01: The Hidden History of Kraton as a Musical Genre (2020)

Compiled and authored by Dr. Yaron Schwebitz-Yamamoto
Professor for Musicology, Laurentia University

The word kraton (Javanese for 'royal palace, castle, seat of gods') is an elusive musical concept or idea that is currently popularized by a Kribatian Band named Anatomy of the Heads. A band that fuses jazz, progressive rock and contemporary classical music into an eclectic music language that, according to the band itself is not novel, but rather highly traditional and supose to invoke a transcendental or religious experience of uncertain theological content. The music itself ambitious in scope, and uses large rock ensembles to create a dense, disciplined and ultimately majestic music. However, often dismissed as posturing of the Band. The term however has a long and interesting history that is presented here for the first time in a comprehensive form. In the presented analysis the term kraton, specifically understood as referring to music, can be traced back to early human history according to various sources. Of course it is of note that the elusive nature of the this musical idea makes serious investigations almost impossible unless one is willing to look beyond the narrow scope provided by musicology. As a result the presented results need to be taken with a grain of salt as they refer to mythological accounts of history that have been pieced together from varous sources.  The complied history often negates mainstream sciences, commen sense as well as good taste. The second part of this paper is dedicated to the a detailed musical analysis compiled from testimonies of musically educated people who have experienced the original kraton music. The second section makes also reference to the studio album work Anatomy of the Heads, as people can listen to it right now; while the 'original' Kraton music is harder to come by. As a final side note, the term kraton is of course not to be confused with the similar term kratom, which describes a popular a tropical tree (Mitragyna speciosa) native to Southeast Asia, whose leaves contain compounds that can have psychotropic (or mind-altering) effects. Although the similarity is likely not to be coincidental as the celestial and the psychedelic often go hand in hand.


1. The History of Kraton

This is a chronology of events related to kraton as a musical phenomenon. Each entry in this timeline is based on one or more written sources which 1) explicitly establish the connection between the word and the subject of music and 2) form a coherent form of narrative when linked to other sources. Due to the revisionist and supernatural nature of this narrative, it is important to note that neither the author nor related editors of this article consider the events described to be true. They are presented here solely for the purpose of musicological research.


c. 200. 000 BCE: The heavenly melodies (kraton) appear and are destroyed by a grand coalition of the last tribes of technobarbarians - last remnants of the once great industrial kingdom of homo erectus, which ruled Pangaea in the Mesozoic era; the Panthalassasians - a seafaring pirate people who made a name for themselves as merchants, explorers and warriors; and the reptoids of Mu, who emerged as the dominant race on Earth after the battle. They accelerated culture, science and sorcery far beyond anything that existed at that time. The initial appearance of the heavenly melodies is still shrouded in mystery.


c. 100.000 BCE: The reptoid empire of Mu reaches peaks and successfully enslaves the proto-human kingdoms of Pangea. Arrogant in the belief that they are the true masters of the world, the Muvians spend more and more time on esoteric pursuits dedicated to many gods and vulgar pleasures to escape the ennui that set in during their centuries-long life of comfort and convenience.


c. 18.000 BCE: A great cataclysmic event probably destroys the old world and ushers in the Hyperborean age.


c. 20.000 BCE: According to campfire stories told by mythical creatures in the Mahābhārata, which inspire the Southeast Asian shadow puppet theatre, the remaining proto-human slave tribes, who still remembered the heavenly melodies, were sacrificed and buried in the middle of the ancient temple complex of Gunung Padang. The next morning, an upside down version of the temple complex, complete with the now covered, windowless basalt cities below, hovered menacingly over the megalithic site and was said to be made of "a strange matter such as has never been seen before", only to disappear at sunset when it was said to "ascend into heaven and all creation was spread out beneath it."


