In Bali, the concept of désa kala patra (place-time-context) anchors the levels of meaning enacted in performances of tembang (vocal music), informs the construction of traditional dance and theater events, and underlies pedagogical methods.
The preservation of this ideological core is fundamental to Balinese identity as modern elements, such as electronic sound technology, are woven into the cultural fabric. The concept of taksu (spiritual energy) illuminates the religious underpinnings of Balinese artistic values.
This according to Voices in Bali: Energies and perceptions in vocal music and dance theater by Edward Herbst (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1997).
Above, Pura Besakih (Mother Temple of Besakih) is a stunning example of Balinese aesthetics; below, a taste of Balinese gamelan and dance.
More posts about Bali are here.
In May 2019 Songlines Magazine and the PRS Foundation launched a competition to find the best remix of David Attenborough’s recording of a performance of Balinese gendér wayang, a style of Indonesian gamelan that features a quartet of ten-keyed metallophones. Among the reactions of gamelan enthusiasts was concern that the unnamed musicians (or their descendants) were receiving neither recognition nor royalties for this reuse of their work.
The music and instruments in the recording (said to date from 1956 but in fact recorded in 1968, as discovered by Edward Herbst since the publication of the article) were instantly recognizable to people who knew the repertoire of the village of Teges Kanginan; the gamelan set is presumed to have belonged to this village for at least 100 years.
Soon after the competition was announced, the American ethnomusicologist Edward Herbst met with the village leader, his staff, and local musicians, and listened to the original recording as one of the current players tapped out the basic melody on one of the historic instruments. All the pitches matched, and everyone agreed that the recording was of the Teges gamelan, and that the royalties should go to that village.
Herbst presented the royalties to the village leader, and all were elated that the royalties would provide seed money for restoring and reviving this legacy gamelan, and that Teges could regain its heritage.
This according to “Bali remixed and revisited” by Edward Herbst (Songlines 150 [August–September 2019], pp. 50-53).
Above, Herbst (center) with the gathered villagers; below, the recording in question begins at 1:05.
Çudamani, a sekaa (a communal club under the auspices of a ward) and a sanggar (a more tightly governed and broader arts organization) in the Balinese village of Pengosekan, is committed to studying and teaching Balinese music and dance; it is also a transnational arts phenomenon.
Çudamani is first a traditional sekaa, in the sense that it is committed to its local community, and one of the main missions of the troupe is to ngayah, or perform voluntary performance service at temple festivals. The original troupe was initiated in the late 1990s; today, the organization includes at least four different sub-groups (including children’s clubs).
The group is postmodern because of the transnational basis, the neotraditionalism, the mixing of new and traditional musics and the play of genre, the fluidity of local and global identities, and the fact that the troupe seems to defy preconceived notions of sekaa or sanggar and to transcend some principles upon which such organizations have been established. While its international notoriety distinguishes this group from most others, Çudamani’s global participation and embrace of neotraditionalism illuminates growing trends within Bali and provides a case study of circulating, 21st-century ideation on cultural representation and the role of the arts.
This according to “Between traditionalism and postmodernism: The Balinese performing arts institution Çudamani” by David D. Harnish, an essay included in Performing arts in postmodern Bali: Changing interpretations, founding traditions (Aaachen: Shaker Verlag, 2013, pp. 257–77).
Below, a performance in 2022.
In summer 2018 the Asia-Europe Music Research Center at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music launched Asian-European music research e-journal, a peer-reviewed open-access journal that publishes scholarship on traditional and popular musics and fieldwork research, and on recent issues and debates in Asian and European communities. The journal places a specific emphasis on interconnectivity in time and space between Asian and European cultures, as well as within Asia and Europe.
The journal provides a forum to explore the impacts of post-colonial and globalizing movements and processes on these musics, the musicians involved, sound-producing industries, and resulting developments in today’s music practices. It adopts an open-minded perspective on diverse musics and musical knowledge cultures.
Below, a silent film shot in Bali in 1928—part of Bali 1928, a repatriation project discussed in the inaugural issue.
Kecak, one of the most popular dramatic dance forms performed for tourists on Bali, was developed cooperatively by Balinese artists and Western expatriates—most prominently I Wayan Limbak and Walter Spies—with the explicit purpose of meeting the tastes and expectations of a Western audience.
Driven by economic considerations, in the late 1960s kecak was standardized into the kecak ramayana known today. Kecak ramayana does not appeal to Balinese audiences in an artistic sense; instead it is perceived as a traditional way of generating income for the community. In contrast, kecak kreasi (or kecak kontemporer) has been developed by local choreographers since the 1970s.
With its use of both pre-1960 traditional elements and Western contemporary dance, kecak kreasi is rooted in the contemporary Balinese performing arts scene. These dances appeal primarily to a Balinese audience, showing that kecak as a genre can be more than income from tourism; in its contemporary form it is valued by Balinese audiences on the basis of its artistic value.
This according to “Performing kecak: A Balinese dance tradition between daily routine and creative art” by Kendra Stepputat (Yearbook for traditional music XLIV  pp. 49–70); this issue of Yearbook for traditional music, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Above and below, Cak kolosal inovatif at SMA/SMK Negeri Bali Mandara in September 2016.
BONUS: A taste of the tourist version.
Gender wayang music of Bapak I Wayan Loceng from Sukawati, Bali: A musical biography, musical ethnography, and critical edition by Brita Renée Heimarck (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2015) is at once a memorial to I Wayan Loceng (1926–2006) and a tribute to his great musical genius.
This new critical edition documents nine compositions from the esteemed Balinese gender wayang repertoire. The music derives from the musical mastery of Loceng, arguably the most renowned gender wayang expert in Bali, who lived in the village of Sukawati.
This edition places the music within a historical, cultural, and biographical context and introduces a broad theoretical framework that contains a new definition for the discipline of ethnomusicology, and substantial discussion of the genres of musical biography, musical ethnography, and ethnomusicology of the individual.
The book also introduces pertinent scholarly perspectives, offers biographical information pertaining to Loceng, delineates the cultural concepts and contexts for performance and background of the shadow play tradition in Bali, and clarifies key aspects of the music itself.
Above and below, I Wayan Loceng in action.
In August 1928 representatives from the German record companies Odeon and Beka were sent to Bali; their efforts resulted in 98 recordings on 78 rpm discs of a wide variety of examples of Balinese music.
As it happened, at that time Bali was undergoing an artistic revolution. A new style known as kebyar was rapidly gaining popularity, and older ceremonial styles were literally disappearing, as their bronze instruments were melted down and reforged to accommodate the new style’s requirements; the Odeon/Beka recordings preserve several musical traditions that were later lost.
These were the recordings that inspired the young Canadian composer Colin McPhee, who first heard them in 1929. McPhee went to Bali in 1931 and remained there for nearly a decade; his activities included making painstaking transcriptions of Balinese pieces.
This according to the commentary by Edward Herbst that accompanies the CD The roots of gamelan: The first recordings—Bali, 1928; New York, 1941 (World Arbiter, 1999).
Above, a Gamelan gong gede group in Denpasar around the time the recordings were made; this tradition dates from the 15th century. Gong gede survives today, as the video below attests.