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Fönstret is a project of Stockholm’s Edition Festival for Other Music focused on publishing new works and surfacing material from the festival’s archives. 

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Fönstret 

Fönstret is a project of Stockholm’s Edition Festival for Other Music focused on publishing new works and surfacing material from the festival’s archives.

#6  In Tune (Book)
#5  Isak Hedtjärn — Kvarpa(LP)
#4  Kommun — Ephemeralds (CD)
#3  People & Places (Book)
#2  Out of Order (Films)
#1  Portraits (Films)


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Edition Festival
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Instagram
Twitter
Fönstret #6

Printed volume of conversations and essays published on the occasion of the Sixth Edition Festival for Other Music. 

96pages. b&w, soft cover w. french flaps.

Pre-order !  Ships March 2023.


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In Tune

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Uday Bhawalkar & Catherine Lamb

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Dewa Alit & Rob Waring
Sanne Krogh Groth & Nils Bubandt
Gamelan in transition

Kasimyn & John Chantler

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Kristofer Svensson
Nature manifests in function
Kristofer Svensson &
Guðmundur Steinn Gunnarsson

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Ellen Arkbro & Peter Margasak



Sanne Krogh Groth & Nils Bubandt

Sanne Krogh Groth is Associate professor in Musicology and office director at Sound Environment Center at Lund University, and editor-in-chief of the academic section of the online journal Seismograf. Groth's research addresses historiographic, aesthetic, political and institutional issues within the fields of contemporary music, electronic music and sound art in the 20th and 21st century. She is a participant in the research project Java-Futurism that investigates the conundrum of why noise music is a political provocation in Indonesia, a country in which few people otherwise worry or are upset about noise.
        Nils Bubandt is also a participant in the research project Java-Futurism. Bubandt is Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology at Aarhus University, Denmark. He has carried out ethnographic fieldwork on politics, witchcraft, and magic in Indonesia since 1991. His current research interests revolve around conspiracy theory, climate change, environmental disruption, and multi-species ethnography.

