by Bob Rose
At the end of April, a bold and ambitious journey took place in Bali to pave the way for 21st century global music. Participants were invited from all over the world, and a diverse range of inspirational gurus and facilitators gathered to share their wisdom. This educational event, ‘GAUNG: 21st Century Global Music Education’ is unique in its vision to combine spirituality, cultural economics, music theory, and a wide range of contemporary and ethnic influences.
The GAUNG workshop was set up by the Sacred Bridge Foundation, an Indonesian not-for-profit organization established in 1998 by Franki Raden, Tony Rudyansyah and Serrano Sianturi. The workshop has been several years in the making, with previous versions including the Rhythm Salad Music Clinic that has run for the last two years.
In the inspirational setting of Bedugul National Park in Bali, participants were randomly allocated to three separate lodgings ranging from decent to luxurious, an incredible feat considering that the total cost of the ten-day course including accommodation and food was a mere US$100 per person.
Given how ambitious the scope of this course was, it was inevitable that ten days was not going to be enough but all the gurus and participants gave it their all. It wasn’t unusual for events to run until two in the morning and then start again early the next day. The major strength of this course was in the diversity and quality of everyone involved. The participants included a theatre composer, an expert on music from Thailand, a guzheng (Chinese zither) teacher, a jazz saxophonist and lecturer from Kuala Lumpur and a range of other talented musicians.
Perhaps two of the most interesting gurus present were the contemporary composers Jean-Claude Éloy and Greg Schiemer. Jean-Claude is a French composer who studied under Milhaud, Messiaen, Boulez and Stockhausen. As most of the participants had never encountered 20th century modern music before, reactions ranged from ‘is this music?!’ all the way through to enthusiasm for using these new techniques and ideas within other styles of music. One of the participants, an artistic programmer for the Singapore Esplanade (the main arts centre in Singapore) had been previously unaware of this genre, but because of the course, she is now considering exposing Singaporean music goers to new unfamiliar music.
Greg, the other contemporary composer is an Australian who specializes in electronic music. His performances using mobile phones opened minds and inspired new ways of thinking. The pieces involved performers swinging the phones around their heads to create entrancing and hypnotic effects using Doppler shift.
But to balance what could become a somewhat cerebral and advanced foray into avant-garde aesthetics; gurus such as American jazz bassist Christy Smith kept things practical and entertained everyone with his earthy humour. As the course did not include enough time for participants to compose pieces to be played at the performances, there was a lot of emphasis on improvisation and Christy played an important role in guiding some of the younger, less experienced musicians. In contrast to Christy’s coaxing of high energy performances from shy participants, the prolific Japanese master percussionist and composer Stomu Yamash’ta encouraged musicians to reflect on the beautiful surroundings and express this spirit through their instruments. He also brought up the idea of establishing awareness of the music played among the audience rather than trying to impress them.
There were also a number of gurus and facilitators in place to introduce everybody to the central concepts of ethnomusicology by studying the new women’s Kecak group in Ubud – the only one of its kind in Bali. Unfortunately, with such a tight schedule some of the practical field work couldn’t take place when the Kecak group were a little late. It was still useful though to be given preliminary guidelines for working in the field, interviewing the performers and even being taught Kecak while at Bedugul by the Balinese guru who helped these women form their unique group.
As well as the musicians, a number of spiritual gurus such as a priest from Sulawesi, a Sufi master, and a Japanese monk had been invited. They would hold regular meetings with the other music gurus and facilitators to discuss life, the universe and everything although there seemed to be some controversy as to the purpose of these meetings. One of the organizers had intended for the results to be made public afterwards, whereas another emphatically denied the idea of sharing as it might be too private. I personally feel that the results of these conversations could have been shared with the participants in the evenings, so that anybody could follow up on issues raised directly with the spiritual gurus in their own time. If not, it seems a little self-indulgent to invite all these inspirational people if the participants aren’t able to benefit from them.
The course had ambitious goals, but one of the largest benefits of being present was to network, meet new people and become open to new ideas. But it wasn’t just the invited gurus and participants who were inspiring. The founders of Sacred Bridge also have a wealth of interests and experience to learn from. Franki Raden, for example is a particularly inspiring musician, interested in spirituality, protecting ethnic music from globalisation and composing contemporary music. He is also an accomplished composer, a respected music critic, an ethnomusicologist and more.
Also worthy of a special mention is Serrano Sianturi who, with help from his small but dedicated team, made a superb job of organizing the logistics of the course. A highlight of the event was his rousing presentation about cultural economics, which explored the possibility of being a musician with integrity without fearing the manufacturing and commercializing side of the music industry. Serrano teaches this subject at post-doctoral level at universities in Europe and United States for a couple of months every year; we got a very simplified version of it! But I think these ideas should have been explored much more. In our current world, the future of music depends on economic factors and music has been widely turned into a commodity. GAUNG was set up in order to fight this trend and discover music’s true meaning.
The GAUNG experience was an opportunity to tie together many varied and interesting worlds and I really appreciated the opportunity to mix socially with such interesting and creative people.