible personal agendas fulfilled in all types of cultural analysis. It was through working with Bali both ‘practically’ and ‘theoretically’ that I was impelled to see my own culture in a different light and question those things I had accepted as arbitrarily true. I learned also about my own personal agenda, which involved finding in Javanese and Balinese gamelan the answers to all the questions left unanswered in my own musical culture. The Balinese concept and experience of musicality perpetuates a non-elitist musical system which is truly ‘multimedial’ in nature and philosophy, something which I’ve always maintained but which was not always acceptable in many situations within my own cultural environment. Cultural estrangement and the necessity for a ‘multimedial’ or ‘multisensorial’ music culture attracted me to Bali. In performing this research, however, I was also taught a great deal about intercultural misunderstanding. This has made me very wary of and sensitive to theorists who write about a music system they haven’t themselves learnt to play, as the process of education ‘inculcates’ certain embodied behavioural approaches which often provide epistemological information only communicable to those who have participated in the process of ‘learning’ it physically; in the field of ethnomusicology this may be a given, but in other academic fields practice is still to be appropriated into the realisation of theory.

What can you expect to learn from this study? There has obviously been enough written about Bali, so factual/historical information about the island is not my major concern. Instead, I have opted to look at the way performing arts traditions—particularly music—are perpetuated, in which forms this can occur and how they are perpetuated in vital real-life environments, with specific emphasis on musical expression (which I will demonstrate is a ‘multimedial’ experiential process). We are provided with dynamic possibilities as both anthropologists and performing artists to experience the world ‘musically’ through the eyes of another. I hope that this work will provide the reader with an alternative insight into the multimedial communication of ‘musical’ knowledge, something which hasn’t really been considered theoretically because of specific sociocultural factors which are explored further on in this work.

There are many, many people who I would like to thank for their contribution to this work. Firstly I’d like to thank my partner and friend Guy De Mey who supported me emotionally during this difficult period. He was there for me when times got difficult, as was Patrick Eecloo in the preparatory period preceding this. Before the fieldwork I did in Bali I spent two years in the Netherlands learning Balinese gamelan and attending courses. I would like to thank Kersenboom for her theoretical assistance, encouragement and support. Vonck at the University of Amsterdam and Hinzler at the University of Leiden also deserve my thanks. They were both members of the Balinese gamelan group I played with called Sandi Sari, and they provided me with both unconditional advice and the chance to learn to play Balinese music, which I greatly appreciate. In Belgium, I have formed my own gamelan group (called Saling Asah) and that was also a highly educational experience. In this regard I’d particularly like to thank our teacher Wardana who has taught me both Gender Wayang and Gong Kebyar, in addition to being a remarkable source of information. During the fieldwork trips in 1997 and 1998 I stayed with Wardana’s family, which was in itself an educational experience. Wardana’s brothers, sister-in-laws, mother, father and other relatives all made me feel like an ‘embedded participant’, allowing me to partake in temple celebrations and other family affairs. At the STSI in Bali, I had the chance to interview important teachers and composers, and I’d like to take the chance to thank them: Windha, Astita, and Dibia. Barkin, Vitale and Wenten—all of whom live in California—also allowed me to interview them in both Los Angeles and Bali. Finally, there are an enormous amount of people I’d like to thank for their assistance to my research, some of whom I’ve never met. These are the people I came into contact with via the internet, either through personal contact or a major gamelan mailing list. Some of the people who assisted me include Herbst, Wallis, Grauer, Tenzer, Myers and Mack among many others. I’d like to thank them for the unconditional efforts they made to help me. Most importantly I’d like to thank Van Schoor who supported me in all my activities throughout this work’s conception and preparation. Finally, without the last minute guidance and support from van Damme, Pinxten and Petkovic I wouldn’t have been able to create this final version. The writing of this work has truly been an important event in my life, representing an enormous development in my ability to reflect upon the world and understand my role in it as both an observer and an (artistic) participant. My research tactics began in a sensual form through my work as a composer, which was followed by a gradual transformation which led to the development of an ability to analyse not only my own work and its role in my personal experience of reality, but also into how ‘musicality’ provides our lives with unique levels of signification not attainable in any other way. I feel looking back over the last five years that I’ve covered enormous ground, although I admit this is in a way only the first step on what will become a life-time journey, one which I will take on, as always, with enormous enthusiasm.



