Other-Self (An Existential Exercise) – Uncovering the Multisensorial Monsters of Blank Canvases by taking a Long, Hard Look in the Mirror!

By Jason Noghani

Collaborations are always full of surprises! We always begin with a blank canvas, with whatever mediums we are working with, and at the onset of the creative process, we only have a sense of what is yet to come at best.

Bintang Perkasa, fellow brother at LTTW, initially proposed the idea of this project – Sambal Binatang (or “Animal-based chili” in Bahasa), having become fascinated with how drawing on different surfaces produces different sounds, and how these reciprocally correspond. I immediately agreed, and although we began embarking on a project, we knew we had to test our ambitions out before they could fully manifest. I suggested that we use one of my compositions as a starting point, namely the one referred to in this article, and that is how this particular journey began (The journey actually began in pre-natal form in Circle of Trust [1st Movement] with Gado Gado enSambal, which you can read about here)!

Sambal Binatang (in case you are wondering!) | Photo Courtesy of Sambal Binatang

Other-Self (An Existential Exercise)

Other-Self (An Existential Exercise) is the sixth piece of the cycle Alignment, which is a series of 24* text-based pieces aimed at nurturing creativity in classically-trained musicians, which was composed in the second half of 2016 (another piece in the cycle is Gado Gado enSambal’s Cosmic Gamelan).

*(24 is a number synonymous with Western Classical as well as other musical traditions, as it embodies the total number of major and minor keys within an octave (12 + 12) and is also represented in works such as the 24 Preludes and Fugues in each volume of J. S. Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Stockhausen’s Klang for the 24 hours of the day etc.)

Other-Self can be recreated on any sound-producing sources with electronic playback (pre-recorded or live), which is why it became an amazing opportunity to realise it with Bintang, as it provided him with the freedom to create as he pleased, using the instructions as a point of reference. This works for me, as from a compositional perspective, I am interested in eroding the barriers between composer and performer, particularly given the increasingly makeshift nature of music production through technological advancement, as it provides the opportunity for all parties involved to be equally satisfied. Furthermore, the creative process is an everlasting phenomenon with various dimensions; most of which are largely out of our control or beyond our comprehension.

Based on the instructions in the text, I suggested to Bintang to make self-portraits (or whatever he decided to draw upon staring into a mirror), of which he created four in total, each using different materials and mediums, and each having particular characteristics that made them distinct. The materials used were charcoal, Conte crayon and graphite, drawn on paper, plywood and cardboard respectively, and another portrait was made using the UPIC (Unité Polyagogique Informatique du CEMAMu) software, which was initially envisioned by the pioneering composer/architect Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001).

Iannis Xenakis portrait

Even though the score/text indicates a live performance setting, the realisation we made was an arrangement of the four recordings of the four respective portraits. The four sources of material were also of contrasting durations, which counter-intuitively determined the form and functionality of the material. The paper and plywood recordings were approximately 25 minutes each, and were superimposed upon each other, with the plywood layer appearing about 40 seconds after the paper layer begins.

Paper (left) and plywood (right) portraits | Photo courtesy of Sambal Binatang

The relationship between the two layers is largely non-causal, as despite sharing similar properties, they exist as independent layers in keeping with the unpredictability of the process. This meant that any moments where both layers formed a connection was unplanned.

Still of paper and plywood portraits | Photo Courtesy of Sambal Binatang

There was approximately 10 minutes of cardboard material (which first appears about 2 minutes after the piece begins), which was mainly used to provide lower tones and bridge silences in the plywood recording. The order of events of the original cardboard recording were largely kept intact, although their entries were adjusted to correspond to the plywood material.

Cardboard portrait | Photo courtesy of Sambal Binatang

Apart from slight amounts of EQ and applied panning of sounds, the material was left unaltered, and much of the piece is an overlapping between the paper and plywood layers, with occasional cardboard interjections and superimpositions. The reason for this sparseness was to enhance and magnify the complexities of the properties of the sounds created. Largely noise-based textures contain levels of melodic and organic rhythmic properties, which can only be perceived once the ear has become acclimatised to their specific acoustic dimensions and properties. After listening to largely feint silvery sounds over a certain period of time, we eventually adjust our senses to the particular dimensions created through such soundscapes as those made through exciting canvases with matter, and begin to perceive these sounds in a more attuned manner than we would otherwise.

