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About the project

For several decades my research has focused on Sundanese music and dance in West Java. I have been investigating the interactions of pioneer ethnomusicologist Jaap Kunst and Raden Machyar Angga Kusumadinata, a Sundanese aristocrat with both Dutch education and indigenous Sundanese musical training — and their differences of opinion.

During this two month stay in Amsterdam I'll examine materials in the Kunst collection, which include correspondence between Kunst, Kusumadinata, and related parties, to explore the nature of their sometimes uncomfortable collaboration. 

It is my argument that Kunst and Kusumadinata rooted their different approaches in their individual subconscious epistemologies of music; in other words, they both relied on their own pre-existing prejudices about the aesthetics of music to inform their quasi-scientific inquiries into physics, acoustics, and music theory. Understanding the ways in which Kunst and Kusumadinata mobilized their own theoretical inclinations to come up with such divergent explanations of the same phenomena promises significant insights for humanities scholars—to understand better the effects of scientism, of unconscious bias, and of colonial power relations in the pursuit of humanistic understanding. 

This work aims to decolonize the accounts of Kunst’s and Kusumadinata’s collaborations, in synergy with the kind of work that UvA professor Barbara Titus is undertaking in the “Decolonizing Southeast Asian Sound Archives (DeCoSEAS)” consortium.

About the researcher

Henry Spiller is Professor of Music, Graduate Advisor for Ethnomusicology and Musicology at the University of California, Davis, US.

Henry Spiller is an ethnomusicologist whose research focuses on Sundanese music and dance from West Java, Indonesia. He is interested particularly in investigating how individuals deploy music and dance in their personal lives to articulate ethnic, gender, and national identities. He has studied Sundanese music and dance for almost five decades, and he has conducted fieldwork in Bandung, West Java, on many occasions.

Spiller’s latest book, Archaic Instruments in Modern West Java, Indonesia: Bamboo Murmurs (Routledge, forthcoming 2023), investigates how the physical qualities of a landscape and the resources it provides shape musical styles and aesthetics by examining contemporary revivals of bamboo instruments in the city of Bandung.