UPIC: A Musical Instrument or A Drawing Device?

By Jason Noghani

UPIC (Unité Polyagogique Informatique du CEMAMu) is an electronic music device, where drawings are inputted onto a screen, and the resulting shapes and images are translated into sounds via a computer. Images are inputted onto a graphics tablet with an electromagnetic stylus, and another screen corresponds to alphanumeric data, which in turn process signals for translating the sounds through the computer. It was initially developed in the late 1970s, although the impulse for developing such a program had intrigued its most famous developer, composer and architect Iannis Xenakis, since the 1950s, around the time he began working with computers. 

Nowadays, UPIC appears in software format to correspond to today’s digital world, making it easier to access and create music with than previously. The original model developed in 1977 is now on display at the Museum of Music at La Philharmonie in Paris. Upon its inception, other musicians and artists have created works using UPIC, resulting in unique offerings that have inaugurated its possibilities.

The original UPIC Model on display at the Museum of Music at La Philharmonie in Paris, France.

Whereas the applications of the raw materials on their respective canvases is a somewhat self-explanatory matter, UPIC is a technological phenomenon, as unlike most music-making mediums, musicians and non-musicians alike can create on an equal playing field. Furthermore, architects like Xenakis would be more likely to create geometrically sublime patterns resulting in cohesive albeit strange soundscapes, than musicians with rudimentary drawing skills could conceive. This is revolutionary, in that not only can it allow non-musicians to create music as effortlessly as professional musicians seemingly would, but it can also mean that people without a musical background can create compositions of a higher quality than many professional musicians could!

One of Iannis Xenakis UPIC drawings. We can see how Xenakis background as an architect impacts the output of the structural graphic | Photo Courtesy of Iannis Xenakis.


The Eco-friendly Traditional Tattoo of Mentawai

By Bramantyo Indirawan

Introducing the traditional tattoo method of Mentawai, by using two sticks and a needle, they rajah or hand-tap symbols and motifs onto the human body with natural ink—no electricity needed. The tattoo tradition of Mentawai people from Sumatra Barat, Indonesia can be traced way back to the Bronze Age (1.500 B.C – 500 B.C).

The tattoo of Mentawai imitates nature, or to be precise, an admiration and homage to mother nature. Aside from lines and patterns, animals and plants are also tattooed on people as symbols of identity or titi. The main function of titi is beautification. Beautification here is not something we modern people normally comprehend. It is a “fashion” to keep and attract souls/spirits so they cannot escape or get lost on their return to the physical body, as experienced during a shaman-initiated trance. Titi is also a social symbol that can show which tribe you come from, which part of Mentawai you are from, and what you have successfully hunted.

Rajah or hand-tapping uses two sticks, one is used to tap the other stick that is attached by a sterile needle.

Though titi has diverse ornamentations and meanings from one tribe to the other, arguably there are two fundamental symbols that stay the same: Sago palm and river boat. Full-body patterns of Mentawaian tattoo depicts a sago palm including its parts such as branches, roots, leaves and flowers. On the back, it is said to be a simplification shape of river boat and its stabilizer to represent balance and harmony. Both sago palm and boat are essential in Mentawai culture as they represent the Mentawaian way of life of semi-nomadic tribesmen.

Recently, the tattoo tradition is making a comeback with tattoo artists from Mentawai spreading the methods and manifesting their craft by tattooing other people and even teaching other tattoo artists. Rajah around Indonesia and abroad, they tattoo anyone and can customize their traditional tattoos if desired. Paburutkerey is one of the Mentawaian that spread the tattoo culture of his people. He is currently in Bali, tattooing everyone from around the world and even teaching his method to other tattoo artists such as Jerry; promoting the past with persistence, going on a rajah route to replace machine powered tattoos with the environmentally friendly sticks, ink, and ancient traditions.

Whether or not it is a good way to preserve and cultivate Mentawai culture as a whole, it is undeniable that the tattooing technology itself is not inferior at all compared to modern machinery!

Below is the video of Paburutkerey doing a rajah or hand-tapping to a customer with Jerry as the stretcher or assistant. The tattoo and its placement are a modification of a Mentawai traditional tattoo. | Video: Bramantyo Indirawan.


Gamelan Slonding

By Ginastera “Boo-boo” Sianturi

Gamelan Selonding is regarded as one of the oldest sets of gamelan that ever existed in Bali, even predating Gamelan Gambuh. This particular Selonding originates from Tenganan Pegringsingan Village of Karangasem, Eastern Bali, known as Bali Aga, indigenous Balinese (pre-Hindu Villages). The local belief states that Selonding may have been brought down to the village from the sky after a thunderous sound of lightning, giving birth to 3 selonding plates which are now stored in Petemu Kelod (north of the village). The arrivals of Selonding were considered a gift from God and known as Selonding Bhatara Bagus. Even though gamelan enthusiasts and scholars still arguably question this phenomena, the spiritual concept and practice that are living in Tenganan, are important sources of their everyday life and should be explored in greater depth.

Gamelan Selonding, an iron-liked xylophone of Bali Aga, Tenganan Pegringsingan Village | Photography: Sacred Bridge Foundation 2020

The etymology of “Selonding” is generally known to have two meanings. The first is divided into “Salon” = Tempat (Place), and “Ning” = Suci (Sacred), so it means Sacred Place. The second one, however, has served its functional meaning; “Salo” = “Suara” and “Nding” = ringing sound or note as a result of hitting the instrument. Tenganan Villagers themselves prefer to use the first one, although the second version is also accepted and was never rejected.