Still of plywood and cardboard portraits superimposed | Photo Courtesy of Sambal Binatang
Still of paper, plywood and cardboard portraits superimposed | Photo Courtesy of Sambal Binatang

There was only 2½ minutes’ worth of UPIC material due to the constraints of the software and disk space, a limitation of which provided the idea of introducing the UPIC material a little over 19 minutes into the piece, determined by the fact that a natural silence lasting a little over three seconds occurs round about that point. I then decided to have five versions of the UPIC material occurring simultaneously, at different speeds of up to 4½ minutes in length. This was achieved by either stretching or compressing the track, whilst retaining all the musical properties of the original, but varying the speed depending on whether the length was to be increased or decreased).

Image of UPIC portrait | Photo Courtesy of Sambal Binatang

UPIC Entry and Thereafter

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

The entry of the UPIC material marks a transformative moment in the piece, as the functionality of material alters as a consequence of its entry. The previously sparse, feint textures are replaced with a dense cacophony, with all four core layers occurring simultaneously – within its timespan of 4½ minutes, it is arguable that more activity occurs in this section than in the preceding 19 minutes and 19 seconds.

The paper and plywood layers continue largely unchanged, although volumes are occasionally adjusted to balance out the textures, but the cardboard material now plays an intermediary role between the plywood and UPIC layers. Snippets of earlier cardboard material providing low bass sounds were also used, and as earlier, these interjectory sounds appear in their original order, albeit with altered entry points.

The UPIC material, unlike the other materials, is pitch-based, and therefore distinctly characterised, although the dense cacophony that results creates a web of noise that eerily compliments the sounds previously heard. The qualities of synthesised tone-based electronic sound, in contrast to the concrete sounds of materials on canvases, also provides an animated quality that colours the music in bold and bizarre ways – opening other dimensions, whilst enhancing the sounds which preceded it.

The atmosphere is drastically transformed when the UPIC material enters. The material that precedes the UPIC entry is largely raw, primordial, tribal, silvery and savagely ecstatic, whereas the UPIC material takes the experience into a more intense, jarring and potentially disturbing dimension, with occasional moments of respite to catch a breath or two!

This could also be conceived from a Jungian perspective. Upon initially staring into a mirror with intent focus, we just see what is in front of us, our physical selves, warts and all – the persona, so to speak. But upon deeper reflection and awareness, we become increasingly aware of our shadows – the darker aspect of ourselves. Given that neither darkness nor light can be extinguished, we therefore have the choice of either allowing our shadows to consume and control us, or to integrate our shadows, to become aware of our darkness, and retain the control of that which consumes us for the betterment of our being.

Photo Courtesy of Sambal Binatang

This observation brings into account another aspect of the nature of the collaborative process – namely, that things are discovered that one previously could not envision. By taking the concept of Other-Self to other dimensions, namely by both bringing the visual aspect into the performance and synergising it with the sounds created, Bintang’s work reveals the deeper dimensions of what can occur when the texts instructions are followed. Each of the four portraits is entirely unique, although the penchant for using certain geometric patterns and concepts reveals a unifying style that is markedly distinct.

Photo Courtesy of Sambal Binatang

The portrait on paper is the one that most explicitly resembles a portrait, as it figuratively corresponds to Bintang’s facial features. The cardboard portrait has a Janus quality to it, and in many ways is prototypical of a portrait rather than making a direct reference like the paper portrait. The UPIC portrait is also reflective of Bintang’s facial features, conceived in a manner evocative of Jean Cocteau, which enigmatically compliments the stylistic limitations and qualities of UPIC.

The plywood portrait is of considerable interest, as we are only aware of the fact that it is a side profile portrait from a distance. The size of the portrait meant that certain details were focused upon at any one time in the video, which makes it questionable as to whether or not we are observing a portrait in these instances. Bintang also used his own hand as an outline in the plywood portrait, which takes the physicality of self to other iterations – leading the viewer into closer contact with his actual being in other contexts. The superimposition of images in the film also means that the functionality of this image enhances the facial qualities of the other images, revealing other possible faces that Bintang himself did not draw, and taking the concepts of self-portraits and perceiving oneself to new dimensions that were beyond his control.

