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New Music in Indonesia

Its Development, Thoughts and Tendencies.

  1. Introduction

Musical language in Indonesia is difficult to define because of the ethnic diversity. Some of the causes are also cultural influences from abroad. Through the composing activities we could trace how musical language in Indonesia became more diverse and transformed into its newest forms.

It is also difficult to say when a real “New Music” started. It makes sense to begin with “Pekan Komponis Indonesia” that was initiated by Suka Hardjana in 1979, although before, the forming of a Composers League already had happened.

            If in the early 1970s until the end of 1990s, the new music scene was dominated by that event, other new music scenes were born in the early 2000s. One of those scenes is „Yogyakarta Contemporary Music Festival“, where the scene is not only for Indonesians but also open for International composers. One has also to mention the more international orientated Triennale “Art Summit Indonesia” since the 1990s.

1.1 Brief explanation of music in Indonesia before Independence.

Indonesia is the world's largest island country, with more than thirteen thousand islands. The “birth” of Indonesia is marked by the proclamation of Independence on the 17th of August 1945. Indonesia consists of hundreds of distinct native ethnic and linguistic groups. This diversity is also reflected in their music[1].

Although there were a lot of music languages and styles, we don’t know who made those musics, because it is anonymous. But in a few cases, composer’s names could be traced in the early 20th century (during Dutch Indies period) such as I Wayan Lotring (1898-1983), Soerjopoetro, R. Atmadarsana, and R. Soehardjo.[2].

    2. Brief History of Music in Indonesia after Independence.

2.1  Music Composition before “Pekan Komponis”

After independence, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, composers were song writers and arrangers[3] like Ismail Marzuki, Cornel Simanjuntak, Iskandar, Binsar Sitompul, Koesbini, R.A.J. Soedjasmin, and others. Their songs were based on Western tonal music language. Mostly they composed national heroic songs, such as „Maju Tak Gentar“ (Cornel Simanjuntak), or „Bagimu Negeri“ (Kusbini).

According to Suka Hardjana, the younger generation in the 1960s, started writing works for orchestra,[4] like Mochtar Embut, F.A. Warsono, Trisuci Kamal, Paul Gutama Soegijo and Slamet Abdul Sjukur. Most of them got formal music education inside and outside of Indonesia.

Trisuci Kamal, Slamet A. Sjukur and Paul Gutama Soegijo became the first people to develop contemporary music in Indonesia and abroad in a Western idiom.[5]


2.2  Indonesian 1960’s Composers Generation (Western orientated)

2.2.1  Slamet Abdul Sjukur          

Slamet Abdul Sjukur (1935-2015) is the “founding father” of contemporary Indonesian music. He studied and worked in Paris under Olivier Messiaen and Henri Dutilleux. He was a lecturer at IKJ (Jakarta Arts Institute); but because of his unconventional ideas, he finally had to leave. He has been living in Jakarta and Surabaya as a freelance composer, teacher and music critic. He has a concept that he called “minimax”. This idea views limitation not as obstructions but as a challenge to work with minimal material, but with maximum result.

Slamet also was one of the founders of “Pertemuan Musik” (music meeting). This organization was established in 1957, and had several agenda such as concert lectures, book discussions, music movies discussion etc. Beside of „Pertemuan Musik“, he was also part of “Masyarakat Bebas Bising” where the concern was to speak up against noise pollution.[6]

2.2.2  Paul Gutama Soegijo

Paul Gutama Soegijo (1934-2018, Yogyakarta) studied violin and musictheory in Amsterdam and composition at UdK in Berlin with Boris Blacher. He feels at home with the European modernity as well as with his gamelan tradition. After years as a composer of the Western contemporary music, in 1973 he established the “Banjar Gruppe” Berlin as an experimental ensemble and turned to gamelan music again.

Beside his “European” aesthetics, he had an idea to deconstruct the tradition from its ethnographical context, calling it “Musik Leluhur Baru” (“New Source Music”).

