Last month I had the opportunity to repatriate some rare court gamelan style recordings in Ketewel Village which were recorded by longtime Bali resident and painter Theo Meier in 1962.
Beforehand, I consulted with Putu Surya: the leader of the youth group that had been learning their current repertoire for the past few years and who had recently become a member of the semara pagulingan troupe at our family based centre, Mekar Bhuana. Of the four pieces on the recording, he recognized two (in spite of the playing style changing over the decades), but there were two he had never heard, and he was eager to see if the remaining living elders could identify the lost pieces.
So I devised a plan. In 2002 I had repatriated a recording from the early seventies of another lost piece from that village – I put it on a CD and presented it to the local priest who was the keeper of the orchestra which was housed in Payogan Agung Temple. There was a plan to learn the piece but to this day it has never happened – surprisingly, a group in the US beat them to it by learning from that recording a few years ago! I wanted this repatriation to be more public, somewhat ceremonial, witnessed by many – this, I believed would have more effect because the whole community would feel more responsibility for resurrecting their lost tradition.
We chose an auspicious day for the public listening and discussion: Saraswati, the day to celebrate knowledge. I brought my laptop and some external speakers, as well as USB stick to present ceremonially to the group so that they could easily disseminate the recording among the musicians. Only one elder was left in the group and he listened attentively, his eyes glazed with joy (or was it the cataract?). Quickly he identified both lost pieces, explaining that the most mysterious one (one that I even as a researcher with 21 years experience couldn’t recognize) started off as one piece, then moved into another and finished off drifting into a third piece (essentially it was a bit of a mess and they should’ve done a retake). However, from, this recording combined with some rudimentary notation he had well kept that the group could reconstruct this and the other lost piece. They went on video thanking us for repatriating the recording and swearing that they would relearn their extinct music.
A musical repatriation success story? I am confident it will be – as with everything in Bali, these things take time, but I feel that we are moving into a new era where indigenous cultures are not only reclaiming their traditions, but also relearning them – and vintage recordings are essential to this process.
If there is anyone reading this article who knows of vintage Balinese gamelan recordings (both field and commercial) made in Bali prior to the 1980s, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you identify them as well as repatriate them in the village of origin.
By Vaughan Hatch
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