During the time period following the end of the fieldwork which resulted in the writing of this book, there has been an enormous surge in interest in the subject of musical experience and performance theory. Incorporating all the recent writing into the structure of this work is unfortunately impossible, but in publishing this book I am hoping to make a significant contribution to the growing body of knowledge which this work encompasses.

—Zachar Laskewicz
16 May 2003


List of Illustrations

Chapter One: The Musical Episteme

1.1 Introduction
1.3 The Musical Episteme
1.4 Multimediality and Multisensoriality
1.5 Empowering the Individual: musical experience and cognition
1.6 Music as an epistemological tool
1.7 Contrasting Musical Epistemes: systems for the conception of music
1.71 Fixed meaning versus transitory meaning
1.72 Tendency to standardise versus transitory classification
1.73 Fixed performance texts versus adaptive performance texts
1.74 Fixed pitch versus transitory pitch
1.75 Fixed notation or free notation (or no notation)?
1.76 The issue of cyclicality: to retain gong cycles or move to through-composition?
1.77 Comparing Pedagogical Systems: the specified and the intuitive
1.78 Observing Balinese Methods
1.79 Comparative Conclusions
1.8 Factors influencing the Balinese Musical Episteme

1.9 The Musical Episteme: towards a model
music and the past discovered in the present
[Musical experience becomes a tool which gives us the means to reunderstand elements of our culture in a new context]
TEMPORAL AND SPATIAL WORLD: music and its presence
[Music and dance teach us how to experience space and time as it is realised in the present, becoming a phenomenological tool for understanding a particular dynamic environment]
[The sociocultural nature of music]
1.10 Conclusion: towards a musical episteme

Chapter Two: The Musical Text

2.1 Existing approaches to Texts
2.2 Text as Performance
2.3 Text as a tool for Cultural Perpetuation and Change
2.4 The Balinese Musical Text
2.5 Text as a Means for Perpetuating Balinese Culture
2.6 Progressive Cultural Texts as Rites of Modernization
2.7 The Avant-Garde Musical Text:
Kreasi Baru, Gong Kebyar and its performative environment
2.8 Self-Reflexive Textuality
2.9 Intercultural Texts
2.10 Conclusion: the importance of a new approach to text

Chapter Three: The Musical Text as an Embedded and Embodied Sign

3.1 Introduction
3.2 The Embedded Sign
3.3 The Process of Semiosis
3.4 Understanding Habitus
3.5 Musical Signs and Embodiment
3.6 The Adaptive Nature of Balinese Signs in Performance
3.7 Organic Nature of the Musical Sign
3.8 Spatial and Temporal Aspects of the Balinese Embodied Sign
3.9 Change in the Balinese Embodied Sign
3.10 Conclusion: the organic musical sign

Chapter Four: Musicality as a Sociocultural Tool

4.1 The Pervading Musical Paradigm
4.2 Cultural Competence: perspectives on music and society
4.3 The Gong Kebyar Phenomenon
4.31 The ‘times are a changing’ theory
4.32 The Chamber Orchestra Theory
4.33 The Artistic Ferment Theory
4.34 The Dismembering of the Feudal State Secularisation Theory
4.35 The Radical Model Theory
4.4 Bali in the Context of Old and New Order Indonesia
4.5 Political influence in Balinese Cultural Events: STSI
4.6 Musical Competitions: expression of Balinese archetypes in a constantly
changing form
4.7 Recent Developments in Balinese Music and Dance
4.8 Balinese Youth turning to Western Pop
4.9 New Fusion Forms in Contemporary Balinese Performance
4.10 Conclusion: the future of Balinese music

FINAL CONCLUSIONS: tradition is change


Glossary - Index





May 2008 Nachtschimmen Music-Theatre-Language Night Shades, Ghent (Belgium)*
Send mail to zachar@nachtschimmen.eu with questions or comments about this website.

September 27 2013.



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