We can read about Gutama’s concept in Dieter Mack’s book and Gutama says:

 “I am practicing deconstruction. A further step in the innovative process is made when structural concepts are freed from their ethnographic context and taken as abstract, emerge as objects of compositional speculation. From an ethnographic point of view, Imbalan is the sign of a new section in a Gending, from instrumental and compositional point of view, Imbalan is a practical method of achieving fast figuration on heavy percussion instruments. To the gamelan instruments I later added percussion from other countries and culture (…) This is in short New Source Music”.[7]

2.3  Pekan Komponis Indonesia (Indonesian Composers Week)

“Pekan Komponis Indonesia” was initiated by Suka Hardjana and the Jakarta Arts Council in 1979. This event still happen until now and become one of main scene of new music in Indonesia that held almost every year. But, between 1979 – 2019 there’s some long break that happened (1989 – 1998, 2000 – 2004, 2006 – 2011).

That event became a melting pot for Indonesian composers from many regions to perform and discuss their music until the end of 1990s (although “Pekan Komponis Indonesia” still exists on a non-regular basis). Composers like Franki Raden, Otto Sidharta, Rahayu Supanggah, Nyoman Windha etc. emerged from here. And during this period (around 1990s) there is a debate among Franki Raden, Dieter Mack and Slamet Abdul Sjukur about Indonesian contemporary music, we can read it in Kalam magazine 2nd edition, 1994 with main title Polemik Musik Indonesia (Indonesian Music Polemic).[8]

After a “little break” in the early 2000s, „Pekan Komponis Indonesia“ was held again in 2012 and invited composers from different generations and styles. It presented several young composers such as Matius Shanboone, Chozin Mukti, Andreas Arianto and older generation, Michael Asmara. The following years the event had special titles such as “Musik Dawai Nusantara” (Pekan Komponis 2013), „Keroncong: Riwayatmu, Kini“ (Pekan Komponis 2014), „Musik Eksperimental Elektronik“ (Pekan Komponis 2016).

Other names in this “Pekan Komponis” generation: I Wayan Sadra,  AL Soewardi, Iwan Hasan, Djaduk Ferianto. (from 1979 – 2019, more than 60 composers invited to perform their music[9]).

Other names in this generation (outside of Pekan Komponis): Dody Satya Ekagustdiman, Sinta Wulur, Yasudah Solo and so on.

3.  New Tendencies

According to Ben Pasaribu[10], In the development of new music in Indonesia, we will find a path that historically continues the two musical lines: First, creations in the context of local music instruments (including foreign influences); second, creations based on musical aesthetics from Western music, both in the format of the structure and its instrumentation.[11]

3.1  New Music that Derives from Several Ethnical Backgrounds.

In this category, composers try to develop their traditional musical languages to become something new. In Wayan Sadra’s piece “Nggendot”, he elaborates two traditional musical languages, Javanese and Balinese gamelan. He applied Balinese gamelan techniques on a Javanese gender.

This ethnical background not only derived from the musical language itself, but several indigineous social contexts such as in „Kumpulan Bunyi Sunya, Doni Dartafian, Lawe Samagaha – Ambu“ where they were observing the role of women of the Baduy ethnic society. There is also Hario Efenur speaking musically about “bad news” related to Minagkabau musical traditions that show about sadness and sorrow in his piece “Aku Delay Padamu”. Still with “ethnical” background, Nursalim Yadi Anugerah composed a chamber opera piece “HNNUNG”  based on Takna Lawe text from Kayaan..

3.2  New Music for Gamelan.

Gamelan has a strong stand in Indonesia’s contemporary music scene, from Paul Gutama’s „Banjar Gruppe” to the radical sounds of „Gamelan Salukat“ formed by Dewa Ketut Alit. In Bali especially, we can trace the development of Gamelan to the birth of the new sound of Gamelan Gong Kebyar[12]. But, in this chapter I will give more concern to the development of new music in Gamelan from 1970s generation until now.

According to Gutama’s student Thomas Zunk, Gutama had difficulties to find members for his gamelan group and decided to do a “call for members” in a local magazine. This group did not only play traditional, but also performed new music for Gamelan composed by Gutama, During his life Gutama released two album “Compositions 1967 – 1996 a choice” and “New Source Music”.

Beside of Paul Gutama, we can find several composers who compose new music for Gamelan such as Rahayu Supanggah, I Wayan Sadra, Yan Priya Kumara (Janu), Putu Septa, I Wayan Gde Yudane, Madé Arnawa and so on. Although they compose music for gamelan, until now, I haven’t found any documents whether they also formed new gamelan ensembles[13]. But nowdays, I Wayan Gde Yudane just formed a new gamelan ensemble called „Roras Ensemble“ to perform his piece.

