Gamelan

Gamelan is a suite of musical instruments from Greater Sunda Islands in Indonesia. While some neighboring countries are currently using gamelan as one of the icons to attract prospective tourists to visit the regions in Southeast Asia, and there is no doubt that any reginal cultures result from mutual influence of the neighbouring ethnics, it has been admitted by international communities that the musical orchestra suite called gamelan is indeed a culture of Indonesia.

Javanese gamelan was once performed in the U.S. in the 19th century. Also to European countries at the beginning of the 20th century. At that time, the composer Claude Debussy was so enthralled. “Compared to this Javanese music, the European music is really decadent,” he implied. Then we could see many works of Debussy referring to the style of gamelan. Previously, the young Debussy was heard complained, “All the beautiful tones have been written by Wagner. What could be left for our generation?” But then who would have thought that, in addition to atonal music style, he also fled to the gamelan?

In Indonesia, we could see the Javanese gamelan that is gentle and philosophical, Balinese gamelan that is very dynamic, Sundanese calung, and other variations.

I spent my childhood in Malang city in Java. As in many other places, local cultures were included to the formal education. At school we were taught how to play the gamelan, how to sing Javanese tembang, how to write old Java script (aksara Jawa), etc. Our teacher was an expert who has a great passion in traditional art. He recognized that I plays gamelan quite well, technically. But he also said that I do not have the artistic soul. Particularly, I know he hated it when I tried to play rock and roll with the kendang when the the auditorium was still quiet. But, when conducting a performance in front of students parents, he appointed me in the position of kendang, which according to him was not equivalent to the drums or timpani, but more like a conductor: to lead the rhythm.

I must recognize that in fact I’m not a real fans of Javanese culture. I love universal culture. What’s the point of having Ronggowarsito in Java, when we also had Marx or Nietzsche in the same era. But gamelan is different. It remains as my interest. A few years later, after graduating from Coventry, I got a feeling that I missed gamelan. So I volunteered to join the traditional art ensemble in Bandung to play gamelan. That was not simple: I had to spend 2 nights per week to improve my play, with people who were as tired as I was, after office hour.

At that time we managed to perform The Legend of Ande Ande Lumut in the form of Wayang Orang, with full gamelan orchestration. I held an instrument called Bonang Penerus. This position was quite stressful, visually. At the other instrument players could look at the stage, my position required me to look at the audience. I could not play while viewing what’s on stage, but continued to see the expression of the audience.There were some other small events when we casually play the gamelan, including accompanying a wedding ceremony of the son of our R&D Division’s boss. It was surprising. The brides parents actually invited us, and wondered why many of our team did not appear to come. After finishing playing, we greeted the family. The boss stunned as he realised that some of the guests he expected were really playing the gamelan orchestra for the ceremony.

OK, the last picture here is not a real performance. Last week I had to provide a presentation about Mobile Blogging at the Telkom Building in South Jakarta. In the hall, I saw a quite complete set of a gamelan instruments. After my presentation, just before the lunch, I spent a couple minutes to play the Bonang Barung instrument, very-very softly. And the prominent blogger Priyadi took my picture.

Kyoto: Comsoc AP-RCCC

This year the IEEE carried out the annual ICC conference in Kyoto, Japan. As usual, this greatest infocomm conference is accompanied by a couple of technical and organizational meetings, held by the IEEE or IEEE Comsoc. Representing the IEEE Comsoc Indonesia Chapter, I had to be present in Comsoc AP-RCCC. I got the invitation on April, so I had enough time to renew my passport, prepared the visa, airline tickets, hotels, etc. However, these are also the busiest month here at Multimedia Division of Telkom. I could not find enough spare time to relearn hiragana, katakana, kanji, and basic Japanese expressions, or to prepare the social visits.

I got the most affordable airline. It took me from Jakarta to Tokyo via Kualalumpur, and landed at Haneda Airport around midnight. I took the first Shinkanzen super-express train from Shinagawa to Kyoto. I reached Kyoto on June 8th at 9 o’clock. After reporting my attendance to the organiser, I took a couple hours to explore Kyoto.

ICC and the other meetings were held at KICC, a quite vast resort in north-east end of Kyoto. Apparently this place is well prepared to carried out international scale conferences and summits. I did not attend any ICC sessions more than some workshop sessions. But the AP-RCCC I attended was held in the same place.

Last March we had conducted the IEEE Region 10 Meeting in Yogyakarta, which was the highest annual organizational meeting of the IEEE in the Asia Pacific region. IEEE Comsoc AP-RCCC is the annual organizational conference of the IEEE Communications Society in the region. Focusing on the issues in Asia Pacific region, the meeting was attended by President of the IEEE Communications Society, the VPs and directors, a representative of both North America and South America, and the chairmen or other representatives of the Asia-Pacific Comsoc chapters.

Comsoc President, Byeong Gi Lee, keynoted by describing the current challenges in the field of communications field. The convergence has been passing some stages in the digital information, and now we are in the middle of the convergence of digital services and management. The convergence is not just among the fields of communications and computing, but extends also to consumer electronics, media, and other areas. Comsoc has anticipated this with various approaches: educational approach and content, industrial approach, and the standardization approach. This is also trailed by restructuring the organization of IEEE Comsoc. Various aspects relating to further convergence has sparked fairly interesting discussions.

Then, some VPs and directors presented some reports and guidances. And each chapters presented their reports, plan activities, and other things. The first chapter to deliver the report is Indonesia. From Indonesia, I delivered a report, exploring the chapter’s activities that are still focused on technical and organizational campaigns, including our supports in the formation of the first four IEEE student branches in Indonesia, serial roadshows, and other approaches. Our plan ahead includes the preparation of a larger conference (more than the current form of thematic seminars or lecturing). However, it would require assistance and support from the Region 10 and neighbouring chapters. Also presented are the preparation of TENCON in Bali in November 2011, and our request for distinguished lecturer & distinguished speakers on recent progress in the field of infocomm. Some officers expressed their support for IEEE Comsoc activities in Indonesia.

After the conference, I returned to the Kyoto centre by the MRT with Prof. Hsiao-Hwa Chen of IEEE Comsoc Tainan Chapter. I know this gentlemen even before the conference. Last year we made some correspondence to arrange a seminar in Singapore. But in MRT, he showed his other side: an avid culture observer. After talking about chapter management and infocom platform management, we spent the time to talk about the history of Japan, Kyoto, etc. He suggested me to spend more days to explore Japanese cities and cultural centres.

So the next day I spent my time to pay a visit to historic areas: Nara (the first capital of Japan as an emerging imperial), Kyoto (the capital of Japanese Imperial for 1000 years), before finally returned to Tokyo (the capital of Japan since the Meiji Restoration). In Kyoto, I got the opportunity to visit the Imperial Palace for about 1 hour. An excellent palace, I must admit. Also I visited Tokugawa shogunate palace.

I know I should now spend more time to report my cultural journeys. Indeed I have written them in my travelling blog, koen.cc, but only in Indonesian. I guess I will someday translate them and put them here.