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[Community Reports]

A column about past, present and future ongoings in international electroacoustic and related communities [index].

Electronic Music in Indonesia

The original version of this article was published by The EMF Institute, Electronic Music Foundation, Ltd., in 2006.


Indonesia is a country with an ancient and greatly varied history of musical expression. The most widely known music in Indonesia is gamelan, although there are other musical forms across this very diverse cluster of islands. There are a small number of composers who integrate Western and Indonesian musical forms, instrumentation and æsthetics. The founding of an annual Young Composers Festival in 1969 (renamed the Composers Festival in 1988) in Pekan Komponis Muda, along with educational programs at the Jakarta Institute of Arts (Institut Kesenian Jakarta), have provided a creative springboard for new compositional directions. The Indonesian setting for these works, some of which include electronics, is otherwise a very slowly changing traditional musical environment.

Slamet Abdur Sjukur

The earliest explorations of electronic music took place in the early 1960s, beginning with a work for gamelan and tape by Slamet Sjukur, an influential professor at the Jakarta Institute of Arts. The composition, a work for a ballet created in Paris and choreographed by Frederic Franchini, is titled Latigrak (1963). In Paris, Sjukur studied first with Olivier Messiaen, later with Pierre Schaeffer at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM). Two decades later, Sjukur composed Astral (1984), a second electronic work, and more recently, Gelandangan (1998), for karunding and tape.

Born 1935 in Surabaya, Java, Sjukur is best known for his extensive catalog of works for dancers and theater, vocal and chamber music. He has also composed several compositions for multimedia performance with electronics, including Parentheses IV (1973), for two dancers, flute, two electric guitars, violin, cello, prepared piano, synthesizer, percussion, and live painting, and Jakarta 450 Tahun (1977), an environmental work based upon the sounds of Jakarta.

The 1970s

Several electronic works were composed in Indonesia during the 1970s. These included tape pieces by Yose Haryo Suyoto, Harry Ruesli’s Batas Echo (1978), Otto Sidharta’s Saluang Pekan Komponis I (1979, and Franki Raden’s Dilarang Bertepuk Tangan di Dalam Toilet (1980). Sapto Raharjo’s first electronic composition, Yogyharmonik 78 (noted below), is also from this period.

One other development of note was Adhi Susanto’s creation of two electronic devices to perform Indonesian music: Gamelan Symphony (1976), as he put it “a system of electronic equipment to produce the live gamelan sound like a symphonic sound,” and Gameltron (1978), an electronic gamelan, a “keyboard with an analog system, to play Javanese music.”

Sapto Raharjo

Sapto Raharjo is a composer of music for performance, theater, television and radio, integrating traditional techniques, modes and sounds with electronics and computer technology. He was born in 1955, in Jakarta, Indonesia. As a child in the 1960s, Raharjo studied gamelan and Javanese dance as a member of the dance and karawitan group, Arena Budhaya, in Yogyakarta. During the 1970s, he became a rock and folk guitarist and began to explore joining “pentatonic (gamelan) and diatonic instruments and make music with instruments made by tin / used canned goods.” He was also an announcer at Radio Suara Padmanaba, in Yogyakarta. Rahario began working with synthesizers in 1977.

His work at Germonimo FM Broadcast Station (Jakarta) and as a festival organizer has played a significant role in promoting contemporary gamelan music, a task for which he has received support from the Ford Foundation. He has composed music for theater, television, gamelan ensemble and electronics. He has served as Secretary General of Asosiasi Komponis Indonesia (Association of Indonesian Composers) and as organizer of gamelan festivals and concerts.

In the mid-1980s, with his newly-formed Dampitt Group (1986), Rahario began to combine synthesizers with gamelan, tuning his electronics to the slendro-pelog scale. In the 1990s, he began digitally programming gamelan sounds. He has continued to be active with gamelan, electronic music, and the intersection of the two. His music has been performed throughout France, Indonesia and elsewhere. Raharjo has served as a musical ambassador for his country, performing and giving workshops with Ben M. Pasaribu, I Wayan Gde Yudane and other noted Indonesian musicians.

