Sunday, March 19, 2006


The city’s vast fleet of three-wheeled bajaj (bahj’-eye) and motorbikes goes largely unmuffled. The effect is a constant and undulating thunder. The sound reminds me most of a go-cart track. Last August, my friend and I went to a bike path outside of Bloomington to see if we could catch some of St. (x’s) shooting stars. The nearby race track was so loud that night we could barely hear each other call out sightings. The contrast between flatulent stock car and calm summer sky was dizzying. Here there’s no contrast at all. You just have to thrum along. I wonder when and if I’ll get used to the rumble.

I’m fascinated by the sounds of the ubiquitous vendor carts around the city. I’m told each kind of cart has its own sound so people can tell what kind of food or service may be passing by. I think we’ll collect recordings and make a soundscape of them at some point. Yesterday we collected the eerie electronic song of the ice cream cart. We’ve also heard a high wooden block sound from some kind of food cart. A cart covered with sloshing buckets made a short little howl – maybe from a wooden whistle?

I love the call to prayer. The distant, lonely sound stirs me the same as a train whistle. In Jakarta, the song comes from all directions in a kind of round. It’s most melancholic at dawn, when a single bay rises out of the dark, followed by a chorus of distant answers. The call makes me feel all at once like an insider and an outsider. There’s something about sound I understand – something desperate that moves me to tears if I’m alone. On the other hand, it underscores my separateness. This is not my culture. Not my language. This song, which is an invitation for most people here, is not meant for me.


They are as eccentric as colors smeared on an oil painter’s palette. Clove cigarette and diesel smoke: a dry-brushed rusty grey. The broken stone sidewalks waft a landscape; staccato curls of lemon grass, dabs of coffee, points of frying fish, and a spongy batik of burning coconut husks. Fermenting garbage, old urine, sate smoke and incense are applied with a knife.