Another Gamelan composer and gamelan activist that live and active to introduce new music for gamelan abroad is Aris Daryono. He is the director and founder of Go Gamelan, a gamelan company based in London[14]. He also iniatitor of Gamelan Composers Forum in School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK. This forum also did call for proposal and invite composers to compose new music for gamelan. In 2018 edition, this forum invite composers to make new music for gamelan and collaborate with electro-acoustic composer, Haris Čustović.

Beside of those names that I mentioned above, we also have to name another gamelan group, “Kyai Fatahillah” from Bandung that was formed by composer Iwan Gunawan (*1971). This ensemble is known as the first gamelan ensemble that can read Western notation. The group is very active in the new music scene all over the world. They were involved in SEA Young Composers Competition 2011 held by Goethe Institute in Bandung and worked together with Ensemble Mosaik. They work regularly with a dance group in Holland and 2020 they are invited to “Essen Now” Festival to premiere a new composition by Dieter Mack for Gamelan and percussion.

Other two radical Gamelan ensemble are: „Indonesian Contemporary Gamelan Ensemble“ (ICGE) formed by Arham Aryadi and „Gamelan Salukat“ formed by Dewa Alit. These Gamelan ensembles have their own uniqness. In ICGE they are using the traditional formation of Javanese Gamelan in different ways (extended techniques) and involving electronic things. Also this ensemble can read Western notation. Different with ICGE, „Gamelan Salukat“ is more innovative in its formation and its multi-modal music language. And we can hear a good example in Dewa Alit’s piece “Ngenjuk Memedi”.

3.3  “New Music” based on “traditional” Western Music Language.

Although in this category mostly composers are inspired by several cultures of Indonesia, mostly composers write their music based on “traditional Western music language” using tonality, neo-romanticism; or they just put several Indonesian traditional music languages into “Western” system (pelog and slendro pressed into the well-tempered system). Until now, we can see this tendency in some works by Ananda Sukarlan (“Rapsodia Nusantara 1 and 4”), Julius Catra Henakin and Gardika Gigih.

However, in Gigih Gardika‘s case, he is not only working with the “tonal” idiom, but also expands his aesthetic to free improvisation, film scoring etc. In 2018 he received a grant from Japan Foundation to do soundscape recording documentation in Southeast Asia[15]. Before that, he also had some opportunities to work together with some Japanese musicians and composers where his “tonality” changed to another direction. In the field of “pop” music he released the album “Nyala”.

Other examples: Amir Pasaribu, Jazeed Djamin, Trisutji Kamal and Jaya Suprana “Fragment”.

3.4  New Music where each Composer derives from Western Contemporary Music.

3.4.1  Contemporary Western Style and Instrumentation.

In this category, composers usually use western classical contemporary language from their generation or before, such as serial techniques and aleatoric ones etc. The first example is Tony Prabowo’s “Psalms”. 

Other examples: Michael Asmara “Lament”, Matius Shanboone “Incantation”

3.3.2  Polystylistic Tendencies.

Polystyle means not what Alfred Schnittke did. These composers work not only with one style, but many styles, even one piece has a single style. It reminds me of Frank Zappa. In Indonesia there are some composers who work with this attitude. Two of them are Harry Roesli (1952-2007) and Royke B Koapaha. Harry Roesli was known as a multi style composer using Progrock style such as in “Ken Arok”, but he also did electronic music like in “Asmat Dream”.


Royke B Koapaha is working in a multi layer style from pop, avantgarde, progrock, and electronics. From him, therecame a younger generation, especially in Yogyakarta, because he is teaching at Indonesian Institute of Arts. Royke effected not only the Yogyakarta scene, but also spreading to Pontianak and Papua, because his student like Dicky Indrapraja is teaching in Pontianak, where a new generation is born that I called „Pontianak school“. In the next generation we have Jay Afrisando. His works are very diverse from “pop jazz”, participative music in “Twitsick”, until electronic and multimedia music.

3.4.3  Early Electronic Music

Although this chapter is new music based on “Western contemporary music”, I couldn’t say if this example is pure deriving from Western contemporary musical language except the medium is “electronic”. In their “electronic” pieces, composers use some Indonesian local musics or sound sources from Indonesian instruments such as saluang, gamelan, traditional vocal styles from Papua etc. to become the source that they develop electronically.

