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Javanese Music & Performance

Javanese Gamelan and the West

Javanese Gamelan and the West studies the meaning, forms, and traditions of the Javanese performing arts as they developed and changed through their contact with Western culture. Authored by a gamelan performer, teacher, and scholar, the book traces the adaptations in gamelan art as a result of Western colonialism in nineteenth-century Java, showing how Western musical and dramatic practices were domesticated by Javanese performers creating hybrid Javanese-Western art forms, such as with the introduction of brass bands in gendhing mares court music and West Javanese tanjidor, and Western theatrical idioms in contemporary wayang puppet plays. The book also examines the presentation of Javanese gamelan to the West, detailing performances in World’s Fairs and American academia and considering its influence on Western performing arts and musical and performance studies. The end result is a comprehensive treatment of the formation of modern Javanese gamelan and a fascinating look at how an art form dramatizes changes and developments in a culture.

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Gamelan Scores: Javanese Wayang Kulit Tales in Three Dramatic Styles (Wayang Educational Package)
Purbo Asmoro (Author), Phil Acimovic (Editor), and Kathryn Emerson (Editor)

This book contains notation for all the Javanese gamelan music (as well as sulukan and vocal chorus texts and melodies) presented in six wayangkulit performances that were filmed by the Lontar Foundation: Makutharama and Sesaji Raja Suya, each performed in classical style, contemporary-interpretive style, and condensed style. All gamelan accompaniment for these performances was arranged by renowned shadow master (dhalang), Purbo Asmoro.

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Unplayed Melodies: Javanese Gamelan and the Genesis of Music Theory
Marc Perlman

The gamelan music of Central Java is one of the world’s great orchestral traditions. Its rich sonic texture is not based on Western-style harmony or counterpoint, but revolves around a single melody. The nature of that melody, however, is puzzling. In this book, Marc Perlman uses this puzzle as a key to both the art of the gamelan and the nature of musical knowledge in general.

Some Javanese musicians have suggested that the gamelan’s central melody is inaudible, an implicit or “inner” melody. Yet even musicians who agree on its existence may disagree about its shape. Drawing on the insights of Java’s most respected musicians, Perlman shows how irregularities in the relationships between the melodic parts have suggested the existence of “unplayed melodies.” To clarify the differences between these implicit-melody concepts, Unplayed Melodies tells the stories behind their formulation, identifying each as the creative contribution of an individual musician in a postcolonial context (sometimes in response to Western ethnomusicological theories). But these stories also contain evidence of the general cognitive processes through which musicians find new ways to conceptualize their music. Perlman’s inquiry into these processes illuminates not only the gamelan’s polyphonic art, but also the very sources of creative thinking about music.

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Javanese Performances on an Indonesian Stage: Celebrating Culture, Embracing Change (Southeast Asia Publications Series)
Barbara Hatley

During the period of turmoil that gripped late twentieth-century Indonesia, theater troupes in Central Java staged stories of the past that feature a familiar cast of rulers, nobles, clown servants, and ordinary people. However, these performances did more than simply pass on age-old cultural “traditions.” By stretching the framework of Javanese theater convention, they aired opposition cultural and political perspectives, and expressed a dynamic response to social change.

As political pressures intensified in 1997-1998, actors staged witty, critical performances to enthusiastic, oppositionist crowds, but the dismantling of repressive state control after the fall of Suharto diminished interest in indirect, political critiques from the stage, and economic weakness caused patronage and sponsorship to dry up. By 2003-2004 a revival of sorts was underway as performers engaged with the politics of regional autonomy and democratization, and actors responded to the devastating 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake by staging rudimentary shows in the worst-affected areas to help sustain community spirit.

Barbara Hatley’s account of these tumultuous years shows how performers and audiences adapted, resisted, incorporated, and survived in the face of political upheaval and regime change, capitalist transformation, globalization, and economic crisis.

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