The common thread underlying the portraits, I feel, is the attention paid to the eyes, perhaps reflecting the activity of staring into a mirror. The spirally patterns emanating out of the eyes are responsible for various textures and prominent moments in the piece, and the differences of these patterns also correspond to the sonic differences between the raw materials and canvases. Whereas the paper and cardboard portraits contain both eyes both from frontal and side profiles respectively, and the plywood portrait focuses on the side profile, the cycloptic nature of the UPIC portrait could be implicative of other aspects of “seeing” – perhaps indicative of the enlightened visions of the third eye, or the one-eyed demonic dajjal

Stills of unintended portrait shaped through superimpositions in UPIC section; a cockroach, an asshole or alien? | Photo Courtesy of Sambal Binatang

The UPIC material disappears as spontaneously as it appeared, swallowed up by the final interjectory cardboard sound. This then marks a return to the previous silvery feint soundscape for the final minute and a half, although this time it feels more distant, due to the transformation of perception that occurs after the UPIC material, and the comparatively sparse textures in stark contrast to the previous cacophony.

Does this provide respite?

Do we become more at one with ourselves?

Do we accept ourselves more fully?

Are we a shadow of our former selves?

Do we know ourselves better?

I invite you all to find out for yourselves. I find that’s the beauty of making art – you do your bit, and then anyone else can develop their ideas from that point. There is only ever so much the artist can do, as art, like us sentient beings, has lifeforms of its own. Also like us, art also needs the freedom to engage, interact and form relationships with other entities outside of itself.

Whatever the case, an alchemy was created. Visual art created music, and music created visual art, revealing the inherent symbiosis between both mediums, even if this direct relationship is commonly overlooked. Even though audio-visual synergy is something that has and continues to intrigue artists, an outcome such as this one could not have occurred had it not been Bintang staring into the mirror, applying his materials to canvases, both revealing what was within him and what lay beneath the originally blank canvas.

John Cage once said, “(Oskar) Fischinger told me that everything in the word has a spirit that can be released through its sound. I was not inclined towards spiritualism, but I began to tap everything I saw. I explored everything through its sound.”

Iannis Xenakis – “Daddy” of Sambal Binatang?

It is interesting how Xenakis became the point of reference in this project, which again reflects the unpredictable adventure of different aspects of the creative process. The text of Other-Self was largely inspired, like many of my other works, by the text-based compositions Aus Den Sieben Tagen by Karlheinz Stockhausen, and other works following a similar format by composers such as John Cage, James Tenney, Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Lucier etc.

Even though I am a huge fan of Xenakis’ music, I had not expected the core point of reference and even to some extent musical outcome, to have reflected this influence. However, with Bintang’s involvement, other things began to surface. Firstly, with UPIC of course, such as in 1977’s Mycenae Alpha, but also due to Xenakis’ own relationship to visual representation of sound, such as famously working simultaneously as composer and architect, and using mathematical processes (stochastic music), to realise the architecture of complex musical processes in works such as Metastasis and Pithoprakta.

The resulting music Xenakis realised through stochastic processes is something which few composers have been able to successfully emulate without similar mathematical knowledge and training. However, due to the sublime knowledge of visual geometry many artists naturally possess, they would be able to generate patterns of similar and subliminal complex geometric properties to Xenakis. To date, I have as of yet been unable to control dense musical layers with the acute surgical precision found in Xenakis’ work, although thanks to Bintang’s skills and knowledge in graphic design, I was able to actualise this one step further – even if complex mathematical procedures were not intently used for the resulting musical outcome.

Furthermore, in his electronic works such as Polytope de Cluny and La Légende D’Eer, Xenakis incorporated the sounds of cardboard, and other textures that bear similarities to the plywood and paper layers. This is particularly more distinguishable in the Polytope, which is texturally less dense than Légende, revealing another dimension to Xenakis’ music – that of simplicity.

Even though the composer is most famously known for the dense, polyphonic orchestral and electronic textures, he also wrote music of much greater simplicity, such as solo instrumental works and chamber pieces. Perhaps his most evocative music in this manner could be his percussion music, which corresponds to the shared primordial heritage we have to rhythm, also adding kinetic and otherworldly dimensions through rhythmic irregularity conceived through stochastic processes. Striking examples include the percussion pieces Rebonds A & B and Psappha.