Otto Sidharta

Born in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955, Otto Sidharta is a composer, educator and conductor. He studied at the Jakarta Institute of Arts (Institut Kesenian Jakarta) in the 1970s, where he first encountered electronic music. Sidharta completed his graduate studies (composition and electronic music) at the Sweelinck Conservatorium (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), studying with Ton de Leeuw.

Sidharta’s electronic music includes environmental sounds. His first work, Kemelut (1979), draws upon water sounds. Ngendau (1982), Hutan Plastik (1982) and East Wind (1983), include soundscapes and live performance and make use of sounds of animals and nature in the jungles of Borneo, on Nias Island. Wind of Trade is a soundscape about Dutch and Indonesian culture, including street markets, nature, children and sounds of the sea. His most recent work in this genre is Soundscape I (1995).

Otto Sidharta has been on the faculty of the Jakarta Institute of the Arts (Institut Kesenian Jakarta) and the Cantus (Music Education and Information Center, Jakarta). He has also served as Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra (Orkes Symphony Nasional).

I Wayan Gde Yudane

Born in Bali, I Wayan Gde Yudane is a composer whose work spans traditional and experimental forms. He often collaborates with visual artists, film directors, choreographers and other creative people. Yudane was raised in a musical environment: his father was an architect and a well-known gamelan instrument maker. He studied music at the Sekolah Tinggi Seni Indonesia (STSI) arts academy and at the Conservatory. His first composition, in 1979, was a gamelan adaptation of a poetry setting by Igor Tamerlan. Ever since, he has composed new works to add to the gamelan repertoire, for which he has won numerous competitions.

I started listening to some cassettes and CDs sent to me by friends from the U.S. I thought, This is great! And I saw Harry Rusli performing alone on stage with a computer. That was interesting. Then I thought, I don’t have to have anything to do with the business of festivals, where every time you make music you have to involve many performers. I then sold my car to buy a computer, although at the time I was computer illiterate. I taught myself and searched for the information about music programs. (Interview by Jack Brody)

He describes his first composition, Lakaleke (1996): “I transformed the rhythmic cycles of Balinese gegenderan to electronic sound samples using granulation.” The critical response to a subsequent performance was mixed, with the most negative assessments coming from older composers. Fortunately, composer and ethnomusicologist Irwansyah Harahap and others “came to my defense. From then on I knew that I, too, could make electronic music — since then, I often play with electronics.”

Yudane’s Crossroads of Denpasar (2002), a radiophonic work, integrates text, environmental recordings, and music. Other electronic compositions have included Laughing Water (1997), Lake Ieke (1998), Terra-incognata (1999) and Bali Bioskop (2000). He has recently begun to combine acoustical instruments and electronics, with mixed results, noting that “the available technology was not sophisticated enough. I would like to discover how electronics work with acoustic sounds to give me something that is personal, not just a substitution of a particular instrument, as with sampling. There must be a truly new sound from this electronic process, which cannot be produced by a musical instrument.”

Tony Prabowo

Although not specifically an electronic music composer, Tony Prabowo, born in 1956, Malang, Indonesia, has created works for performance, dance, film and multimedia. He is unique in composing for both Western and Indonesian ensembles, including his New Jakarta Ensemble (1996–2000), which has toured the United States, United Kingdom and elsewhere.

I studied violin in 1970s when I was a child. I then moved to Jakarta. I studied composition under Slamet Sjukur, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. My family has a family house — my mother has a sister and they have a house beside Jakarta Arts School. I was born in East Java in Mala. When I was seven or eight we went to Jakarta, the center of Java. I started to listen to music — my family didn’t want me to go to school for music, but to finish high school and then the university — but I ran away from my family and went to Jakarta [Institut Kesenian Jakarta, the Institute of the Arts]. Our environment is Javanese gamelan. I studied gamelan and dance. When we studied violin, we also got a complement of gamelan. Lou Harrison and Colin McPhee and some American composers who wrote gamelan music were familiar to us.

