The Freedom of Kendang Arja
The second of two chapters in a music-analytic case study of collective improvisation, this chapter examines kendang arja, a collectively improvised practice for two interlocking Balinese drum (kendang) players. Building on the model and knowledge base proposed in Chapter 5, this chapter considers the many ways that arja musicians diverge from their models in improvised performance. Short improvised patterns as well as longer passages of paired drumming are closely analyzed in the context of the four improvisational processes theorized in Chapter 1: interpretation, embellishment, recombination, and expansion. Yet the chapter also assumes a wider lens, examining how larger structural elements of the music and the dramatic performance it accompanies, as well as aesthetic preferences discovered through fieldwork, such as a desire for balancing busyness (ramé) with sparseness, might influence an improviser’s moment-to-moment decisions. It likewise considers how regional style, pedagogical lineage, and the personal choices and preferences of individual style can shape collectively improvised practice. The chapter aims to be both specific and broad-reaching: ethnographically-informed musical analysis offers a detailed and comprehensive template for collective improvisation in arja drumming, while comparative observations of diverse practices point to the usefulness of a unified approach for analyzing collectively improvised musics worldwide.
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