In the sparser moments of Other-Self, even if this relationship is indirect and suggestive, the primordial qualities interwoven with unconventional rhythmic patterns could also be considered to be within Xenakis’ musical pathos; prehistoric, implicative of various roots and archaic heritage, and yet otherworldly through their idiosyncratic nature.

Following on from the latter observation, another interesting aspect of Xenakisheritage concerns roots, to which I feel Sambal Binatang affiliates. Xenakis was unique in the Post-War avant-garde in that not only, like many of his contemporaries, was he at odds with the pre-war traditions, but he was also at odds with the current avant-garde of the time, finding their compositional methods contrived and stifling, which made him a lone wolf of his generation.

He was not, however, a cultural nihilist, as his practices pay strong homage to his Greek heritage in scientific, artistic and spiritual ways, even though his position was ultimately anarchistic (from anarkhia [ἀναρχία], or “without a ruler”) – by today’s standards, he would have almost definitely been an intellectual punk in defiance of the nepotistic insanity currently plaguing institutions across the globe!

I found during my time in Jakarta, and meeting young artists affiliated with Yogyakarta, that many young people in Indonesia are fundamentally engaged with their heritage, yet also wanted to break free from those aspects of it which they find stifling. This is expressed, I feel, in a lot of the art being produced by the younger generations in Indonesia – subversive yet respectful of its heritage. I find this in myself too – I consider myself to be an anarchist, growing up in a Britain becoming increasingly detached from its roots, and finding Persian culture alien despite providing enrichment.

Therefore, like the youth in Jakarta and Yogyakarta, and also like Xenakis, Bintang and myself, it is understandable if half of us wants to smash culture up with a sledgehammer, whereas the other half want to be enriched through the acquired wisdom and knowledge of our ancestral heritage.

Epilogue – On Face Value

There is a dark irony of having the pathos of Xenakis underly this work, in that the composer sustained a serious facial injury during the final months of the Second World War when shrapnel exploded in his face, shattering a cheekbone and causing him to lose an eye. Even though pioneering surgery at the time meant that Xenakis’ looks were restored despite the noticeable battle scar, it was clear that the event and those surrounding it had a huge impact on him (it is worth noting that despite surgeons offering to conceal Xenakis’ scar with cutting-edge plastic surgery of the time, the composer refused as he felt he would be denying who he truly was). In many photographs, the scarred half of Xenakis’ face is hidden at the request of the composer, and he reportedly battled depression and anxiety for much of his adult life, grappling with the demons of his past and the corresponding magnitude of his life’s work, which he carried out with a Herculean might. Yet beneath the surface, we would never suspect such demons, given the sheer colossal might of his musical monoliths, and the generally warm and charismatic personality he exhibited (the literal translation of Iannis Xenakis is “gentle stranger”).

Iannis Xenakis

This shows that we should never take things at face value, as what lurks beneath can usually be unexpected – as evident by the fact that Xenakis as a person and his music were both similar and complimentary to one another. The same also applies to the creative process. At the onset, or on the surface, we can only assume so much, but the further we get into it, things are not always quite as they seem. I could never have assumed when I wrote the text (score) to Other-Self that it would turn out as it did, or that Xenakis would be the underlying impulse that gave rise to the unhinged beast that is Sambal Binatang!

We hope you will continue to join Sambal Binatang in the foreseeable future. It is safe to say we have merely scratched the surface, and if you enjoyed our offerings thus far, I hope you will not be disappointed!


Guitar, Music, Faith, and Brotherhood

Today, many tragedies are happening around the world. We are facing moral challenges that will determine our future, for better or worse.

Tragedies keep occurring due to our lack of understanding toward differences, particularly the religious ones.

Religion today is believed to be a political tool used to dominate and to determine who’s right and who’s wrong. Unlike today, religion in ancient time was practiced as guidance for humanity to accomplish human virtue that separates the right from wrong.

Having said that, we would like to invite you to revisit the meaning of religions and their differences, through history of an era in which differences were embraced to elevate civilization.

The following article discusses about the time when religions used to gave us music, mutual respect and cross enrichment, while today religions give us nothing but hatred, terrorism and war.

