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Rethinking the History of Indonesian Music

October 27, 2021 @ 8:00 am - 5:00 pm

About the Conference

For the conference “Rethinking the History of Indonesian Music” six scholars will present 30-minute papers. There will then be 10-minute prepared responses from local respondents on topics related to music history in the geographical area currently identified as the Indonesian archipelago. The conference is part of the two-year, Luce Foundation project, “Toward a music history of the Indonesian archipelago.” With this open approach the conference seeks to explore topics of indigeneity, colonialism, the evolving artistry of modern gamelan, and the rethinking of Indonesian history. The night before the conference there will be a traditional Wayang shadow puppet play, and the evening of the conference there will be a UC Davis Symphony Orchestra program that will include Colin McPhee’s Tabuh-Tabuhan (written in 1936 with Balinese music in mind).

Scholar Participants and Topics

“The In-Between, History and Mythology in Javanese Performing Arts”
Sumarsam (Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music at Wesleyan University)

“Wayang as Mission: Religiously Inflected in Puppetry of Indonesia”
Kathy Foley (Distinguished Professor Emerita of Theatre Arts at UC Santa Cruz)

“Batak Seriosa: Timbre, Affect, and Musical Prestige in North Sumatra”
Julia Byl (Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology, University of Alberta)

“The History of Seven Toned Gamelan in Bali.”
I Wayan Dibia (Professor Emeritus of Dance at the Indonesian Art Institute, Denpasar)

“A Comparative Critique of Colonialisms in the Music Histories of Insular Southeast Asia”
David Irving (Research Professor at the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies in Barcelona)

“Intersections of ethnography and historiography in the constitution of sound archives from Indonesia”
Barbara Titus (Associate Professor of Cultural Musicology, University of Amsterdam)

About the Luce Foundation Project

From the 16th century until World War II, Christian missionaries to the Indonesian archipelago took an interest in indigenous music. Up until now the source materials have been difficult to find, scattered and ignored, but UC Davis professors Henry Spiller and Anna Maria Busse Berger have received a major grant from the Henry Luce Foundation’s Asia Program to investigate these sources and make these materials more accessible.

Spiller said: “It has been ignored because it was collected by missionaries and considered biased, but that’s throwing out the baby with the bathwater. We’re not trying to redeem the missionaries, but to make the priceless information they collected available to all interested parties.” The professors will focus primarily on work done by Dutch and German missionaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, although there are reports by Portuguese Jesuit missionaries dating to the 16th century.

The award to the College of Letters and Science’s Department of Music professors provides funding for research, two conferences, and a post-doctoral fellowship, this year filled by Dr. Dustin Wiebe.

Most European missionaries were trained to learn about the languages of the places they were posted. As an outgrowth of that, some began documenting music. The founding of the Berlin Phonogramm-Archive in 1900 boosted this documentation even further. The archive provided sound-recording equipment and training to missionaries and travelers.

The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to enrich public discourse by promoting innovative scholarship, cultivating new leaders, and fostering international understanding.


October 27, 2021
8:00 am - 5:00 pm
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Mondavi Center
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