Hindu-Buddhist Time in Javanese Gamelan Music

  • J. Becker


We have all heard it said that “music is a universal language.” What is meant by this statement is not that any music is universal, but that western classical music is universal. The distress and awkwardness of a music-loving, educated Indian at a symphony concert is matched only by the discomfort of an intelligent American at a Chinese opera performance. Musical events are profoundly culture-bound. Given enough time, one can come to appreciate the arts of an alien culture (partly by superimposing one’s own set of values and aesthetics upon the listening act), but one cannot be taught to hear music as someone from another cultures hears it. Too much cultural background, too many unstated, often unstateable presuppositions are embedded within the situation of music making and music hearing. Listening to a musical events from another culture is the same kind of act as reading a poem from another culture. One may comprehend all the words (notes) and yet somehow miss the meaning. Because cross-cultural understanding is ultimately impossible does not mean that one should not try. This paper is such an attempt, an effort to briefly sketch out a few of the many underlying assumptions which provide the cognitive context, the source of richness of meaning for a performance of Javanese gamelian music.


Phenomenal World Musical Structure Musical Event Tempo Change Music Hearing 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Lewis Rowell, “Time in the Musical Consciousness of Old High Civilizations—East and West,” in The Study of Time III, eds. J.T. Fraser, N. Lawrence, and D. Park, (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1978), p. 578 ff.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ernst Bloch, “Symbols, Song, Dance and Features of Articulation,” Archive of European Sociology, 15 (1974): 71.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    W.E.H. Stanner, “The Dreaming,” in Cultures of the Pacific, eds. T.G. Harding and B.J. Wallace (New York: The Free Press, 1970), p. 304.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Heinrich Zimmer, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, J. Campbell, Bollingen Series 6 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1953), p. 13.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    C. Geertz, “Person, Time and Conduct in Bali,” in The Interpretation of Cultures, (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1973), pp. 374–375.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Becker, J., “Time and Tune in Java,” InThe Imagination of Reality: Essays in Southeast Asian Coherence Systems, eds. A. Yengoyan and A.L. Becker (Norwood, N.J.: Albex Publishing Corp., 1979), pp. 197–210.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Becker

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations