EOL 7 CD Reviews

"Indonesia" CD series, compiled by Philip Yampolsky. Smithsonian Folkways.

Indonesia 10 cd thumbnail
Vol. 10

Indonesia vol. 11 CD cover thumbnail
Vol. 11

Indonesia vol. 12 CD cover thumbnail
Vol. 12

Reviews by Benjamin Brinner

finalized 29 August, 2001


What a testimony to the cultural differences that threaten to tear Indonesia apart! These three recordings are part of an exemplary series that makes major advances in documenting the rich diversity of musical performance in Indonesia.

Philip Yampolsky, who recorded, compiled, and annotated the entire twenty-CD series, is to be praised and thanked for his thoroughness, attention to detail, and generosity in making extensive supplementary material available. The thick booklets that accompany the recordings are supplemented by a website that contains lyrics, further notes and large bibliographies.

In this series Yampolsky has undertaken the mission of documenting the less widely known types of Indonesian music, consciously skirting music from Java and Bali that is widely available (though not in such beautifully-documented recordings) in order to focus our attention on the amazing variety of musical expression practiced by members of other ethnic groups throughout the Indonesian archipelago. He is not chained by art/folk/pop distinctions and the like, presenting a spread of newer and older music and contextualizing it in terms of its lineage and standing within ethnically and geographically defined communities.

Yampolsky draws on many years of experience in various parts of Indonesia and on his own extensive research into the history of the Indonesian recording industry, part of which was published in his comprehensive discography "Lokananta: A Discography of the National Recording Company of Indonesia 1957-1985" (Madison: University of Wisconsin Center for Southeast Asian Studies, 1987 [email]).

Yet one person could not hope to know enough to represent the many traditions selected for this far-ranging series. Here we find another of Yampolsky’s strengths—his willingness to collaborate with local scholars and performers as well as other foreign researchers specializing in particular musical traditions. While Yampolsky wrote all the notes for volumes 11 and 12, he engaged Danilyn Rutherford as co-author for volume 10, and acknowledges the assistance of other scholars and performers for each of the three disks. The reliability of the series is enhanced by Yampolsky’s extensive collaboration with researchers, both Indonesian and foreign, who have developed significant expertise in the musics recorded. His collaboration with MSPI, the Society for Indonesian Performing Arts, which issues the series in Indonesia (at a substantially lower price) is also laudable.

The futility of defining an “Indonesian” music is brilliantly demonstrated by these disks. The discussion of cultural diversity of Indonesia in the introductory note common to all the disks in this series ought to humble anyone bent on grand generalizations or essentialization. The range of styles and approaches to music-making in these three albums alone is striking.

Some of the greatest contrasts are to be found within a single cultural area: the harmonies of the female church choirs heard on tracks 18 and 19 of the volume devoted to Biak (vol. 10) could hardly be more different from the older, pre-Christian male songs with drums heard on most of the other tracks on the same CD. The yospan band on the last track shows yet another facet of Biak music. Equal variety surfaces on volumes 11 and 12. On the latter the instrumental talempong and kulintang tracks contrast greatly with the didong singing, involving soloist and chorus accompanied by lively clapping, and the quite different salawat dulang, a vocal duet with percussive parts played on trays. This diversity may not make for optimal background listening but that is just fine. It is a strong antidote to the false impressions of stylistic unity that may be mistakenly gained from recordings, both indigenous and foreign, which focus on a single genre or style with the intent of offering an aesthetically unified experience.

On the other hand, the albums are more integrated than most anthologies, thanks to the extensive notes and the inclusion of several items from a given style or tradition which allow the listener to gain an impression of the greater variety that exists beyond the recordings.

Each disk is accompanied by a thick booklet, packed with information about each musical tradition and the people who make it, as well as specific comments on each track, maps, and a few photos. Those who want more will find a bibliography in the booklet and supplementary materials, such as transcriptions of song lyrics and some translations into English, on the Folkways Indonesia web site (which includes downloadable Microsoft Word files).

The photos in the booklets are excellent, but one could wish for more, particularly when a multitude of unfamiliar instruments are mentioned in the liner notes and only a few small, uncaptioned photos are placed on the back cover of the booklet. Perhaps a few more could be added to the web pages.

Next section: review of vol. 10

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