Our dear friend from Tenganan Pegringsingan Village, Bli Putu Suardana, a local instrument maker and musician, shows us a few different variations on the 7 tone Pelog scale that is used in Selonding, as well as an excerpt from the beautiful and popular Gending (tune) called ‘Sekar Gadung’ at his workshop called Pondok Gamelan Selonding.

Sekar Gadung – Tenganan Pegringsingan Village | A live field recording under the guidance of almarhum Bapak Partha Gunawan, supervised by Sacred Bridge Foundation (2012). Music team: Aryo Adhianto, Mas Ono, Pattraditya Pangestu, and Syahwin Bajumi.

Bli Putu continues the legacy of his father, Pak Partha Gunawan; Juru
Gambel (gamelan player whose techniques have reached its spiritual peak)
whom also taught gamelan at ISI Bali. Even though his father started making
the instruments since the 1980’s, Bli Putu only began to show interest in this
field later in 2001.

The piece has become well known outside of the Village, because of its
compatibility in terms of its notes and tuning with other forms of Gamelan.
Gamelan musicians outside of Tenganan often perform this piece in the style
of Semar Pegulingan.

Bli Putu states that many of the original Gendings (tunes) from Tenganan
which left the village have not all survived in their original forms, either having
been re-arranged or missing certain notes and cycles. This phenomenon has
shown that as time passes, traditions often evolve when external influences
come in contact; responding to the local roots based on the cultural contexts
and corresponding relevance of the present time. So, popularity is not always
a bad thing when observed as a process of intergenerational value, but it
does not mean that young people should stop seeking a deeper
understanding into their ancestors’ roots and hidden knowledge that is hidden
inside their collective subconscious.


Global Warming and the Revival of Prehistoric Viruses

[Jakarta, LTTW] According to recent Google Search Trends, “Coronavirus” and “Virus” have become increasingly popular, and have now overtaken climate change related topics that were previously dominating the search engine. While many of us shun climate change as an issue and responsibility at the moment, it is of significant importance to become aware of the fact that climate change (and industrial mining) could be the predominant factors of ancient virus revivals in the future.

For decades, scientists found various ancient viruses that were previously dormant beneath the layers of permafrost in places such as Siberia, for thousands, and even millions of years. Up until today, there are an abundance of studies investigating and studying these ancient viruses.

Global warming melts away layers of permafrosts which in turn could reawaken these prehistoric viruses from their “hibernation”. Aside from melting permafrost, drilling and mining operations could also contribute to reawakening viruses, by digging deep into the earth and uncovering things that remained unperturbed for ages bygone.

Though some of the viruses were confirmed to be ultimately harmless to humans, the unknown threat is uncertain since the quantity and variance of these viruses currently remains a mystery. Imagine now, if one of these viruses were released and proved to be pathogenic to human beings; without man-made vaccine readily prepared for such outbreak, and with the possibility that it might be even deadlier than Covid-19, we may not even begin to comprehend of the consequences that could ensue from such a potentially gargantuan pandemic.

If anything, these precautions serve not only to warn us, but they also remind us that whether we like it or not, ecological destruction and viruses will most likely come hand in hand as the cause and affect of one another.



Lontar, Balinese Sacred Manuscript

[Jakarta, LTTW] As time goes by, tradition is continuously challenged, although regeneration can counteract this, as it is an important cycle in life that can help save values and meanings of our ancestors from disappearing. Therefore, we should not only be using those wisdoms to help us to understand the present moment, but it should also enrich the shared future we are yet to have.

Once again it is time to revisit our dear friend and guru, Bapak I Wayan Mudita, or known to many as Pak Mudita, the oldest living and well respected Lontar and Prasi maestro from Tenganan Pegringsingan Village, Bali. Pak Mudita not only re-writes the sacred manuscripts such as the Sutasoma, Baratayudha, Bhagawad Gita, Sarascamucaya etc. but he also fixes and improves the parts of the manuscripts that are no longer in shape or damaged.

I Wayan Mudita | Photography: Iqbal (SBF. Doc)

Lontar is a traditional manuscript written on dried palm leaves; almost unknown to many, but it is perhaps one of the most crucial and oldest cultural manifestations of the Balinese people, dating back as far as 11th century in Tenganan. It is the central source of greater knowledge that comprises the system of thoughts: intellectual, spiritual (religious) and philosophical, and it also contains traditional healing medicines and a vast collection of literatures. Balinese people believe that Sang Hyang Aji Saraswati, the manifestation of Ida Sang Hyang Widi (God) resides within Lontar as the source of knowledge. Once every 6 months [based on the Balinese calendar: Sabtu Kliwon Wuku Watuganung lontar-lontar]; a Piodalan ceremony is conducted to commemorate the goddess Saraswati.

Photography: Iqbal (SBF. Doc)

The interest and curiosity of the young villagers in Lontar have eroded as time passes by. A vast number of original manuscripts were burned down in 1840, which certainly affected the holistic understanding of the local wisdom and knowledge. Moreover, general education has changed the perception of local values, as life guidance as imparted in ancient Balinese literature, became increasingly irrelevant and unknown to the younger generations.

In practical terms, the majority of Lontar literature and manuscripts survive in the modern world in the forms of applications that are economically driven through merchandise such as calendars and comics, which make limited use of the literary language itself. But perhaps, by upholding and conserving the aesthetical and intellectual values of the sacred, the tradition will be able to survive by re-signifying the mind, heart and conscience of the Tenganan people, as well as others who come into contact with this wisdom and knowledge.

Lontar comic for a souvenir | Photography: Iqbal (SBF. Doc)