Heavy Metal Bamboo: Making Archaic Bamboo Instruments Modern in Bandung, Indonesia

Lecture | April 9 | 5-6:30 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Henry Spiller, Professor of Music, UC Davis

 Center for Southeast Asia Studies

In 2009, nine people suffocated at a death metal concert featuring local metal bands in Bandung, Indonesia. In response, some Bandung-based metal musicians began to reconsider their wholesale adoption of global "heavy metal" values and musical style. In a quest to inject local values of community and cooperation into their musical practice, they hit upon the idea of reviving archaic rural bamboo musical instruments - karinding (mouth-resonated lamellophone) and celempung (idiochord tube zither) - as a means to reconnect to their Sundanese past [Sundanese, referring here to the ethnic group found predominantly in this part of West Java]. Their new group, Karinding Attack, plays metal-inspired music on these bamboo instruments.

This lecture examines how Bandung musicians create localized, alternative modernities by putting old bamboo music technology to new uses. The case of Karinding Attack is contrasted with another case study: Galengan Sora Awi("GSA"), a neighborhood-based group of musicians who render a variety of traditional Sundanese musical styles on new bamboo instruments of their own invention. Both groups have adapted traditional bamboo folkways and musical styles to localize some modern global values: the noisy timbres and diffuse pitches associated with distorted amplified guitars, the rejection by some countercultural groups of modern, sterile, mass-produced, manufactured goods in favor of a do-it-yourself (DIY) ethic, the fostering of renewable resources, conservation, and the cleanup of urban environments, and a renewed emphasis on local and regional identities.

This renaissance of bamboo music contributes to the fashioning of uniquely Sundanese places and histories by considering bamboo’s long-standing prominence in the environment and ecology of highland West Java, its versatility as a sound-producing material, the kinds of cooperative musical processes that are compatible with bamboo technologies, and the extramusical associations that have accrued over the generations to bamboo instruments and the musical processes they engender.

Henry Spiller is an ethnomusicologist whose research focuses on Sundanese music and dance from West Java, Indonesia. His books include Gamelan: The Traditional Sounds of Indonesia (ABC-CLIO, 2004) and Erotic Triangles: Sundanese Dance and Masculinity in West Java (Chicago, 2010). His most recent book, Javaphilia: American Love Affairs with Javanese Music and Dance (Hawaii, 2015), was awarded the Society for Ethnomusicology’s Bruno Nettl Prize in 2016. Spiller’s current project, based on fieldwork conducted in Bandung, Indonesia, with the support of a Fulbright Senior Scholar award, investigates music made with bamboo musical instruments. He earned his B.A. (music) from UC Santa Cruz, an MM (harp performance) from Holy Names University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from UC Berkeley. At UC Davis, he teaches world music classes and graduate seminars, and directs the department's Sundanese gamelan ensemble.

 cseas@berkeley.edu, 510-642-3609