Preserving Traditional Music

Reading the How Music Works book made me think: David Byrne is a great person. He is a design school student, a singer and leader of a legendary punk band Talking Heads, but he is also a musicologist (or ethnomusicologist) whose writing is pleasant to read.

Through this book Byrne describes the narrative about music nicely. At first glance it looks like an autobiographical story about his musical career, but actually this book is full of knowledge of music theory, anthropology, history, even ethnomusicology—if we understand the latter is a combination of many other disciplines.

Byrne discusses musical forms such as acoustic, recording technology, to the earth-sky case in music while describing the interrelationship of Balinese gamelan with the worship of the Omnipotent God, and tribal African ecstatic rhythms which are then converted to various modern world music.

As same as with Byrne’s efforts to documenting world music, Vincent Moon in my opinion is a cool ethnomusicologist too.

Even though he never ordained himself as an ethnomusicologist, this list of filmmaker video works contained documentation of music videos from various parts of the world. Starting from exotic samba, mysticism jathilan land of Java, the procession of the calling God a la Senyawa, and retro movement a la White Shoes & The Couples Company in urban landscape.

Whereas previously Moon is known for video works take-away-show -style La Blogotheque. It’s an indie scene holy grail show.

Moon’s statement in a TED presentation confirmed the reason why he finally deserved to be called as an ethnomusicologist: “I just want my next generation to know that there is a traditional music of our ancestors that is no less cool than Beyonce,”Moon said.

The way Moon presents documentation videos are very cool. In my opinion the ‘tumblrish’ style video is very sensitive to the tastes of ‘young’ people today. So Moon shows the coolness of the music of the ancestral tradition but in the present appearance.

Palmer Keen is another interesting figure. This man born in Uncle Sam’s country. He has been living in Bandung for a long time, then traveling around the archipelago with personal costs, to documenting various interesting music, sometimes in marginal areas and not at the center of culture. Then compile neatly the documentation on the Aural Archipelago page. His writings, sound recordings and adventure videos are presented there, waiting to be learned by knowledge lovers. Palmer was born in the American tradition, not even an ethnomusicology graduate.

Keen created Aural Archipelago because he really understood that internet sites were the most reasonable publication choice. The site is cheap, fast and popular. After all, most people are now more fond of poking on the screen rather than flipping wide newspapers.

David Byrne, Vincent Moon and Palmer Keen are not figures from the intellectual disciplines of Bruno Nettl and the gank. Nor are humans familiar with traditional music since childhood. But yet Byrne came out of his comfort zone as an honorary rock-star of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, then crossed the globe to overtake music, the tradition of modern, post-modern.

Moon traveling around the world armed with video cameras and high curiosity. While in Palmer Keen case, the question is emerging: what desire can force an American national traveling around Indonesia to record traditional music which is not his own root?

Probably the answer is so simple: curiosity and enthusiasm to gather knowledge

Because curiosity is the fuel, and its main purpose is to gather knowledge for humanity.

Shouldn’t ethnomusicologists in Indonesia use the same fuel of curiosity, then set a common goal: gather knowledge, instead of spending energy arguing “tradition must be sustainable, changes in any form must be limited”?

Knowledge is one way to elevate the degree and spirit of the nation, right? So why don’t we focus on gathering knowledge?

Perhaps, the curiosity that forced Moon around the world to record the music of the nations, made Byrne learn music outside CBGB’s noise and motivated Keen to learn to play genggong. Maybe that’s where they actually understand the nature of (western?) Music that they previously familiar with.

But what if it turns out that actually we, the Indonesian ethnomusicologists, make the East-West dichotomy in understanding music? While for the three people, music is music, without the need to frill the direction of the wind.

It is good for all ethnomusicologists of the archipelago to reflect on it: lest we are in a comfort zone that mores? Make us short-sighted, therefore, we cannot accept and understand other music. In fact, who know when we cultivate curiosity and open our minds to various forms of music and other knowledge, we will instead better understand the nature of our essential art?

After understanding the essence of our essential art, in the end we can understand that culture is not about the past, but also the present and the future. Indonesian ethnomusicologists should be attached to the present and future, not difficult to move on from the past.

Simply put, art and culture (in this case music) is a mirror of society. It cannot stand alone as an independent entity. That is, when society changes, automatically the art form will change. When a society shifts from an agrarian to an industrialist, the cultural model certainly changes.

Instead of spending the best debating staff between studying tradition or modernity, why don’t we respect and maintain traditional music by studying it according to the present context?

So that Indonesian ethnomusicologists can also say like Vincent Moon: “I just want my next generation to know that there is a traditional music of our ancestors that is no less cool than Beyonce.”

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