Thursday

Coining World Music

One of Ubud's most outstanding characters, Robert E. Brown has left us forever exactly one month ago.

I remember, when I met him first at a school project in Payangan, which he was supporting in cooperation with the Ladybamboo Foundation, Ubud. He invited me over to his 'Girikusuma' or Flower Mountain, a center for traditional Balinese performing arts located in Payangan, a village close to the famous Sayan river.

The road leading into the property was so steep, that my car could not make it - neither could Bob just by himself. He had since quite a few years already problems with walking even in flat terrain. But he had a good driver, who could steer him up - all this did not stop him establishing and building a stunning music school and research center here. Students, teachers and performers came from all corners of the world to participate in Brown's energized programs, led by top local musicians and dancers.

He was also well known for his recordings of music from Indonesia. Many of these recordings, among the first widely distributed and commercially available in the United States and other parts of the world, inspired not only a generation of musicians to study and perform Indonesian gamelan music, but will be also remembered forever in outer space. Nasa launched in 1977 a "message into the cosmos". The astronomer Carl Sagan oversaw the contents of this flying time capsule: visual images, messages in ancient and modern languages and a selection of music including Bach, Chuck Berry and Blind Willie Johnson, Navajo, Japanese shakuhachi and Javanese court music. That last contribution to intergalactic understanding was a 1971 recording by Brown, who will be also remembered as the Coiner of the term 'world music'.

Brown produced five of the early recordings from Indonesia in the 'Explorer Series' released on Nonesuch Records. Two of the recordings were from Bali, and three were from Java:
Bali: Gamelan Semar Pegulingan
Bali: Music from the Shadow Play
Java: Court Gamelan (1971). This Grammy-nominated recording has been potentially heard throughout the galaxy. In 1977, NASA launched the space probe Voyager with a gold-plated copper record featuring sounds and images of life and culture on Earth. Working with Carl Sagan, Brown chose a track from the recording, 'Ketawang: Puspawarna', to represent Southeast Asia.
Java: Court Gamelan, Volume II (1977)
Java: Court Gamelan, Volume III (1979)

Bob, born in Utica, New York 18 April 1927 has visited Java and Bali the first time in the middle of the fifties on the footsteps of one of his teachers, the legendary Canadian/American composer Colin McPhee (A House in Bali, Music in Bali etc.).

Since 1971, the Center for World Music has offered a variety of unique opportunities to study the performing arts of Indonesia in their cultural context, often with a format that includes instruction in a number of other performance areas of world music, dance, and theater. In this context Bob initiated in 2002 the annual Payangan Festival in Bali, which featured rare forms of Balinese music, dance and theater, but also music from Africa, India, The Middle East and Turkey, and Europe. For 2006, he was planning a major festival featuring the music and dance of India. His gentle and persuasive personality enabled him to raise the strong enthusiasm of the Heads of his village, which had been musically dormant since the 19th century, when it had been a powerful cultural force.

He will be much missed in Bali, and elsewhere.

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