Regarding the integration of Western and Indonesian musical approaches, Prabowo notes that “Western form is important, but I keep the two worlds separate in my music. People have told me that my music has an ‘Eastern’ feel…”

Other Recent Developments

Electronic works have also been composed by Indonesian percussionist Ben M. Pasaribu, including Feedback (1994) and Feedback (1999), and Performance Fucktory, which presents elaborate multimedia performances, among them Selamat Pagi Indonesia (1999–2002), “for computers, DJs, electronic equipment, electric in the body…”

Kus Widananto, aka Jompet, uses electronic equipment with sensors that track body movement to create performance art. He was born in Yogyakarta, and was educated in broadcasting at Gadjah Mada University, in 1999. He is also a freelance video documentation camera operator.

Jompet’s elaborate mechanical setups serve as a backdrop as he interfaces with electronic equipment that he surrounds himself with. He investigates the idiosyncrasies of embracing technology and the disregard of the human biomechanical system. Jompet uses body movement coupled with reactive electronic sensors to achieve a synergistic energy between man and machine; introducing a fully interactive experience for the performer and viewer alike. (Unesco website)

Jompet’s works created in Indonesia include Kingdom of Broken Heart (2000), for “equipment in the body, sensors around player to play other equipments” and Glorified I (2001), for “two mechanical [pieces of] equipment with electronic sound in the body [performed] by two players.”

Works performed in Singapore include Glorified II (2001), for “sounds made by pump, siren, cassette, car horn, breathe, etc. amplified and processed, mixed with electronic sound, played with censors/trigger at the body,” and Ultraoutput project (2002), for performance with bicycle.


Like many forms of new music, electronic music has been slow to take root in Indonesia. Tony Prabowo, a contemporary composer of music for acoustic ensembles, observes:

There are very few composers engaging in Western or experimental forms living in Indonesia right now. It is because of economics and maybe politics. There are maybe around thirty composers. But they work in traditional music. But like me, there are very few. People with backgrounds in western music — it is not easy to get a chance to perform contemporary music. The audience, to raise the money for a musical festival or performance that is western oriented is really hard to do.

Nonetheless, there have been notable expressions of creativity in several spheres of composition, including electronic music. Much of the activity has been centered around Jakarta, home of the Institute For Arts. Less has developed elsewhere, as I Wayan Sadra noted in 1988:

Every time I observe this event [the annual Composer’s Festival, Pekan Komponis], my heart is overjoyed to see the development and diversity in each participant’s presentation. That is here in Jakarta, in the center of the arts. But when I go back home [to Bali], I always reconsdir [sic] my happiness at these experiences and feel that it is unreal… When this festival is over we wait for commentaries and accolades from the discussions or from reviews in newspapers. Then we retreat back behind the massive shadow of tradition. (Leonardo Music Journal)

Indeed, Jakarta has been the locus of activity for Slamet Sjukur, Sapto Raharjo and Otto Sidharta. Since the publication of this paper, however, the creative musical life of Bali has been sparked by the new ideas of I Wayan Gde Yudane. It is to be hoped that all of these efforts continue to bear fruit in the future.


Many thanks to Sapto Raharjo, Tony Prabowo, Jody Diamond, Larry Polansky, and Ralph Samuelson, for their assistance.


Brody, Jack. “Gamelan and Beyond: I Wayan Gde Yudane’s dedication to the new.” Interview with I Wayan Gde Yudane, transcribed and translated by Yono Sukarno. Musicworks 90 (Fall 2004).

Gluck, Bob. Correspondence with Sapto Raharjo, August 4 and October 10, 2003.

_____. Telephone interview with Tony Prabowo, July 30, 2003.

Raharjo, Sapto. A historical webpage developed by Raharjo is no longer available.

Sadra, I Wayan. “Komposisi Baru: On Contemporary Composition in Indonesia.” Leonardo Music Journal 1:1 (1991).

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