Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Jakarta Post -Rahayu Supanggah

Rahayu Supanggah: Exploring gamelan as world music
Features - June 22, 2007
Ubed Abdilah S., Contributor, Surakarta
During a recent visit to the cozy home of Rahayu Supanggah in the suburbs of Surakarta a few dozen meters from the bank of the Solo River, the gamelan composer was busy composing a new score for an upcoming fashion show by renowned designer Anne Avantie.
"This is something new. I feel challenged in presenting the gamelan as an accompaniment to a fashion show that reflects glamour, exclusiveness and entertainment," said 58-year-old Rahayu, born in Boyolali regency and an internationally recognized ethnomusicologist.
"The challenge is that I must make a compromise in the gamelan musicality so that it can be an elegant part of a fashion show without leaving a cheap impression," he added.
While a fashion show is a new area, this is not the first time Rahayu has expanded gamelan music for performances that are neither pure dance nor pure drama.
For example, he composed the gamelan score for the soundtrack of Opera Jawa by noted film director Garin Nugroho.
When creating the gamelan score for the film, Rahayu had to adjust each piece to match scenes in the script. He was thus obliged to compose in accordance with the storyline and the demands of the screenplay.
"A gamelan composition for a dance or drama performance is usually one entity. That's why it poses a problem when a gamelan composition is used for scenes in a film," said Rahayu.
"The challenge is to assemble those pieces so that they constitute an integrated composition that suits the demand of the script and the director."
Meanwhile, his new collaboration with the designer demands that the gamelan composition should suit the swaying movement of the models and the show's theme, derived from the traditional Javanese blouse: Kebaya in Retrospect.
"I am required to create a composition that can accompany illustrations about the development of kebaya, from its origins as the traditional dress of Javanese women to the national dress for Indonesian women following the practice of the wives of presidents and government officials, especially that of president Sukarno," said Rahayu, who earned a doctorate in ethnomusicology from France's Universite de Paris VII.
Rahayu, who is not familiar with popular music, nevertheless admitted that he need to be open to compromise with popular music.
"A fashion show, just like a film, is part of pop culture so I, too, must be open to the elements of pop music. I must make a lot of compromises. And in fact, gamelan is very much open to the influence of any musical genre because of its random nature," he said.
"Javanese music (gamelan) is not regular. It is random, as each instrument has its own distinct sound and its own vibration. However, each instrument has its own rule of balance and this is what makes the gamelan beautiful when it is played."
Although he was born to parents who were both puppet masters (dalang), Rahayu does not force his own children to take up Javanese music, whether gamelan or Javanese songs. Still, his three sons are all involved in activities connected to the arts.
His eldest and second sons are studying cinematography at the Jakarta Arts Institute, and his youngest son is studying communications.
Rahayu has been exploring Javanese music for some 50 years, a journey that began with his studies at the Indonesian Karawitan Conservatory (KOKAR). He then continued his studies at the Surakarta campus of ASKI -- which later became the Indonesian Higher Learning Institute of Art and is now the Indonesian Fine Arts Institute (ISI). Following this, he went to France and to pursue ethnomusicology.
Currently, he is a professor at his alma mater, ISI Surakarta. At the same time, he also collaborates with world music maestros in various performances, from one at the Pura Mangkunegaran Surakarta to a number of shows in Europe, such as in Berlin and at the Ravenna Opera House in Barcelona. He has also performed at the Lincoln Center in the United States, in Australia for the musical I La Galigo, and in Japan.
"My performance schedule for 2007-2008 is full. Next month, I must perform consecutively in New York, London, Holland, Jakarta, Singapore and again New York," he said.
According to Rahayu, his compositions have been performed in 40 countries.
He has also received many requests from around the world for film scores, although he specializes in creating compositions for dance and theatrical performances and choreographic collaborations in various international performances.
He has previously collaborated with world-renowned composers such as Barbara Benary, Peter Brook, Philip Corner, Roda Grauer, Warner Kaegi, Sergio Leonne, Alec Roth, Toshi Tsuchitori and Robert Wilson.
Rahayu said he was greatly flattered when he was invited to join four international maestros in a performance last year to commemorate the 250th death anniversary of W.A. Mozart at the Venice and Vienna film festivals.
Today, Javanese music such as gamelan and karawitan are appreciated by world audiences due to the flexibility and gentleness of the music.
An artistic work is evaluated not only in terms of esthetics, but also benefits, and gamelan has apparently proven beneficial as a form of therapy for people with psychological problems.
"Gamelan music has been used as a means of therapy in a number of countries for many years," said Rahayu.
"In France, gamelan is used as therapy for prison convicts as a mental exercise. While in Japan, gamelan is used as therapy for people lacking in self-confidence. A client receiving this kind of therapy, however, must also (learn to) play the gamelan."
Unfortunately, in its country of birth, local music such as gamelan -- or ethnic music in general -- is yet to enjoy broad public appreciation. This also applies to many indigenous music experts.
"A friend of mine was a self-taught expert in karawitan. He lived a simple life and all his life he did not have a house. However, his musical works are studied by art students at the post-graduate level," Rahayu said.
"In Indonesia, there is an error in the criteria for the national music awards, as the awards are limited to pop music. In fact, great music can be found in traditional music pieces, and these pieces enjoy great appreciation abroad," he said.
Rahayu -- who has often been appointed a judge at international music festivals and has been a steering committee member at various music festivals -- believes that Indonesia's ethnic music, said is part of the driving force behind music development in the world today.
He reached this conclusion after meeting with world music maestros who, he said, "have found inspiration from the various types of ethnic music in Indonesia, for example the music from Flores. If you listen carefully to Flores music, you will find in it rhythms like those of Beethoven and Mozart."
Rahayu's present obsession is to allow more opportunities for indigenous music to reach to the stage, and to set up a forum of ethnic/regional music.
"Indonesian music is extraordinary and must be introduced not only to the public at home, but also overseas," he stressed.
In his spacious home next to a rice field, Rahayu has a music gallery, where a full gamelan orchestra is arranged in a pendopo (traditional open-walled structure).
"This gamelan set can be used by people wishing to learn to play the gamelan, or for a rehearsal. Groups from the neighboring village and from other cities take turns using this gamelan set," he said.
"Sometimes, Indonesian maestros come here just to get together and play gamelan. Usually, on the evening of the last Saturday in the month, expert musicians like Dwiki Dharmawan and Idris Sardi meet here and play gamelan."
As Rahayu has been immersed in Javanese art since childhood, he has an in-depth grasp of the philosophical meaning behind Javanese music. Asked to explain this philosophy, he replied, "Well, you can spend up to 10 years trying to delve into the philosophy of Javanese music."
"Javanese music has a profound meaning. Inferred examples of this profound meaning of gamelan are tolerance, openness, respecting differences and respect for others."
The inference is heard in the music through the way it is played: "There is an irregularity in gamelan, but this irregularity becomes a gentle and balanced nuance when the gamelan is played, just like a soccer team playing solidly thanks to the individual skill of each player."
"Furthermore, you can also train in patience when you play gamelan," he added.

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