A legacy of love and music
Gamelan musician and composer Jack Body, 70, a major and enthusiastic promoter of Indonesian arts, died last Sunday (10 May) in his homeland New Zealand.
His great interest was in using music to cross cultures and create international friendships.
He had long suffered from lung cancer, which till recently was in remission. He continued to compose. Poems of Love and War incorporating Javanese themes was judged the best classical album in the 2014 NZ Music Awards.
Shortly before he passed away he was presented with a festschrift of more than 100 contributions simply titled Jack. He is survived by his long-time partner, linguist Yono Soekarno, originally from Bandar Lampung in Sumatra.
Jack Body first encountered Indonesian culture in the early 1970s when exploring the world as a young musician of great promise.
He had already graduated with a masters degree from Auckland University and with a prestigious arts fellowship went to study in Cologne and at the Institute of Sonology at Utrecht.
Then he took the long way home wandering through Europe and Southeast Asia with his mind and microphone open. The last stop was Indonesia.
“I was an innocent abroad and I knew next to nothing about the country,” he told The Jakarta Post seven years ago. At the time he’d just returned from two visits to Yogyakarta to record the palace guards playing at the kraton.
“I'd already been to India and was intrigued by the music I'd heard in the streets and villages.
“But Indonesia was quite different. By comparison I found India to be harsh. In Indonesia I started recording the sounds I heard the way other people take photographs of their travels.
“I followed my ears. I recorded birds, animals, street sounds, music. I was fascinated by the fantastic richness of the culture. I liked the way people took things easily. They couldn't be bothered to get hot and bothered.
“What attracted me most? The sensuality.”
He taught at the Akademi Musik Indonesia [now Institut Seni Indonesia – Indonesian Arts Institute] in Yogyakarta for two years. Back home he joined the NZ School of Music in Wellington where he became an associate professor.
His compositions covered all genres, from chamber music through to themes for television soap operas.
Two years ago he accompanied the School’s gamelan orchestra for a tour of Bali and Java. They performed to a full house at the Yogya Gamelan Festival where the locals were stunned to discover Kiwis were so professional in traditional Indonesian music.
A few days before the composer passed away he was awarded the Arts Foundation of NZ Icon Award Whakamana Hiranga, limited to a living circle of just 20 artists.
At the presentation in a Wellington hospice the Foundation said Jack was a prolific world-class composer with a global reach.
The citation continued: ‘The impact of his artistic life on NZ is profound. Jack has given so much to audiences, local and international composers, musicians and students. The Arts Foundation is honoured that Jack has accepted the Award and proud to have him as the first composer to be named an Icon, and the first Laureate to also receive an Icon Award.’
Professor Body’s works have been performed in the United States, Holland and many other countries. He was also a widely exhibited photographer. His specialty has been cross-cultural compositions and experimental electro- acoustics.
In 2000, to celebrate 25 years of gamelan in NZ, he co-organised BEAT, an International Gamelan Festival with over 100 overseas participants. He was also artistic director of the Asia-Pacific Festivals and Conferences in 1984, 1992 and 2007.
In all his pursuits he set out to embed the music of Asia, and Indonesia in particular, in multicultural NZ. His success is measured by a vast collection of awards, including a NZ Order of Merit.
To help promote Indonesian culture he collected a Javanese gamelan for his university and named it Padhang Moncar. Tien Soeharto, the late wife of the late Indonesian president Soeharto is believed to have donated the instruments. The School also has a Balinese gamelan, Taniwha Jaya.
In his compositions Professor Body integrated other musical cultures as in Campur Sari for Javanese musician and string quartet, and Polish Dances, for clarinet and Javanese gamelan.
He organized residencies in Wellington for Indonesian artists including, Agus Supriawan and Dody Ekagustdiman [both from West Java], Rafiloza bin Rafii from Minangkabau and Wayan Yudane from Bali.
Wayan said his friend was at the center of the music community because of his lifelong support for young composers and immigrants “like me”.
“He had a way of collaborating that was quite different from other composers, especially western composers.
“Jack would never isolate himself as a composer but was really open to finding something new, finding a friend and putting it all together in a way that everything and everyone was given equal value. He had a great warmth and heart for Indonesia.”
Budi Putra who directs the Javanese gamelan is also on the local staff of the Indonesian Embassy. He said:
“Although Jack was a great artist he never boasted of his achievements. He taught, he motivated, he worked tirelessly. He inspired.
“He was always just ‘Jack’. He dealt with everyone in the same way and was always polite. Despite his illness he continued to think about the continuity of gamelan music in NZ, right to the last seconds of his life.
“We will continue to develop the gamelan as he wished and play at his funeral.”
Composer Michael Asmara said he was inspired to set up the Contemporary Music Festival in Yogyakarta after being introduced to a NZ composers’ workshop by Professor Body.
“I felt Jack was just like the Javanese,” he said. “Yoga was his second home. The way he spoke and acted was very halus [refined and sensitive], and sometimes going round and round. He looked so excited when he played. His patterns and forms, rhythms and tempo were inspired by Indonesia, but he also introduced other ideas.
“His music will never die.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 12 May 2015)