Tucked away in a former Dutch hill station, Udjo’s House of Angklung is one of the most visited cultural institutions in Bandung, the third largest city in Indonesia. Udjo Ngalagena and his wife Uum Sumiati established the House of Angklung in 1966 with a clear mission to conserve and preserve Sundanese, the distinctive language and culture of the western portion of the island of Java, especially Sundanese music performed with local classical instruments. Angklung is a musical instrument made of bamboo tubes, which are carefully whittled and cut by a master craftsperson to produce particular notes when the bamboo frame is shaken or tapped. Since each angklung produces only a single note or chord, to play melodies, several players have to perform together. The traditional angklungs use pentatonic, (five tone) scale, but in 1938, musician Daeng Soetigna introduced angklungs with diatonic (seven tone) scale. And seven-tones is what is predominantly used today, meaning that the tones used now are the same as various Western instruments, such as the piano, organ and the violin. The end result is a grotesque fusion of traditional Sundanese instruments and Western pop.
Indonesian angklung and its music, as Unesco states, ‘are central to the cultural identity of communities in West Java and Banten, where playing the angklung promotes the values of teamwork, mutual respect and social harmony’. This is why it has pride of place on Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. But to ‘safeguard’ this heritage, Unesco provides the usual list of clichés, fully divorced from the reality: ‘Safeguarding measures are proposed that include cooperation between performers and authorities at various levels to stimulate transmission in formal and non-formal settings, to organise performances, and to encourage the craftsmanship of making angklungs and sustainable cultivation of the bamboo needed for its manufacture’.