Noam Hassenfeld '12: A Bali high

by Artist Development Fellow

With support of a 2010 Artist Development Fellowship, joint Religion and Music concentrator Noam Hassenfeld '12 traveled to Bali to study non-Western music this summer. His following account is one of a series of blog posts by this year's fellowship recipients.

Among the goals of my trip to Bali this summer, some of the most important were to find new materials for composition and to study a method of composition that is significantly different from that of Western composers. I gravitated toward the more experimental composers during my trip, and I have been lucky enough to talk with them about their craft.

In talking with these composers, who self-identify as innovative, I have received the same answer every time I asked them, "What do you see yourself as trying to accomplish?" Both Sudi and Alit (the composers of the two pieces which have impacted me the most in my stay in Bali), replied that in making radically new music, they are actually honoring their tradition. They do not see themselves (like their critics do) as rebelling against the tradition; rather, they believe that remaining musically conservative and stagnant is an insult to such a rich, and continually evolving, tradition. I asked Alit where he draws the line between innovating for one’s tradition and breaking free of tradition all together, and he replied that he is innovating for his tradition simply because he is full of a deep love and respect for his tradition.

This answer may not satisfy someone who likes to draw lines (I confess, it doesn’t completely satisfy me), but I can tell he is earnest when he says it. During our conversation, Alit’s lips quivered once in a while, whenever he seemed to be discussing a point of specific emotional import. He told me many people hate his music and see him as destroying the tradition, but he only writes this music because of his love for his home. ("I was born here," he said, "this is my home.")

I find this idea of innovation interesting. This is not someone who wants to innovate to cause a stir or even to make a purely artistic point. Rather, this is someone who sees innovation and change as polishing the jewel that is his tradition. If the tradition does not evolve, it will inevitably be covered with dust; Alit’s musical innovations are the reflection of his desire to let the full brilliance of his tradition shine forth. I can only hope that one day I will be able to do the same for my own tradition, and bring back not only Alit’s music, but also his sincerity in composition.

[Caption: 2010 Artist Development Fellowship recipient Noam Hassenfeld '12]