Examples: Fahmi Alatas, Sapto Raharjo “Kunang-Kunang”, Harry Roesli “Asmat Dream”, Otto Sidartha “Saluang”.

3.5  Second Electronic music generation

In the 2000’s generation, there are some composers who went even farer. This generation (Tony Maryana, Patrick Gunawan, Stevie Jonathan, Donny Karsadi) are different from the first Indonesian electronic composers. They are not only using conventional techniques of electronic music making, but they expand it utilizing live streaming media, machine learning, sensors, artificial intelligence, live processing and explore the interaction between machines and humans. Most of these Indonesian electronic composers are Otto Sidharta’s former students.

There is also the DIY alternative underground music scene that is close to electronic, noise and experimental music. There is a Jogja „Noise Bombing Festival“, known as a big day of the noise scene there. One of its activists is Indra Menus. The interesting thing in this generation is: there are no “boundaries” between electronic music scene and the DIY scene, for example when Tony Maryana formed a synth ensemble “Jogja Synth Ensemble” together with some people from DIY scene such as Indra Menus.This movement also spreads to other cities such as Muara Suara in Samarinda.

4.  Indonesian new music in 2000s generation.

In this generation we will see something that we couldn’t find in the earlier generation and it happens frequently. There are some festivals, communities that were born and become melting pots for “global” composers such as “Yogyakarta Contemporary Music Festival”. But there are also composition communities that were born in the universities and formed by music composition students, becoming the first embryo for the bigger step after they are graduated.

This generation is also very close to the world new music scenes, because the increasing  digitalization and networking (Internet) helped them to reach the world to have “global” connections. This phenomenon affected also Gema Swaratyagita in her piece “TuBuKa”, where she uses a media social network as a tool for participative music, announcing a “call for sound and text”, where people are asked to send their “body sound” and their text as a starting point in Gema’s piece.

These increasing possibilities also influenced the second generation of electronic music. (Patrick Gunawan Hartono, Donny Karsadi, and Stevie Jonathan).

In Patrick’s collaboration piece (with Yola and Ubiet) “Sensory Intersection”, the use of live streaming technology is a good example. And in another piece by Stevie Jonathan, “In Memory”, he processes data of terrorism victims since 1972 – 2016 to the live processing sound, where the musician can control this data processing data by hiting the bowl as a metaphor of hiting terrorism.

A bit different is Donny’s[16] piece “I Hate My Stupid Brain” where he is using computational approach to do multimedia things that are close to Marko Ciciliani‘s term “Music in The Expanded Field”.

Other names of this generation: Gatot Danar Sulistiyanto, Philemon Mukarno, Joko Porong, Gondrong Gunarto, Peni Candra Rini, Matius Shanboone, Dicky Indrapraja, , Donny Karsadi, Andreas Arianto, Aldy Maulana, Marisa Sharon Hartanto, Jay Afrisando, Putu Septa, Gigih Gardika Pradipta, Yan Priya Kumara (Janu), Hario Efenur, Gempur Sentosa,Wilson Leywantono, Hilmi Mahardika, Arham Aryadi, Nursalim Yadi Anugerah, Juan Arminandi, Septian Dwi Cahyo, Avant Garde Dewa Gugat.

4.1  New Music Festival, ensembles and communities in 2000s generation

4.1.1  Festivals

In  this period, „Pekan Komponis“ no longer dominates the new music scene because there are some alternative  festivals such as Yogyakarta Contemporary Music Festival (Yogyakarta), Bukan Musik Biasa (Solo), Komponis Kini (Bali), October Meeting (Yogyakarta) and so on. One of big difference is that the festival is now not only a melting pot for Indonesian composers, but includes composers around the world especially in South East Asia Region.

4.1.2  New Music Communities

In this generation also born some new music communities neither in Universities or outside of Universities. The examples of new music development through University communities are The Circle (Pelita Harapan University) with its former member Matius Shanboone and Andreas Arianto. and 6,5 composers collective (Indonesian Institute  of The Arts Yogyakarta) with its former member Gigih Gardika Pradipta, Gatot Danar Sulistiyanto, Aldy Maulana, Jay Afrisando, Chozin Mukti.

