Mask Dance

“The act of composing music is the act of ordering and patterning the flow of time; hence the way that the musicians in a society choose to do this says quite a lot about their philosophical perspective and aesthetic outlook.”

Michael Tenzer

“These spiritual signs have a precise meaning which impresses us only intuitively, but with enough violence to render useless any translation into logical or discursive language.”

Antonin Artaud


The following is an excerpt for a journal I kept while studying in Bali, Indonesia. As an undergraduate student, I was a literature major and an ethnomusicology minor. To complete my minor, and spent part of a year studying the language, music, religion, and art of Bali. This entry records a conversation I had with Dewa Putu Berata, a conversation about a traditional Balinese dance, Topeng. The date on the entry is 10/27/1992:

Today Dewa Berata told me a little about the Topeng dance. There are different kinds of Topengs — old man, ruler, slave, warrior, etc… Well, I started thinking about some of the implications of this:

Each one of these masks represents different parts of the self, different egos within us all. There is a a Topeng as king, perhaps a super-ego; there is a Topeng servant or slave; a Topeng with fangs, like an animal or a devil; Topeng old man; and it continues on. All of these different faces are show in relationships and conflicts, just like parts of ourselves, interacting in an inner dynamic, but also interacting with the same complexities of others. The “real” identity, so to speak, is hidden behind the mask. These masks evolve, but are the same through the ages, just as the conflicts of self they represent. These masks reveal the inherent facets of human identity. The “real” identity is never fully manifest, but obscured by the mask, which in turn reveals the self as part of an eternal conflict. Nietzsche says that the “true” human spirit is always hidden behind masks. It often seems to me that the real essence of human-ness isn’t really seen directly, but always remains obscured by some sort of mask. The Topeng dances acknowledges the conflict, of a self both hidden and revealed, and both today and in a static eternal time.


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