In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Indonesia

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Pan-Regional Studies
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Works
  • Journals and Institutions
  • National Popular Music
  • Music and Islam

Music Indonesia
Andrew Weintraub
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0037


Musicological attention to the music of Indonesia dates to the late 19th century and early 20th century, particularly to instrument tunings (e.g., A. J. Ellis) and the classification of instruments (e.g., Erich Moritz Von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs). Gamelan, the large ensemble characterized by a variety of gong-chime instruments (bossed gongs), fascinated European listeners at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Gamelan music influenced prominent European and American art music composers including Claude Debussy (France), Colin McPhee (Canada), Benjamin Britten (Great Britain), Ton de Leeuw (the Netherlands), and Lou Harrison and Steve Reich (United States), among others. Jaap Kunst (b. 1891–d. 1960), a Dutch musicologist and colonial administrator for the Dutch colonial education system, made the music of Indonesia the focus of his prolific career. Indonesian music studies through the 1960s were concerned primarily with documenting, preserving, and classifying types of instruments; their construction; their distribution; and their scales and tuning systems. Scholarship since the 1970s opened the field to larger questions including the relation between music and theater (and dance to a lesser extent); music theory; performance structure and practice; popular music; and the relation among music, culture, and society (e.g., ethnicity, politics, religion, and gender). The ethnomusicological study of Indonesia has broadened considerably since the 1970s from an emphasis on gamelan in Java and Bali to regional music (including nongamelan genres and those outside Java and Bali) and popular music (which tends to reflect a high level of interaction among Malay, Middle Eastern, Indian, European, Chinese, and American music). However, the majority of sources on music relate to the islands of Java and Bali and, within those areas, to gamelan. Further, the emphasis is still on traditional music; that is, music originating from or defined in terms of a geographical region, ethnicity, culture, descent, and language of a group of people. Although scholarly sources pertaining to regions outside of Java and Bali are fewer, this entry provides as much attention as possible to the remarkable musical diversity of the archipelago. Regional traditions and regional popular forms are treated within their respective regional categories. National or pan-regional forms of popular music are given a separate category in this entry. Audio and video recordings of regional music, which in many cases have extensive liner notes and information not published in scholarly books or articles, are placed within regional categories. Thematic areas of interest that are pan-regional in scope include National Popular Music and Music and Islam. Music accompanies many forms of theater and dance; this entry emphasizes the literature on theatrical forms in which music is examined.

General Overviews and Pan-Regional Studies

Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world, with a 2010 population of more than 237 million people. Indonesians inhabit approximately 6,000 of the 17,500 islands in the archipelago. Indonesia is a modern nation-state of great cultural and ethnolinguistic diversity. Bahasa Indonesia is the official national language, but more than seven hundred languages are spoken. Due to its large and diverse population spread out over such a vast expanse of land and sea, it is difficult to make general statements about Indonesian music as a monolithic entity. Most studies in this entry pertain to the music of specific ethnic groups (only a small fraction of the more than three hundred ethnic groups are represented in the scholarship). Several studies address the music of a region (constituting more than one ethnic group) or identify trends and processes common in music of different groups (see also National Popular Music and Music and Islam). Kunst 1994 is an overview of music in the outer islands (i.e., not Java). Kartomi 1980 and Kartomi 1985 characterize the history of musical development as a series of musical strata that emerged due to contact with external cultural influences in Sumatra, Java, and Bali. Similarly, Miller and Williams 1998 (cited under Reference Works) characterizes the history of music in Southeast Asia in terms of “waves of cultural influence, from both nearby and distant societies” (p. 55). In contrast Yampolsky, et al. 2007–2012 (Part 1.iii) identifies various traits and complexes (e.g., the gamelan-wayang complex and the Melayu complex) across the archipelago that may be seen alone or in combination with others.

  • Arps, Bernard, ed. Performance in Java and Bali: Studies of Narrative, Theatre, Music, and Dance. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1993.

    Edited collection of articles on a variety of performance genres in Java and Bali arranged around three broad themes: (1) ethnographic description of particular performance genres; (2) analysis of performance within particular sociopolitical orders; (3) relations and analogies between different performance components and different genres. Includes essays on music from East Java (Wolbers, Sutton), West Java (Helwig, van Zanten), Bali (Seebass), and Central Java (Schneider and Beurmann).

