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Being An Indonesian Musician in a Culturally Rich Country

As a young musician in Indonesia, I realized that my musical landscape and experience have undergone a lot of changes, both positive and negative. The negative has taught me a lot, and the positive has helped me get to where I am now, and I owe it all to the country!

So, in honor of Indonesian Independence Day, I would like to discuss how Indonesian traditional music has inspired my musical approach, as well as its impact on the international arena. Indonesian music and artists have come a long way since we first heard them, and I don't think I give them enough credit!

One of Gamelan’s initial exposures to the world

Remember the famously acclaimed Claude Debussy? It was Paris in 1889, and the French Revolution was exactly 100 years old. The country was commemorating the occasion with Paris Exposition Universelle, which was essentially an exceptional World’s Fair. The significance of the celebration was underscored by the construction of the Eiffel Tower, which was built just for the occasion.

Claude Debussy, at twenty-seven years old, visited the many exhibitions from around the world and was enthralled by the gamelan music and the dancing that accompanied it that he saw in the Javanese pavilion. He was stopped and soon enthralled as he was watching the collection of metal percussion instruments that served as the royal orchestra in the country's regional courts. He noticed the timbre, tuning, polyphonic layering, and rhythmic structure as the four main components of gamelan music, and the beauty of all those at once.

The intertwining rhythm patterns and exotic, ringing sound surprised Debussy and soon inspired him to compose Pagodes, a piano composition that evokes those noises in 1903.

Pagodes examined the timbre, tuning, polyphonic layering, and rhythmic structure, complemented by the Western musical creation as the main element. It captured the sound of the gamelan, and it highlighted the uniqueness of both instruments’ combinations. At that time, Debussy had represented Indonesian gamelan in a remarkable manner, rather than a mere nebulous impression.

Following Debussy, a slew of Western composers succumbed to the gamelan's allure. Some, such as Colin McPhee in the 1930s, traveled to Indonesia and resided there for a while to learn about the gamelan deeply. Others, such as Lou Harrison, had even recreated their own gamelans in the United States.

Gamelan is a beautiful instrument, in my opinion. The tuning differs from Western music, in which it has five pitches placed evenly throughout an octave of Javanese slendro scale. As a result, each interval is greater than a major second but less than a minor third. The "equal" distance between gamelans is approximate, which results in interesting variances. The gamelan's basic pitch is not fixed to a global standard, but to one determined by the maker, usually the highest note he can sing comfortably. How unique is that?

Jaya Suprana, my first favorite Indonesian musician

Of course, Jaya Suprana takes first place. The Denpasar-born artist is well-known for his exceptional abilities, as he possesses a one-of-a-kind personality, musical genius, and perfect inventiveness that no one else in Indonesia has ever possessed. Fragmen and Tembang Alit are two of his most well-known songs, which reflect his exceptional inventiveness and life experience.

He is currently serving as the President of the Jamu Jago group, which specializes in herbal medicine and pharmaceutical pharmaceuticals. In 1990, he also established the Museum of the Indonesian World Records (MURI), an institution dedicated to documenting Indonesia’s many outstanding achievements.

Mochtar Embut, the second and remarkable Indonesian musician who died young

My second favorite Indonesian musician is the ever-popular Mochtar Embut, whose musical career began in the same way that mine did - with a piano! He began learning music on his own (how incredible!), and after a lot of practice, he was able to master the instrument. Yes, you read that correctly - practicing! He was a well-known conductor in addition to being a composer, a career that brought him to Japan, which was rather an achivement at the time.

Every tune in his song radiated loneliness and shyness, as he was a well-known figure who shied away from the limelight.

Even with his participation in an international music festival in Japan in 1971, Mochtar Embut wanted to remain behind the scenes. His song, With the Deepest Love from Jakarta, was well-liked around the world and garnered high praise from the committee, who did not know that there was a musician around them.

Mochtar Embut had made a significant contribution to Indonesia's opera music landscape. However, due to his excessive work dedication, he died at the young age of 39.

So, who is your favorite Indonesian musician? Let us know in the comment box below! Any questions? Hit us up here!

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