My primary research focus is contemporary art music in Indonesia, there called musik kontemporer. In addition to my dissertation, completed in 2014 for the PhD in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University, I have given numerous conference papers on this topic, and published a chapter in a volume on Performing Arts in Postmodern Bali. I also convened a symposium on New Music in Southeast Asia, in conjunction with a performance by the Momenta Quartet.

I am also interested in how traditional Javanese gamelan music shapes one’s perception of the passage of time. I initially explored this topic for my MA thesis, also completed at Wesleyan, and am currently returning to it. Other publications and presentations include a reflection on composing for gamelan in North America, a review of recordings of Javanese gamelan by John Noise Manis, and a paper on the “radical traditionalism” of Liu Sola and Yuji Takahashi.

Cosmopolitan, Nativist, Eclectic: Cultural Dynamics in Indonesian Musik Kontemporer

A dissertation completed in 2014 in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the PhD in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University


Indonesian musik kontemporer corresponds to what in anglophone contexts is called contemporary music, or more precisely contemporary art music. But while its name derives from European-language terms, and some of its practitioners are aptly characterized as Western-oriented, musik kontemporer is not simply the Indonesian instance of “the internationalization of twentieth-century avant-gardes” (Born 2000). No less prominent are traditionally-based composers, who with foundations in gamelan and other regional traditions have followed a different path to musical modernism and becoming cosmopolitan. Nearly all Western-oriented composers have “gone nativist,” writing also for traditional Indonesian instruments and the musicians that play them. The most exemplary work is single-mindedly modernist or experimentalist, but there is also work by those who, in drawing upon more conventional idioms, including those from the realm of pop, take a more eclectic approach. This dissertation presents an overview of musik kontemporer as a whole, and accounts for how it came by its distinctive profile. It documents its emergence in the 1970s in two Western-oriented scenes in Jogjakarta and Jakarta, and one traditionally-based scene in Surakarta. It also reviews its prehistory, to clarify the connections or lack thereof between musik kontemporer and its precursors, and more importantly to identify the roots of the cultural dynamics that shaped the field as it emerged. Case studies in the final three chapters examine how these cultural dynamics have also shaped the experiences, outlooks, and aspirations of individuals involved in the field. In place of the trope of influence, I instead examine the more relational phenomenon of aesthetic authority, charting its patterns of distribution. I examine both the absence of authority on musik kontemporer’s Western-oriented side, as a consequence of the underdeveloped state of Western art music performance in Indonesia, and how the prevalence among Indonesia’s cultural elite of what I characterize as a cosmopolitan nativist outlook has bolstered the aesthetic authority of that which relates in various ways to indigenous traditions. Finally, I examine the waning of authority, and blurring of boundaries, as composers have sought to connect with a broader socio-aesthetic base.


(PDF, 4.4 MB)