Yudane: ‘Bali Arts Festival needs medical attention’
Yudane is a leading Balinese composer, working across both gamelan and contemporary western orchestral pieces. He is internationally recognized as a provocative composer and thinker in his approach to new music.
Born in Kaliungu Kaja hamlet in Denpasar, he grew up a musical prodigy with a rebellious nature. His traditional compositions won many competitions, yet his dissatisfaction with the limitations, including the ones imposed by the
senior composers, of gamelan drove him to experimenting with the instruments, the sound they produced, and the way they should be played. His experimentation “disturbed” many people, who said that Yudane should instead create music with different instruments and sounds altogether. He did and still does, and while doing so he won the “Australia’s Helpman Award” for original music score and “The Age Critic Award” for creative excellence.
Yudane has been involved in the Bali Arts Festival since a young age and his works have been performed widely at international arts festivals. As well as travelling and living abroad for many years, his music compositions have been performed by groups such as the Australian Art Orchestra, the NZ Trio, NZ String Quartet, Momenta Quartet in the US and many other highly recognized orchestras around the world.
Bali Daily’s contributor Sagung Kania met up with Yudane at his home in Ubud to talk about the Bali Arts
Festival and current compositions that he is working on. Sitting in the curved, bamboo structure of his home, designed by Yokasara, he looked back on the 34 years that the festival has been in existence.
Question: How would you compare the Bali Arts Festival since you first started getting involved in it?
Answer: Since its inception, the Bali Arts Festival was designed to show the traditional arts of Bali and Indonesia. It was started in 1979 by Ida Bagus Mantra, the governor of Bali. The creation of a new venue supported that first intention of showcasing traditional art performances and presentations and has been an ongoing success in this
Since then, arts in Bali have widened to include influences not only from artists taking part in international studies, exchanges and travel, but also by responding to changes in our own culture and environment. The audiences have also changed and people from all over Indonesia and the world are coming to see and be part of the festival now.
The original idea of the Bali Arts Festival was clear because curators had knowledge about traditional art forms. Traditional arts are easier to perform, because they can be performed anywhere and at any time. It is as beautiful to perform a ceremonial dance in the cemetery, on the road or in a temple, as it is on stage. The intention of the Bali Arts Festival is no longer clear and it has found it really difficult to keep up with what’s going on in the arts world in Bali.
How can the Bali Arts Festival anticipate and respond to the changes in presentation of a wider definition of the arts?
The biggest challenge that the Bali Arts Festival faces is creating a festival that truly represents what is happening in the Bali arts scene, in both traditional and contemporary forms. It’s not enough to respond to these changes by redecorating the buildings, providing new chairs and keeping the toilets clean and hygienic. While this is all good, if you want to make the Bali Arts Festival more representative of arts in Bali, you need to have a soundproofed concert theatre and improved exhibition spaces that are functional and that are of an international standard.
Also, if performances are scheduled in an outdoor venue like the Bali Arts Festival, you need to have some idea about how the quality of the performance will be affected by background sound, especially if several performances are happening at the same time with conflicting levels of amplification. Many of the performances are scheduled at the same time and pumped out on large loudspeakers so that we are listening to the sound of two or three performances clashing together. For example, a string quartet is competing against the background noise of lawak pop-gamelan. Until now, there has still never been any value given to the actual performances. Last year, my music was scheduled at the same time as an amplified pop competition, which drowned out parts of our concert. I think the night market next door to the theatre is quieter and more civilized than all the competing shows drowning each other out because it’s more organized with good displays that have price tags and clear discount signs and really cheap deals. It’s much better organized than the clashing concert schedules, sound system feedback and poor lighting of the art performances. Don’t feel bad if people go to the Bali Arts Festival just to get good deals at the night market.
What do you think visitors from overseas want to see at the Bali Arts Festival?
I think visitors from overseas want to see a representative selection of the work of master artists and up and coming artists, as well as traditional performances. To reach this goal, the government sends groups of performers overseas to promote Bali arts tourism. It’s not effective because it’s all paid and organized by the government and the people who are sent are not chosen because of their skill in the arts. Nobody will see the performances except for people who are already part of the Indonesian community. It just keeps ambassadors busy trying to organize an audience for the performers. Professional festivals won’t send that level of performers to promote the arts in their country.