Gamelan in transition. When experimental music is a living-with

The gamelan music of Java and Bali in Indonesia is well-known in the Western world for its court ensembles, interlocking patterns, weaving microtonal melodies, and long performances that may last from dusk till dawn. European and American composers ranging from Claude Debussy, György Ligeti and Per Nørgård, to John Cage, Terry Riley and Steve Reich have been directly inspired by gamelan and found in its microtonal aesthetics and musical-mystical cosmology a welcome challenge to the tonal hierarchy, linear progression, and pretensions to universal rationality of Western art music. Gamelan instruments have over the years also found their way into many Western universities whose ensembles have become not merely experts but also custodians of this genre. The extended love affair in the West with gamelan has primarily been a love that has sought to separate. Gamelan was primarily seen as an exotic source of sublime inspiration that allowed Western music to change, while gamelan itself was seen as authentic and static.
        But things are changing, and gamelan is in no easy way a portal to a static mystical East any longer. In contemporary Indonesia, composers and experimental musicians are engaging with gamelan in new ways that use it as a source of inspiration to re-envision not only what traditional music is but also what experimental music might be. Dewa Alit (b. 1973) is at the forefront of this creative movement. With his ensemble Gamelan Salukat, Dewa Alit seeks to pioneer new paths to experimental music by innovating Balinese gamelan. This attempt to experiment with music by innovating gamelan has a long history in Indonesia itself. Already in the 1970s, Indonesian composers such as Abdul Sjukur (1935-2015), Adhi Susanto (1941-2022) and Sapto Raharjo (1955-2009) experimented with their own combinations of techniques and aesthetics that drew from both Western art music and gamelan to establish a uniquely Indonesian version of contemporary avant-garde music. These Indonesian musical experiments came to be known in Indonesia as musik kontemporer to explicitly mark their difference to Western contemporary music. An example of this historical chapter of aesthetic experimentation that sought to incorporate Western musical influence into gamelan was Adhi Susanto’s invention of the Gameltron — an electronic gamelan that could be played by one person alone.
        These Indonesian compositional experiments of the 1970s were part of a long modernist moment in Indonesian political history, transected by the genocide of an estimated 500,000 suspected Communists between 1965-1966. But elite political history alone cannot explain these musical experiments with gamelan. Rather, as contemporary musicians in Indonesia are now arguing, there is a fundamental element of experimentation built into the aesthetics of gamelan music itself — an experimental element that is deployed from the top to the bottom of Balinese and Javanese society. Gamelan is primarily a refined art form associated with the royal courts in Java and with religious ceremonies in Bali. These courtly and religious art forms are today cherished and taught in fine arts programs in Indonesian universities. In 2021, gamelan was officially added to UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which has promoted a host of cultural programs in which the refined forms of gamelan are taught to children in villages across Java and Bali. But in addition to mimicking the refined gamelan performances of religious ceremonies and courtly traditions, villagers also use gamelan instruments for other and more subversive and experimental purposes. The jathilan dance ritual in Central and East Java is an example of this.
        Jathilan is a trance dance ritual involving riders on flat bamboo horses. The performances are accompanied by scaled-down versions of Javanese gamelan ensembles and with a much freer form. Today the classical gamelan instruments at jathilan performances — the large bronze gong, the smaller hanging gongs called kempul, the horizontal gongs called kethuk kempyang or kenong and the vertical hand-drum known as kendhang — are invariably combined with a Western drum set and a keyboard, and the popular tunes of the dangdut genre to heighten the entertainment value of the events. Like the gamelan performances we have experienced at the palace of the Sultan of Yogyakarta, the gamelan performance at jathilan dance events is also always amplified through massive loudspeaker systems and played at very high volume. However, in contrast to the refined gamelan performances in the Javanese courts which are seen as symbols of political power, the dynamic and chaotic practices of jathilan trance dances in the villages are often seen as forms of resistance to a political and aesthetic hegemony of the Indonesian elite. Gamelan, in short, is contested and the object of experimentation at multiple levels. Indeed, for many experimental musicians in Indonesia gamelan is at its very aesthetic core all about experimentation.
        The Yogyakarta-based Sandikala Ensemble belongs to those who say so. For them, the current experiments with gamelan in Indonesian experimental music is about recovering and developing this aesthetic core as a form of experimental music. Sandikala Ensemble was formed in 2020 by the composer Dionysius [Dion] Arya Nataraja. It comprises the following members: Yustiawan [Yusti] Paradigma Umar, Roni Driyastoto, Suseno Setyo Wibowo, Mustika Garis Sejati, Muhammad Khoirur Roziqin, Dwi Ariyanto, Muhammad Eko Sudarmanto (crew), and Alva Christo Yoshe Wijaya (crew).
        During a visit to Yogyakarta in January 2023 we spoke to Sandikala members Yusti and Roni, along with gamelan teacher and improvisation musician Setya Rahdiyatmi Kurnia Jatilinuar. A few days before the interview we had heard the three musicians perform at various improvisational concert constellations at two ongoing festivals: Jogja Noise Bombing Festival and Kombo. Festival of Free Improvised Music. At these concerts, Yusti and Roni — who play gendér (metallophone) and rebab (string instrument), two classical gamelan instruments — improvised with a variety of musicians and artists playing electric guitar, synthesizer, electronics and DIY devices, drum and cello. In one performance even a dalang (puppeteer) participated. Setya had been performing as vocalist at one of the Kombo concerts. Sandikala also performed from scores made by Dion, where improvisation also played a role. “Dion is a great fan of Dewa Alit” Yusti told us. Inspired by Dewa Alit, who builds new gamelan instruments that expands the classic tuning of gamelan of either 5 and 7 to 11 tones, Dion has developed gamelan instruments for Sandikala Ensemble to a microtonal tuning system of no less than 36 tones.
        We sat down with Setya, Yusti and Roni and asked them: “what is the relation between gamelan and experimental music in Indonesia today”. Setya began her answer by explaining why she as a teacher and practitioner of karawitan, the term used in Yogyakarta for the art complex of which gamelan instruments are a part, was drawn to perform in the festival for free improvised music:
       
The Kombo Festival and traditional karawitan resemble each other because both provide a space of freedom for musicians. As a performer in both experimental music and gamelan, one has to create a space of freedom for the other performers to interpret and in which to create their own music.

These spaces of freedom differ in their framing, however. Setya continues: “in gamelan the space of freedom is one of based on pathet and laras, while the space of freedom in experimental music is one based on rasa.” 
        Setya’s answer opened up a Pandora’s box for us, one we are still struggling to understand fully. On the surface, the answer is about technical issues such as tuning systems, composition, and performance rules. But it is also part of a philosophy of aesthetic experimentation and life itself. To see how, let us start slowly with the technical.
        Laras is the Javanese word for tuning system or scale of the gamelan. There are two overall systems in classical gamelan, namely slendro (with five tones per ‘octave’) and pelog (with seven tones per ‘octave’). It is these scales that Dewa Alit has experimentally expanded to eleven and Sandikala Ensemble to thirty-six. However, there are no fixed intervals or standard pitch for the tuning of the gamelan instruments (such as one finds in the ‘A’ in a Western musical scale). Therefore, each set of gamelan instruments follows its own internal attunement. This means, for instance, that a gendér (metallophone) used in and tuned to one set of gamelan instruments cannot be used in another set. Pathet, meanwhile, is the Javanese word for an aspect of music that has no English equivalent. A pathet, as Setya explained,

can, for instance, be the arrangement of tones in a specific tuning system or laras which creates a particular atmosphere or the mood for the piece. Pathet can also be ‘the division of labour’ between the musical notes in a composition of a laras.

