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Creative Intersubjectivity in Performance

7 July, 2014

Ethnomusicology Forum has just released a special edition on “Creative Intersubjectivity in Performance” with contributions from Elizabeth Betz, Monika Winarnita, Sean Martin-Iverson, Paul H. Mason, Sandra Bader and Max Richter. Each article uses an anthropological approach to performance research, with an emphasis on the ways in which the intersubjective interactions between performers, their audiences, and the wider social context directly shape creative processes.



This special edition of Ethnomusicology Forum had its beginnings in a panel called “Disentangling the creative process: Knolwedge and value(s) in creative performance” held at the 2011 Australian Anthropology Society annual meeting. The panel was co-convened by Dr Monika Winarnita, Dr Max Richter and Dr Sandra Bader. The panel had presentations by Margaret Kartomi, Sean Martin-Iverson, Tuti Gunawan, Monika Winarnita, Sandra Bader, Max Richter, Richard Davis, Paul H. Mason, Rebekah Plueckhahn, and Elizabeth Rebecca Betz. From this team, Sandra Bader and Sean Martin-Iverson took the baton and decided to bring the question of intersubjectivity in performance to the forefront of research that was presented during the panel sessions. The result is an engaging collection of articles with a strong representation of research material from Australasia. The special edition is part of an even longer dialogue between a number of the contributors who first met during the Music and Movements in Indonesian Cultures Conference, Workshops and Performance in 2008, which culminated in a series of articles in Inside Indonesia:

Here’s a quick overview of the articles in the Special Issue on Creative Intersubjectivity in Performance published in volume 23 issue 2 of Ethnomusicology Forum :

An insightful note from the guest editor’s that situates the various contributions within recent scholarship on the topic of creativity (such as Sawyer 2006; Hallam and Ingold 2007; Hughes-Freeland 2008). Challenging the prevalent modernist view of creativity as something innovative that breaks with conventions, the authors advocate the contribution of an anthropological approach to performance research. The current series has a strong and sole focus on live performances, including both music and dance performances in traditional and popular-modern styles particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

Monika Winarnita‘s work among an Indonesian migrant community in Perth, Australia, examines the intersubjective relationships between performers who co-create an interpretation of the Hindu epic Ramayana and the various community members (Balinese, Indonesian consulate, migrant and multicultural Australian audience). She actually invited some of her fieldwork collaborators to perform during the panel sessions in 2011, and it was an exciting way to make her paper presentation a multimodal sensory experience.

Sean Martin-Iverson‘s article draws upon his fieldwork in the punk scene in Bandung, West Java in Indonesia. The events he documents explicitly challenge conventional understandings of the division between performers and audience. His fieldwork descriptions are rich and full-bodied with a mature anthropological examination of his research topic.

Elizabeth Betz studies the generation of social relationships and self-identity in Polynesian-Australian hip hip performances among migrant youth in multicultural Melbourne, Australia. Her research speaks not only to an academic audience but also to the performers themselves who are engaged dialectically in discussions of the construction of hip hop in the southern hemisphere. I trust that readers will find her work as refreshing as I do.

Sandra Bader and Max Richter look at the erotic interplay between female Dangdut singer-dancers on stage and their dancing audience members who cross into the performance space. They insightfully interrogate these social, performative encounters and describe what is considered halus and what is considered kasar by locals. Bader and Richter continue Spiller’s discussion of gender and malu in his book Erotic Triangles as well as Victor Turner’s ideas about liminality in The Forest of Symbols and Andrew Weintraub’s history of Dangdut in Dangdut Stories. I imagine readers will be inspired not only to look at footage of Dangdut online but also possibly to participate in live performances in West Java.

My own research on West Sumatran plate-dancing also appears in this volume and I have taken the opportunity to argue for the need to study music and dance in tandem when analysing performance in cultural context. Music is an ethnocentric term that refers to humanly organised sound separate to humanly organised movement, but so many musical practices around the world are incomplete without dance. In West Sumatran plate-dancing, the sound of plate-tapping garnishes the dancer’s movement to create composite perceptual experiences. During performances of Minangkabau plate-dancing during Hari Idul Adha and Hari Raya Idul Fitri, I noticed salient differences in the timing of plate-tapping sounds. During Hari Idul Fitri, the sound was produced by the lead dancer. During Hari Idula Adha the sound was produced by audience members who spontaneously assumed the role of musicians. I spend the article discussing the significance of this small but intriguing difference in the timing of tapping sounds between Self-accompanied plate-dancing and Musician-accompanied plate-dancing. I also discuss theoretical methods in choreomusicology, an emerging field of analysis that investigates the protean relationships between music and dance.


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