Guitar is probably the most popular musical instrument in the world. Its popularity owes to many of its characteristics. First, it’s portable, thanks to its relatively small size and is light, allowing it to be carried around everywhere and played anywhere. Second, guitar is friendly; it doesn’t create a distance between the player and their audience. On top of that, guitar has a wide range of price so people from all economic status can afford it. From the musicality point of view, guitar can be used as melody, rhythm, or both, while its body can be used as percussion. Lastly, guitar has a specific overtone. It should not come as a surprise if big composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven famously said, “Guitar is an orchestra in itself.”

The history of guitar is still inconclusive. Guiterre morische, guitarra latina, and vihuela from 13th and 14th century are still considered the embryo of the guitar as we know it today. Guiterre morische belongs to the family of lute, which known in Indonesia as gambus. This instrument evolved from oud, a musical instrument brought by the Moors when they dominated Andalusia, Spain, in the 8th century. Of these three instruments, guitarra latina is believed to give the biggest influence to the birth of guitar, and therefore regarded as the direct ancestor of this popular instrument.

Guitarra Latina (L) | Photo Courtesy of Sacred Bridge. Vihuela (R) | Photo Courtesy of Gamut Music

Many historians consider string musical instrument (chordophone) as the earliest form of guitar. Images of this instrument were carved in reliefs believed to be made in 1350 BC in a Lesser Asia region, known today as Turkey. The image of ‘guitar’ was, again, drawn in a set of prayer and psalter books from the Carolingian era in the 9th century Europe that covered the area of present-day Germany and France. Records from the 13th century churches contain more mentions and drawings of guitar. If chordophones are to be considered the embryo of guitar, then it is safe to say that guitar is a result of an evolution that spread across numerous civilizations in the span of 3000 years!

The term guitar is borrowed from the word that has gone through an incredibly long journey; from the Greek word khitara, Latin word chitara, and Arabic-Andalusia word qitara, which further evolved to guitarra, a Spanish word, and eventually adopted by English as guitar, French as guitare, and German as gitarre, and Indonesian as gitar.

Regardless when guitar exactly began to evolve, there is one era in history responsible for the birth of guitar: the Islamic Caliphate in Iberia Peninsula that stretched from the 8th to 13th century, centered in Cordoba, Andalusia, Spain. In the beginning of 8th century, the Moors brought and introduced the oud when they occupied Cordoba.

Depiction of Moors (L) | Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia. Oud (R) | Photo Courtesy of Sacred Bridge

Oud is originated from Arabic language, al-ud, which essentially means wood. This word transformed to alaud in Spanish language, which further transformed to lute in English. This word transformation was also followed by the transformation of the instrument: the shape, sound, and construction. Unlike oud, lute has frets on its neck. Oud was part of ancient string instruments that has been played since the Mesopotamia era, between 1600 – 1150 BC, within the region that today includes Irak, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, and Iran.

In the 500 years of Islamic Caliphate period, Andalusia became one of the centers of civilization that brought about numerous discoveries and new thoughts in various fields such as science, technology, architecture, and art. Cordoba became the world’s center of intellectualism. Even though discriminating acts existed, such as special tax implementation and social status hierarchy, the life of the followers of the three divine religions was considerably peaceful and went on without violent conflicts. In fact, in many ways, they ended up empowering one another, as shown in the architectural designs and arts created within this period.

Aerial view of Mezquita-Catedral de Cordoba | Photo Courtesy of Sacred Bridge
Cathedral section (L) and Mosque section (R)| Photo Courtesy of Sacred Bridge

Mezquita-Catedral de Cordoba (Cordoba Mosque-Cathedral) doesn’t only show how two different architectural styles can be combined, resulting in a unique, amazing building; it also shows how people of different faiths could live in peace and harmony. This building was originally St. Vincent Church, a remnant from Visigoth period. Abdul Rahman I, who acted as the new ruler, gave permission to the Christians to rebuild the church that was damaged during the war. He also bought a half part of the land and transformed it into a mosque.

Once the renovation finished, the people of the two faiths carried out their respective rituals side by side in the same area. The prayer area continued to be expanded into one building complex of unmatched architectural design.

The Moors’ musical instrument, oud, also experienced some transformations. Oud itself has evolved into a modern Arabic oud and became the icon of musical instrument in Middle East. Its popularity eventually reached Indonesia, where it was evolved into gambus. The evolution of oud significantly contributed to the birth of guitar’s predecessors, such as guiterre, gutrarra latina, vihuela, and lute.