Pathet is a kind of melodic concept. There are many tones in each set of a composition (called gendhing) that musicians of the melodic instruments (such as the gendér and the rebab) can play, some they must play, and there are few they cannot play. However, which tones they can, must or cannot play depends on many specific circumstances, including the tuning system (pelog and slendro) that provides a loose hierarchy of pitches; the time when the piece is to be played, and the mood of the melody. The pathet is in other words a guideline that provides the possibility of various ways of improvisation within the given framework. But it is not totally fixed. Just as in regard to the composition or laras, there is no fixed rule here. The aesthetic space of interpretive freedom in the gamelan in other words is both restricted and open.
        As Yusti puts it: “Every player takes a different path from A to B but all arrive at the same aesthetic destination”. To a Western ear this may sound a lot like improvisation, and it actually is. However, the gamelan player has to manage this space through refinement and restraint of their own behaviour, both key virtues of philosophy and society in both Java and Bali. It is this restraint that exactly allows the other players, in turn to thrive and grow creatively. Gamelan in that sense is a form of experimentation that relates to a particular aesthetics and social philosophy of life.
        The aesthetic space of freedom in experimental music, as Setya told us, is similar and yet different. To explain the freedom in experimental music, Setya refers to rasa, another term for which there is no good English equivalent. An originally Sanskrit term, rasa is associated with both Hindu mysticism in Bali and Javanese mysticism (kejawen). It encompasses a range of meanings from ‘affect’, ‘mood’, and ‘intuition’ to ‘taste’ that are all considered necessary to perceive the hidden or spiritual significance of reality. Rasa is a central term of Javanese and Balinese notions of self and key also to the embodied ability to play classical music like gamelan in both Java and Bali. “Rasa is crucial to being a good gamelan player”, Setya tells us, but goes on to argue that this applies in equal measure to experimental music. Seen through this lens, well-played experimental music contains the same possibility to perceive a hidden dimension of reality as gamelan. This, however, also requires constraint of a certain kind. Equating the affect of rasa with the insanity but sublime insight that is associated with love, Setya continues:

Rasa itself is not enough. It has to be tempered by an intuition for and with others as well as a certain kind of common sense — with akal … It is like falling in love. The more in love you are with someone, the crazier you become, and the bigger your ego, your desire (nafsu) becomes. Your love, if not tempered by common sense, is no longer realistic. Rasa is like love. It has to be tempered by akal.

Rasa involves a constraint of the special kind of madness that informs individualism and egotism, a madness that may hide in love as much as in music or business. Rasa is nothing if not also a feeling-with, a playing-with, and a living-with. Setya and Roni explain:
        It does not matter how good a musician you are, if you cannot play with others by valuing other people and allowing them to be good. Improvisation is therefore hard because it is a matter of how best to ‘marry’ the other. Because improvisation is like married life, a promise to compromise in order to let the other person live and flower.
        Setya, Roni and and Yusti were helping us understand the fundamentally social nature of musical experimentation through a Javanese vocabulary. In this, we also began to see the promise of a new kind of improvisation at the cusp between gamelan and experimental music. Gamelan, they agreed, “is not just music but also a philosophy of life. In life no one lives alone”. But, as they went on to insist,

It is the same in contemporary experimental music. In life no one lives alone. It does not matter how good a musician you are. In order to play well, you have to play with others. This means that you create the ground on which the flower of other people’s music can grow.

Experimentation, we were beginning to see, is no more a Western monopoly than the aesthetics of gamelan is a purely Indonesian phenomenon. If done well, both relies on a conscious and unconscious listening for the shared hidden melody that emerges between musicians. It is a shared creation that feels like the kind of love that is truly selfless, the marriage that is truly for the other, the kind of farming that allows the flowers of others to grow.
        The musical marriage between gamelan and experimental music that Setya, Roni, and Yusti are envisioning here on behalf also of other experimental musicians in Java is not without resistance. Some classic gamelan players in Java are uncomfortable with and even offended by any suggestion to experiment with gamelan beyond its traditional limits. Some even worry about divine retribution. This reluctance is part of the reason why experiments with gamelan requires a great deal of social and aesthetic courage. It also explains why the redesigned gamelan instruments feel so new. As Roni told us:

Any experimentation with gamelan in Indonesia is ironically hindered by the fact that those with the most intimate, embodied knowledge of it are the least likely to change it. Therefore, it is only very few who are able to do so. Dion, like Dewa Alit, has intimate knowledge of gamelan. But Dion is not himself a practitioner of gamelan music. That is why he can change it by bringing it into dialogue with Western experimental composition.

Setya agrees: “if I had been a singer in the gamelan ensemble (pesinden), I would not be able to improvise with my voice in the way I did at the Kombo festival”.
        The experiments across Western art music and Indonesian gamelan provide not merely a different vocabulary, but also open up a new ecology of creative practices for experimental music that is as much a living-with as a playing-with. What is the colour of creativity when it is not selfish? What is the colour of artistic freedom when it allows others to thrive? What is the colour of life, if it is with others? It was these sorts of fundamental ecological questions that the aesthetic practices of Dewa Alit along with Sandikala and others in the younger generation of Indonesian experimental music were asking. “The effect”, as Setya and Roni put it:

of combining gamelan and experimental music is to create a style of music with a different colour — a different voice or timbre — that is not available in gamelan or experimental music themselves.

That, it seems to us is the real promise of aesthetic experimentation: to learn to see invisible colours, to allow unexpected flowers to grow on shared fields, to hear the unheard melody that one can make only in the company of others.