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Prakempa: The colour music of the Balinese calendar

We explore the Balinese concept that an underlying structural pattern of interlocking cyclical patterns (tatotekan) may be the key not only to music and time, but to the experience and propagation of social harmony. The Balinese permutational uku calendar, the most complex known to anthropology, appears to have had a profound influence on the evolution of Balinese gamelan music, and on key developments in Western musical composition. In 1986 a Balinese ethnomusicologist, Dr. Made Bandem, translated a traditional lontar manuscript called Prakempa from Balinese into Malay. This manuscript explicitly links the five and seven tone scales of the gamelan to colours and the sacred geometry of the microcosm and macrocosm. Working with Dr. Bandem, we use Pure Data software to translate the ten dimensional uku calendar into colour music, generative computer music and animation, and explore the possible musical inspiration for the calendar offsets that shape the social and ritual cycles of life in Bali.


How does the progression of dissonance and harmony in Balinese music relate to their understanding of the meaning of time? And how much of this system of thought remains opaque to those whose experience of time is shaped by the one dimensional calendar of the European tradition? We describe experiments in dome immersion at the Future Design Symposium of the Beyond Festival, held at the Experimenta Science Dome in Heilbronn Germany from 25–27 September 2019, and color music on a sand table at the Sharjah Archtecture Triennal 2019 in the United Arab Emirates (9 November 2019–8 February 2020), designed to convey the multi-dimensional harmonies of Balinese aesthetics to Western audiences.


V. Sorensen, S. Lansing, Prakempa: The colour music of the Balinese calendar, In: Rauterberg M. (eds) Culture and Computing, HCII 2020, Lecture Notes in Computer Science 12215, Springer, Cham

J. Stephen Lansing

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