When considering the field of music research, the study of the musical distribution has been far and few in between. Pioneer scholars have considered the movement of practices (Nettl 1960) and people (Strohm 1981) in the distribution of musical sounds. It was only the recent trends in mobility studies that explored the transport of objects such as cassettes (Eley 2011) and instruments as well as digital distribution (Woodworth 2004). The heritage perspective of music and mobility has however been lacking in their treatment of the subject matter so far. The same problem exists regardless of the area of study, be it African migration or trans-Atlantic circulation. Within the region of Malaya and Indonesia, little information has been forthcoming on the music and soundscape of the British and Dutch colonies. With the exception of English newspapers from the late nineteenth century and a couple of books by British writers (cf. Phan 2004), most of the musical accounts tend to focus on the performances of Western classical pieces or the generic descriptions of Chinese and Malay stage operas (except for Tan 1993 and Cohen 2006).

Using the methods of archival and ethnographic analysis, this research project aims to uncover and account for the distributed value of music heritage through understanding the creative processes behind music-making and recording. Two case studies will be used to support the thesis. First, numerous recordings which were conducted in Singapore in the early twentieth century are now digitally distributed globally and, second, weekly angklung rehearsals in three Dutch cities in the early twenty-first century reveal interesting transcultural distribution.

The preservation of early recordings on shellac and vinyl by the National Archives of Singapore has now made available an additional source of evidence into the musical practice of singers and musicians in early twentieth-century South East Asia, where musical notations and written descriptions of Chinese and Malay songs have remained rare. Capitalizing on digital technology, namely Sonic Visualiser 3.0, will allow us to understand the performance practice, the stylistic varieties, the use of the voice, such as the techniques of vibrato and portamento, and orchestration used to accompany the singers. We will enhance our understanding of the vocal quality and instrumental development of the time, and assess the tempo and melodic fluctuations and even make comparison with later recordings from after the Second World War. We will analyse the singers’ attention to articulation and metrical deviations in order to determine the aesthetic directions of the times. The findings will assist us to determine the standard of musical training and logistic in late colonial Singapore.

The second case study is a research on Indonesian diasporic women musicians living and working in Rotterdam, Eindhoven and Nuenen. Based on my earlier work on Angklung music-making in Singapore and Münster, Germany, we will learn of convivial events and people involved in world music-making in these global cities. Through the distribution of the angklung network, we will examine the transfer of heritage knowledge and culture amongst women of different generation and background. Regardless of their birthplace in Indonesia, the Netherlands or elsewhere, these female angklung players embody the essence of heritage and pass it on through social, economic and political means onto others. These are assemblages of heritage happening in private homes and community centres organised by and for women. We will witness how through ancient technology of bamboo idiophone that women citizens become representatives of their country on the world music stages and the world wide web.  

Across the long twentieth century, I hope to show that musicians practising in Singapore and the Netherlands have a unique technique of music-making under the influence of Western performance styles. Singing and musical accompaniment can be considered a significant arbitrator of socio-cultural changes happening in Singapore and the diaspora in the early twentieth century. Through our understanding of the evolving method of creative production of the time, we can deduce the modernisation of musical consciousness and the political relations between Asians and the Westerners. Situated with science and technology studies, the outcome of this research will have wide implications on colonial history and cultural evolution across Western Europe and Southeast Asia. 

The research will showcase the unique quality of the audio/video recordings as primary evidence of musical practice and performances in the Malay World and its networks of distribution. The research essays will provide a concise and professional summary of the musical practice and distribution. The audio-visual resources will be served as resources for heritage sharing, world-building, and harmony bonding for local and international audiences alike.