Lute | Photo Courtesy of Sacred Bridge

In the eve of its golden era in 12th century, Islamic Caliphate still gave its contribution to the architectural design, which later called the Mudejar architecture. This style reflects the combination of both Islamic and Christian cultures and it continued to give influences to Western European culture until the 18th century. One masterpiece created in this period is the famous Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Even though the approach to the design is said to be started in 12th century, its unique style had already began to grow since in the beginning of the 8th century in Cordoba.

Mudejar is a borrowed term from the Arabic Mudajjan, that means: those who remained. Mudejar is also used to name the Muslim community that remained in Cordoba after the conquest of King Ferdinand III. They, just like the Jewish, were granted a special autonomy in the region and allowed to retain their faiths until the end of 16th century.

Out of the political, social, and cultural conditions of the Caliphate period, a new era was born in Europe, known as Renaissance era or The Age of Reasons that eventually brought the world to the new order, under which we live today, and this period gave us the guitar.

Guitar | Photo Courtesy of Sacred Bridge

Guitar is the proof that humans were once lived in an era where culture was held in high regard. Since then, the world has seen countless remarkable inventions that might amaze our ancestors if they could live to see it. With that said, all those achievements are useless and meaningless if we can’t even surpass (or even only to match) our ancestors’ refined culture that they had achieved for hundreds of years, more than a thousand years ago.

Guitar and music can remind us that, initially, it was faith, beliefs, and religions that brought about “music”. It seems impossible to find a human being that has never been in contact with music. Ironically, many people have become closer to (and praise) music but only to walk away from the faiths that gave us music.

Sacred Bridge Foundation

Translated by Riri Rafiani

This article was originally written as a foreword in the program brochure of “MUDEJAR: Classical Guitar Homage Concert to Interfaith Cohabitation” – an event presented by Listen to the World at the Cathedral Church and Grand Mosque Istiqlal, Jakarta, Indonesia, on September 14 & 15, 2013.


Traditional Games in Today’s World

Foreword from Listen to the World

On July 4th, our Balinese brothers and sisters celebrated Saraswati Day, the Day of Knowledge.

Knowledge is a sacred and beautiful phenomenon to the Balinese. It is represented by Saraswati, who is a charming Goddess with four arms that hold (and play) a zither, scriptures and rosary beads. The word Saraswati means “the one that flows”; a never-ending, flowing river that distributes knowledge across the lands. This “flowing” knowledge is an integral aspect of Balinese tradition that is found in numerous guises: from nature, holy books and manuscripts, to folklore, traditional arts and games. The holistic nature of knowledge makes it more than just the mere acquisition of information (cleverness), but also to that of wisdom (intelligence). It is due to these foundations that the Balinese pay earnest respect towards their ancestral knowledge.

In this day and age, where modernization and technological advancement could potentially threaten local knowledge and wisdom, I Wayan Sapta Wigunadika – with full awareness of such issues – takes a step in preserving and cultivating ancestral legacies by writing articles targeting the young generation in Bali, the Indonesian government, and eventually the citizens of world.

Happy reading!


Traditional Games in Today’s World

By I Wayan Sapta Wigunadika

Traditional games were not created simply for the sake of fun. In fact, it is a part of behavioural education that contains lessons on discipline, confidence, coexisting, social sensitivity and, most importantly, morality. The last one was emphasized because it underpins the effort to build a child’s character, to help him/her grow into a good social being.

In the past, traditional games were very popular in Bali. They were usually played under the full moon. One of the most popular games is called ‘Meong-meong’ (an onomatope of a cat’s sound). Played in groups, it depicts a cat’s (effort in catching a mouse. This game is accompanied with a song that says:

“Meong meong alih ja bikule, bikul gede-gede buin mokoh-mokoh, kereng pesan ngerusuhin, juk meng…juk kul”

English Translation:

‘O cats, find some mice. Big mice, who always create problems. Go cat, catch the mice.’

The effort to revive traditional games in modern times is crucial because children have turned away from them. In fact, traditional games may pose more benefits compared to modern games, such as helping children with social interaction. While playing the game, children learn how to interact with their friends, which in turns will be good for their development. Moreover, children also learn how to cooperate. Traditional games can also help children to be more creative. These games typically don’t have fixed rules, so all participants first must determine and agree with how it should be played. To make the games attractive and fun, they all must be creative.

