Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands; Sounds from the Past: Tracing Jaap Kunst’s footprints

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(Photo: Prive. Doc)

All this time, it is still possible to acquire knowledge and insight into Indonesian music and to record it for future generation. 

Within a few years, however, this opportunity will no longer exist; even now, there are areas where the former flourishing and complex indigenous music has completely disappeared or where it is played in a more or less quick tempo. It is in a process of deterioration. 

(Jaap Kunst at the beginning of 1930). 

IO, Jakarta – The Ministry of Education and Culture, the Director General of Culture in collaboration with the Indonesian National Museum held an exhibition with the theme “Tracing Jaap Kunst, voices from the past, from 28 November to 10 January 2020” at the Jakarta National Museum. 

Jaap Kunst, a Dutch law graduate, began his research on Indonesian traditional music in 1919, exactly 100 years ago. The fact that Indonesia has many ethnic groups with diverse forms of art has attracted the interest of researchers, especially foreign researchers, to explore further its features. Jaap Kunst was initially captivated by the strains of gamelan until finally he decided to settle down in the Indies (1919-1934). 

Jaap Kunst is a pioneer of non-western music research, recording and documenting artistic activities (especially music art) in Sumatra, Java, Bali, East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, and Papua. The comparative musicology study conducted by Jaap Kunst is the forerunner to the emergence of the term “ethnomusicology”. What he did was as a form of concern about the extinction of the archipelago’s traditional music, vanished for generations to come. The exhibition at the Jakarta National Museum not only presents Jaap Kunst’s legacy while living in Indonesia, but also illustrates the development of audio recording techniques and changes that have occurred in traditional music in Indonesia in the last 100 years. 

In 1921, he married Kathy van Wely, a French teacher who later supported Jaap Kunst in his Indonesian ethnomusicology research. He settled in Bandung from 1921 to 1932. In January 1922, Kunst was appointed as general secretary at the Office of Social Affairs. 

Throughout 1930-1932, Kunst toured Indonesia to conduct research and document art activities in various regions of Indonesia. 

Around 1932, Kunst moved to Batavia and became the curator of a collection of musical instruments at Koninklijk en Wetenschappen (now the National Museum). He worked more at his home on Jalan Kebon Sirih no. 14, where he possessed thousands of collections of musical instruments that he collected during his trips to the regions, as well as recordings, photographs and films that were used as research material. (OHW)