In Musical worlds in Yogyakarta Max Richter sets out to portray music performances, ranging from street music to regional parliament and military celebrations throughout Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The book shows a vivid city bustling with a wide variety of performances in which Richter shows that he has great familiarity with a wide array of music traditions in Java. Through learning to play the guitar in the field and making music with local musicians he is able to speak to a huge number of people and witness a large number of musical events in a mere five months.
The fieldwork was conducted just after the coming of the new millennia. In these years Indonesia was going through a difficult time as the Reformasi spirit was dwindling due to economic hardship, inter-ethnic conflicts and political uncertainty. Richter focuses on music and social identity in these troubled times using an adapted version of Bourdieu’s key concepts. In three different sections he takes us first to the street, secondly to commercial venue and neighbourhood performances and finally to state institutions. In these different sections he deals with class, gender and national identity respectively. Every part has its own theoretical framework and conclusion, which makes it possible to read them independently from each other. In his final conclusion he reiterates his findings and makes clear how people maintained non-violence in times of tension through musical performances.
The book clearly shows that Richter knows what he is talking about and highlights many areas that are important for scholars interested in music and/or Indonesia. Unfortunately, the book wants to deal with too much at once. The three sections all deal with their respective topics in a good way, but as few connections between the chapters are made, they become too isolated from each other. For instance, the author connects street performances with class but not with gender, and commercial venues with gender negotiation but not with national identity. I argue that it would have been better to select one feature of identity and trace this through all domains to see how they influence each other.
A second critique focuses on his use of theoretical concepts which often obscure what is actually happening. By starting with theoretical concepts and uncritically applying these as explanatory factors, the complexity and nuances of social situations can be lost. For instance, Richter writes: “I then proposed that identifying capital in its various guises helps to gain an understanding of the roles of music making in the maintenance of peaceful inter-group relations social relations in Jogja” (P. 77). Rather than cataloguing different types of capital (e.g. this is cultural and this is political capital) as a goal in and of itself, I would suggest that describing what practices, what social bonds, what resources etc., are used by local actors to maintain harmonious relationships, will increase our understanding of how non-violence is created and sustained.
Richter’s focus on how music created a way to maintain non-violence is interesting, but as he solely focuses on music performance, leaving out other kinds of social interaction, it is difficult to put his conclusions into context. Therefore statements like “[i]t is therefore reasonable to conclude that music not only reflected conflict avoidance, but also played an active role in it” (P. 78) seem a bit bold. Despite these theoretical concerns, the chapters themselves give some illuminating insights in the musical world of Yogyakarta and the book gives the most complete overview of the range of musical events happening in Yogyakarta that I know of.
Musical worlds in Yogyakarta. Richter, Max M. (2012).Leiden: KITLV Press. 222 pages, Illustrated. ISBN: 9789067183901. €24,90, or download open source at http://www.kitlv.nl/book/show/1323
Max M. Richter is director of the Monash Asia Institute and lecturer in Anthropology at Monash University, Australia.
Picture credit: creative commons
 The reform movement after the fall of President Soeharto in 1998.