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Unraveling Unconscious Models

Unraveling Unconscious Models

The Boundaries of Kendang Arja

(p.179) Chapter Five Unraveling Unconscious Models
Making It Up Together
Leslie A. Tilley
University of Chicago Press

The first of two chapters in a music-analytic case study of collective improvisation, this chapter introduces kendang arja, a collectively improvised practice for two interlocking Balinese drum (kendang) players whose models for improvisation are unconscious. The chapter opens by exploring how diverse methods of learning and teaching can generate different ways of knowing, leading to both explicitly and intuitively known improvisatory models. The central aim of the chapter is an exploration of ethnographic methods for revealing aspects of unconscious (intuitive) models. Musical analysis first uncovers how overtly taught arja drumming patterns from various different performers share certain fundamental features. While acknowledging the dangers of codification, the shared features of these taught patterns are taken as a kind of model: a set of guidelines for idiomatic improvised performance. These guidelines are then framed and nuanced by informally acquired oral music theory that prescribes, among other things, complementary performative roles for the two drums favoring a balance of freedom with constraint and complementary musical roles of beat-keeping (ngematin) and structure-marking (ngegongin). Detailed, ethnographically-informed musical analysis thus illuminates kendang arja’s unconscious model, while broadly comparative discussions throughout the chapter suggest potential for parallel approaches to research and analysis across genres and cultures.

Keywords:   kendang arja, arja drumming, collective improvisation, musical analysis, oral music theory, models for improvisation, unconscious models, performative roles, musical roles, ethnographic methods

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