  • Kartomi, Margaret. “Musical Strata in Sumatra, Java, and Bali.” In Musics of Many Cultures: An Introduction. Edited by Elizabeth May, 111–133. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

    A periodization of music history in terms of four strata or layers, defined in terms of “predominant religious and cultural characteristics that color the musical styles of each layer” (p. 111): animist pre-Hindu, Hindu-Buddhist (c. 4th century ADc. 14th century), Islamic (13th century AD), and European (16th century). Musical examples from Sumatra, Java, and Bali show characteristics of these strata. In practice, these strata mix together into syncretic forms.

  • Kartomi, Margaret. Musical Instruments of Indonesia: An Introductory Handbook. Melbourne, Australia: Indonesian Arts Society, 1985.

    A catalogue for an exhibition of musical instruments from many regions of the archipelago. The introduction places musical instruments in the four strata identified in Kartomi 1980. The exhibition includes the gamelan Digul, an iron gamelan made by Javanese political prisoners in a Dutch prison camp in Digul (West Irian) in the 1920s. Good descriptions illustrated with color and black-and-white photographs and line drawings.

  • Kunst, Jaap. “Music and Dance in the Outer Provinces.” In Indonesian Music and Dance: Traditional Music and Its Interaction with the West. Translated by Sandra Reijnhart. Edited by Maya Frijn, 173–204. Amsterdam: Royal Tropical Institute, 1994.

    Kunst originally published this essay in 1946. A concise survey of musical instruments and dance forms outside of Java and Bali, which, due to radical political and socioeconomic changes (e.g., the Japanese occupation) were at the risk of “degenerating or dying off at an even faster rate than before” (p. 173). Based on Kunst’s fieldwork in Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara, Timor, the Moluccas, and Irian Jaya. Thirty-six photos.

  • Mrazek, Jan, ed. Puppet Theater in Contemporary Indonesia: New Approaches to Performance Events. Michigan Papers on South and Southeast Asia Number 50. Ann Arbor: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, 2002.

    Wayang puppet theater on Java and Bali dominates the scholarship on wayang, but other forms exist in Lombok (wayang Sasak), Kalimantan (wayang Banjar), and southern Sumatra (wayang in Palembang). This groundbreaking edited volume includes several essays on music and puppet theater of various types from West Java (Sunda: Weintraub), Banyumas (Lysloff), Bali (Heimarck), Lombok (Ecklund), and Central Java (Arps, Benamou, and Weiss). Articles situate wayang within the changing social and cultural conditions of Indonesia, particularly during the post–New Order period (1998–).

  • Notosudirdjo, Franki S.. “Music, Politics, and the Problems of National Identity in Indonesia.” PhD diss., University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2001.

    The “problem” of national identity refers to the development of a national music after independence that can best represent the common interests of a very diverse Indonesian population. Tracing the history of Indonesian art music in tandem with the historical discourse about the search for an Indonesian national identity, the author argues that contemporary art music (musik kontemporer) is best suited to be the national music of Indonesia.

  • Yampolsky, Philip, ed. Music of Indonesia. 20 vols. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Folkways, 1991–1999.

    A monumental project begun in 1991 by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, in collaboration with the Indonesian Society for the Performing Arts (Masyarakat Seni Pertunjukan Indonesia) to document the richness and variety of music within the country. The resulting publication was a twenty-volume series of compact discs and extensive liner notes based on original fieldwork. Beautifully packaged, this collection shows that music of Indonesia is far more extensive and varied than the “great” gamelan traditions of Java and Bali. Recordings are available online for preview and purchase. Liner notes are also available for free download for each volume.

  • Yampolsky, Philip, Sumarsam, Lisa Gold, et al. “Indonesia.” In Grove Music Online.

    The best general introduction to date of music in Indonesia. Part 1 consists of an introduction; a conceptual framework of national and regional culture with examples of each type; and a musical overview focusing on genres, contexts of music making, and musical materials. Part 2 describes the history of Indonesian music as three somewhat overlapping historical periods (precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial). Part 3 classifies musical instruments according to the Sachs-Hornbostel classification. Useful bibliographies accompany each of the three parts.

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