With those benefits, we should not think further why traditional games must be revived. They teach children with necessary behaviors they need to grow up.

English Translation by Riri Rafiani.

Featured image by Maria Junia


Mesatua, Balinese Storytelling

Foreword from Listen to the World

On July 4th, our Balinese brothers and sisters celebrated Saraswati Day, the Day of Knowledge.

Knowledge is a sacred and beautiful phenomenon to the Balinese. It is represented by Saraswati, who is a charming Goddess with four arms that hold (and play) a zither, scriptures and rosary beads. The word Saraswati means “the one that flows”; a never-ending, flowing river that distributes knowledge across the lands. This “flowing” knowledge is an integral aspect of Balinese tradition that is found in numerous guises: from nature, holy books and manuscripts, to folklore, traditional arts and games. The holistic nature of knowledge makes it more than just the mere acquisition of information (cleverness), but also to that of wisdom (intelligence). It is due to these foundations that the Balinese pay earnest respect towards their ancestral knowledge.

In this day and age, where modernization and technological advancement could potentially threaten local knowledge and wisdom, I Wayan Sapta Wigunadika – with full awareness of such issues – takes a step in preserving and cultivating ancestral legacies by writing articles targeting the young generation in Bali, the Indonesian government, and eventually the citizens of world.

Happy reading!


Story telling: Balinese Way to Build Character

By I Wayan Sapta Wigunadika

Storytelling (masatua), is one of Bali’s cultural heirlooms that has a critical role in building a child’s character. Children gain tremendously from this activity, such as learning their native language and bonding with their parents. Once a tradition passed down the generations, mesatua, unfortunately, is now diminishing, and is replaced by the existence of technologies such as smartphones and TVs. This is ultimately a pity; the time my mother told me bedtime stories is one of the fondest memories I have.

Photography: I Wayan Sapta Wigunadika

Stories (satua) are a type of ancient Balinese literary practice that is characterized by its free form, not dictated by the number of stanzas, and anonymity. There are two kinds of stories: oral and written, and they can be made up of legends, myths, or tales from religious scriptures. The topics revolve around human life and fables. The characters in the tales represent human behavior in real life, and about the notions of good and bad.

Storytelling (mesatua) is strongly rooted in Balinese traditions. It serves as a medium to convey educational, moral, and ethical messages. To convey such messages, a storyteller must be able to communicate in a way that captures children’s attention and invigorates their imaginations. The stories contain a wide range of moral values such as responsibility, creativity, obedience, vigilance, sincerity, friendship, modesty, loyalty, ethics, beliefs, and so on.

Many traditional Balinese stories teach good moral values to help build a child’s character. For instance, the tale of “Siap Selem” (Black Chicken) is a satirical story about people who pretend to be kind and give a helping hand, but inside they are evil. The story ends with the pretentious, evil character being eventually punished with bad fate.

Telling a story in Balinese culture is not as simple as it sounds. It is filled with local wisdom and must be taken seriously. Overtime, storytelling is not only done before bedtime, but expanded into different forms, such as theatrical performances or written into books.

Photography: I Wayan Sapta Wigunadika

In conclusion, storytelling is the proper method in building a child’s character. In just a short amount of time every night, not only can parents instill cultural values into a child’s mind, it also helps them to learn language. This is not something that can be missed if the child is to be nurtured properly.


English Translation by Riri Rafiani.

Featured image by Maria Junia


Lontar Manuscript: Where the Balinese Turn to for Wisdom

Foreword from Listen to the World

On July 4, our Balinese brothers and sisters celebrated Saraswati Day, the Day of Knowledge.

Knowledge is a sacred and beautiful phenomenon to the Balinese. It is represented by Saraswati, who is a charming Goddess with four arms that hold (and play) a zither, scriptures and rosary beads. The word Saraswati means “the one that flows”; a never-ending, flowing river that distributes knowledge across the lands. This “flowing” knowledge is an integral aspect of Balinese tradition, and found in numerous guises: from nature, holy books and manuscripts, to folklore, traditional arts and games. The holistic nature of knowledge makes it more than just the mere acquisition of information (cleverness), but also to that of wisdom (intelligence). It is due to these foundations that the Balinese pay earnest respect towards their ancestral knowledge.