In the same way, curators of the Bali Arts Festival aren’t very concerned about what’s included in the festival and the level of the performance. Instead, festival projects and art commissions are based on a kind of crony system and nothing has changed in the way that projects are shared out and divided between the friends and contacts of the curator of the festival. When the festival first started running, it was led by ISI and projects were divided between ISI employees. Later, when the government took over running the festival, it was led by Dinas Kebudayaan [the cultural office] and projects went to government officials. In the last couple of years, they’ve tried with independent curators and again, projects go to their friends and contacts. Now it’s moved back to the government again and I don’t think that much will change. I don’t really worry about how projects are shared out, but it will affect the quality of the performances that are chosen as part of the festival.
If it’s a professional festival overseas, they will know who they want to choose and seek them out. For example, if a festival really wants traditional arts, they’d go straight to Sebatu village gamelan because they know they want something exotic. The aim is the exotic and the audience can be wider. At least they don’t need government money and they don’t need to make ambassadors overseas busy.
If an overseas festival is looking for contemporary artists in Bali, they’ll choose master artists individually. Don’t forget, there are a lot of them. They come and go from Bali and present their work all over the world. For contemporary artists, it’s not a presentation of the exotic, but it is guaranteed that the value given is shared equally between western and eastern art forms and a lot of theaters want to have this kind of work. We don’t need government support or busy ambassadors under pressure to get us audiences. Also, because contemporary arts are given this level of value, they can develop more widely and create more links — like
What do you see as the future of the Bali Arts Festival?
I think the question needs to be, what exactly do the curators of the Bali Arts Festival want? The biggest problem is that the curators have no idea of what’s going on. So far, they don’t know which one is art and which one is not, because they don’t understand the definition of arts. They don’t have a high level of knowledge and skills in creating a platform for Balinese arts that is of interest to the international community. If curators are given a higher level of training, they can learn about art forms, the history of arts, presentation and marketing of arts. They need to go overseas and see other festivals so that they can see the level of the venues, the level of the performances and learn what art is.
I don’t really know what to say about the Bali Arts Festival, but I’m assuming that it will go on and on like this forever, happily ever after. I don’t think there’s a will or the knowledge to make this festival more professional. There’s a kind of stagnation in the mindset of the organizers. If you don’t have medicine to treat a sickness, it just gets worse. Artists who are achieving at a high level have lost interest in the Bali Arts Festival and are leaving. You can see a lot of centers for the creative arts are starting to pop up around the island and artists are choosing those centers because their work is given more value than at the Bali Arts Festival. I’m happy if the Bali Arts Festival returns to its original idea of showcasing traditional arts in Bali. It’s clear and people know what they’re doing with traditional arts. But let’s be honest and give it the correct name, which is Cultural Festival not Arts Festival. If we go back to the beginning of the Bali Arts Festival, we won’t need medical care, we’d just need a balian [traditional healer], but I think at this point, the Bali Arts Festival needs medical attention.
You’ve recently returned to Bali from New Zealand and I hear you’re working on a new music composition for gamelan.
I returned to Bali a few years ago and am living here for a while because of my wife’s influence. We wanted our kids to learn their Balinese culture so they can have their feet firmly in both their New Zealand and Balinese culture. This makes sense to me, so although I was already going in the right direction for me by staying overseas, I’m happy to come back here.
I’m working on compositions called ‘new music for gamelan’ with young musicians from Denpasar. We’ve performed a series of concerts called ‘Triple2’ with a gamelan orchestra called Wrdhi Swaram. It’s unique because it’s creating a genre of music that’s referencing both eastern and western musical boundaries and uses both oral traditions from Balinese and western notation. This music is fully gamelan without any western instruments, so it’s really different to fusion music.
How would you define new music for gamelan?
New music for gamelan refers to art music and is also known as serious, or concert music, or erudite music. New music refers to musical traditions that imply advanced structural and theoretical considerations and a written musical tradition. In this way, it’s usually used as a contrasting term to pop music, traditional or folk music.
I work with my own Balinese cultural references within this idea of serious concert music, but I’m not in the shadow of it. I’m happy to share my work with anybody who wants to listen to it, both here in Bali and internationally.
How does your music fit into what’s happening in Balinese music now?
I never think about my music fitting on one island only. I need more range, something wider than that. I do care if people listen to my music. I can’t push people to listen to and understand my music. But I keep writing and expressing my own way.