Other new music communities are the „Pontianak School“, „Forum Komponis Muda Sumbar“, and the new music scene in Papua. „Pontianak school” members are Nursalim Yadi Anugerah, Juan Arminandi, Reza Zulianda etc. Beside of doing compositions, they also formed “Balaan Tumaan Ensemble”, performing Kalimantan traditional music, as well as new music based on that formation („Balaan Tumaan“ is an ensemble using traditional music instruments from Kalimantan).

In Papua, there are two composers, namely Septina Rosalina Layan and Markus Rumbino. Their concern is exploring Papuan traditional music, such as in Markus Rumbino‘s “Rur & Nin”. These two composers have a strong relationship to the Yogyakarta scene where they studied with Royke B Koapaha and lived there for years.

4.1.3   New music ensembles

I have mentioned some of the new music ensembles in the previous chapter “New Music for Gamelan”, but beside of Gamelan, there are two other new ensembles, the Indonesian National Orchestra (INO) formed by Franki Raden, and „Jakarta Modern Ensemble“ formed by Tony Prabowo.

At INO, all instruments are Indonesian local instruments. “Jakarta Modern Ensemble” is a Western new music ensemble founded recently. Tony works together with Peter Veale (Oboist and member of Ensemble Musikfabrik), and percussionist Max Riefer. Balaan Tumaan, mostly performs Kalimantan traditional music. Its new music is based on that formation.

5. Other text about new music in Indonesia 

  • Suka Hardjana: Corat-coret Musik Kontemporer Dulu dan Kini. (Indonesia). 

  • Ben M. Pasaribu: Kaleidoskopik Komponis Dalam Musik Kontemporer Di Indonesia. (Indonesia). 

  • Dieter Mack: Zeitgenössische Musik in Indonesien – Zwischen lokalen Traditionen, nationalen Verpflichtungen und internationalen Einflüssen, Olms Verlag, Hildesheim 2004. (German)  

  • Christopher J Miller “Dissertation: Cosmopolitan, Nativist, Eclectic: Cultural Dynamics in Indonesian Musik Kontemporer. (English) 

  • Erie Setiawan: Arsiptektur Musik Indonesia Kini. (Indonesia) 


[1] See Grove Music Online, Indonesia.

[2] See Franki Raden: Dinamika Pertemuan Dua Tradisi – Musik Kontemporer Indonesia di abad ke 20. In: „Kalam“ 2nd edition, 1994, page 6 – 7.

[3] Suka Hardjana, Catatan Musik Indonesia "Fragmentasi Seni Modern Yang Terasing", Kalam 5th edition, 1997, page 23.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Dieter Mack: Istirahat Yang Berbunyi - Slamet A. Sjukur, in: Tommy F. Awuy (ed.): „Tiga Jejak“, Jakarta 2004, MSPI,
page 83 – 227.

[7] Dieter Mack: Zeitgenössische Musik in Indonesien – Zwischen lokalen, Traditionen, nationalen Verpflichtungen und internationalen Einflüssen, Hildesheim 2004, Olms Verlag. Page 343.

[8] See “Kalam” jurnal kebudayaan magazine, 1994, 2nd edition. Page 4 – 31.

[9] See Pekan Komponis Indonesia program book for more detail information about composers that invited from 1979 - 2019.

[10] Ben Pasaribu (1960 – 2010) is Indonesian composer. He studied ethnomusicology at the University of North Sumatra. Stutied music at Marymunt College in Tarrytown, New York and he also studied composition with Alvin Lucier at the Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conneticut.

[11] From Ben Pasaribu’s essay: “Kaleidoskopik Komponis Dalam Musik Kontemporer di Indonesia”. page 185

[12] See Edward Herbst, Bali 1928, vol. I Gamelan Gong Kebyar Tabuh-tabuh dari Belaluan, Pangkang, dan Busungbiu. Translated to bahasa Indonesia by Keni Suryaatmaja. 2014. page 12 - 31

[13] They certainly did, but normally not long lasting

[14] For biography of Aris Daryono, please visit

[15] See

[16] Donny is currently the leader of the electronic studio at the University of Music Lübeck/Germany

N.B : For all music examples of those composers you can find easily in internet (especially 2000s generation). if you are interested to listen to their music and you can't find it in Internet, please send me E-mail. I will give you storage link to listen to their music sample.

Septian Dwi Cahyo

Graz, October 2019

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