In this day and age, where modernization and technological advancement could potentially threaten local knowledge and wisdom, I Wayan Sapta Wigunadika – with full awareness of such issues – takes a step in preserving and cultivating ancestral legacies by writing articles targeting the young generation in Bali, the Indonesian government, and eventually the citizens of world.

Happy reading!


Lontar Manuscript: Where the Balinese Turn to for Wisdom

By I Wayan Sapta Wigunadika

Studying the content of *Lontar manuscripts is time travelling without a time machine! For hundreds of years, Lontar manuscripts have become the medium of choice to preserve the Balinese people’s thoughts and ideas. Today, they serve as evidence of the long history of Balinese literature that is rich, witty and full of wisdom.

Photography: I Wayan Sapta Wigunadika

Numerous studies on the manuscripts have revealed the unique, fascinating look into a wide array of traditional knowledge, from architecture, medicine, agriculture, farming, laws, religious and economic systems, culinary practices, cosmology, astronomy, environmental matters, arts, letters, language, and literature. They all serve as a guidance to conduct one’s life, and as a tool for cleansing the mind. Alongside guiding humanity to connect with itself, the wisdom written in the manuscript also leads those who learn it to become mindful and, eventually, connect to their very self. Many of the knowledge systems written in those manuscripts were gained through making a close connection with nature.

The Balinese people view Lontar manuscripts as sacred, possessing supranatural powers. Anyone who works with the manuscript must possess proper spiritual and religious knowledge and must be purified physically and spiritually and they, at least, must perform the simplest form of a ceremony called pawinten alit. This ceremony is performed because the Balinese see their traditional alphabets as the manifestation of Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge. Additionally, they also have to have a sense of self-control and refrain themselves from eating and drinking certain food or beverages.

Lontar manuscripts bear two different conceptions (traditionally called rwa bhineda): purusa and pradana. Purusa is the word for male, while pradana is for female. In manuscripts, purusa is on the left side of the leave and is heavier in weight, while pradana is on the right and is lighter. The reader of the Lontar manuscripts must understand this concept well to avoid the mistakes of writing it upside down or misplacing the leaves (right or left). Additionally, the position of the holed coin determines the placement of the leaves (top or bottom). The coin is tied on to the leaf threefold, symbolising the sacred number in Balinese culture. The part where the coin is placed becomes the top of the manuscript.

In each leaf, a rakawi (honoured poet) would begin the creation of his prose and poems, accompanied with a prayer called “Om Awighnamastu” to help him strengthen his beliefs as a rakawi. This means that a submitted Dharma always seeks for a prosperous, peaceful, and safe world.

Considering these manuscripts were created by the hands of the sacred rakawi, the person who reads it must chant an incantation, called Japa Mula Stawa, and say the meaning of the incantation in his head, which reads ‘O God and the holy ancestors, may we be spared from all perils’. Once this step is completed, the manuscript reading may begin.

Of all manuscripts that are found across Indonesia (particularly Bali, Lombok and Java), it was discovered that most were written in the Balinese alphabet. This may indicate that the Balinese people have higher levels of commitment to the preservation and inheritance of their heritage. They consider the alphabets as the means by which to learn the literature that is rich in the teaching of both divinity and worldliness, allowing humankind to achieve true happiness. The sense of pride of having ancestral literatures, combined with the effort to learn and, eventually, believing the virtues can help people achieve wholeness. One interesting fact to know is that, unlike the normal books, the words written in these manuscripts are not spaced. That is why one needs to have strong skills and grounded knowledge on the Balinese alphabet to be able to read it properly.

Lontar manuscripts are not your regular reading materials; they are considered sacred items in the point of view of Hinduism, brought to humans by Goddess Saraswati and God Ganesha as a symbol of knowledge. That is the very reason why they must receive special treatment, and anyone treating them must adhere to a set of prescribed conducts, which is laid down in the manuscript in great detail, from the way it is picked up, opened, read, maintained, written on, and even erased when necessary. All of these acts must be done after chanting the incantation to gain a clear heart and mind.

English Translation by Riri Rafiani

*Lontar is a Balinese sacred manuscript written on a palm-leaf.