700 CE: Experiencing a dark night of the soul after the death of his father, the Sufi Saint Abu Hasim (or Jami, Abd-Allah ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah) encounters ‘Iblis’ rising from the depths of the Red Sea in the form of a tiger, an elephant, and an asmak 'uwranus (أسماك أورانوس) - probably an ancestor of the modern deep-water stargazer (Kathetostoma nigrofasciatum) - with a strange head not common to any of the animals, with protruding eyes, horns that are said to be "melting without end", the absence of a nose and beetle-like jaws. Abu hasim called upon the powers of Allah, but was instead supported by "heavenly melodies" that "swung in a great wind". The onslaught of "fiery tongues" or "winds" drove the monster back into the blackness of the Red Sea.


1476 CE: Haunted by a vision of the battle between Abu Hashim and the sea monster, Prince Cakrabuana of the sultanate of Cirebon orders his vassals to construct a brass head according to his designs. This included a mechanized set of crude lungs to reproduce the heavenly melodies. He ordered the head to be mounted on a war elephant and intended to use it as an ultimate weapon in the expected battle against an encroaching army of the Ming dynasty in today's Jakarta. Prince Cakrabuana never saw his invention in action during his lifetime.


1650 CE: The brass head is used by the Cirebon Sultanat in the naval war of Pagarage against the neighboring Banten sultanate. The head was mounted on a ship and is said to have driven the crew and all who heard its sounds into a murderous rampage that brought down friend and foe indiscriminately and contributed to the catastrophic defeat of Cirebon and the public decapitation of their leader by the army of the Bantanian sultanate. There was never an invasion by the Ming Dynasty, and the whereabouts of the head remained unknown for centuries.


1933 CE: Dutch East India folk tales about a "vain product of ancient hatred buried in the Java Sea" led a secret reconnaissance team of the Royal Dutch East India Army to the remains of the brass head. The Dutch army searched for all sorts of magical weapons to protect the sovereignty of the Dutch state during the rising tensions in Europe. The head was uncovered after a 60-day search and secretly brought to Amsterdam.


1941 CE: The Netherlands are occupied by the Nazis. The brass head is recovered by scientists in the rubble of Rotterdam and brought to Adolf Hitler. He orders that the brass head be reverse engineered as part of the Wunderwaffen program in order to create a revolutionary super weapon. Germany's top scientists collaborate with a secret cabal of Muvian reptoid sorcerers to construct a variety of directed energy weapons from the ancient mechanism. Among them the infamous orbital Sonnengewehr.


1944 CE: In a desperate attempt to win the war, Hitler, armed with the Lance of Longinus, activates the brass head to protect the Berlin bunker from Soviet troops. The distorted melodies of the mechanism over-stimulate the fight or flight reaction of all listeners and create "men who could not be de-brutalized". Hitler and 150,000 Soviet and German troops are slain in a massacre of blind berserk rage. Hitler's body and the brass head are recovered by the Soviet military. The Kremlin orders that all reports of this event be destroyed and the event is subsequently erased from all modern history books.


1945 CE: The Soviets continued the Nazi experiments with the brass head under the clear goal of creating a global cataclysmic event that would destroy the old world and usher in a new utopian era of socialist equality and brotherhood among all humanity under Soviet leadership. The mechanism is recast in Siberian gold from the notorious gulag Kolyma. The coarse lung mechanism is replaced by an early electronic sound synthesis model. In the search for global destruction, the golden head is mounted on an orbital flight mechanism that would later be used for the Sputnik 1 satellite.


1947 CE: The Soviet space program tries to bring the golden Head into orbit from a secret launch station in the Siberian tundra, but the flight and activism mechanisms prove unreliable and the golden Head crashed somewhere in Central Asia. Some sources speculate that the Soviet Union's clandestine recovery attempts escalated the 1947 Indo-Pakistani war. In addition, there are prominent reports from across Asia of a coinciding UFO sighting that are said to have caused unrest in at least three countries (Pakistan, Mongolia and Laos). However, the golden head was recovered and returned to Moscow.


1953 CE: The golden head continues to malfunction in tests. It emits nothing but hot air and screams of extreme rage and anger. A dying Stalin suspects Muvian sorcery behind the failed experiments and reluctantly orders the golden head to be recast and fused with Hitler's bones in a necromantic ritual that saw nine million Russians sacrificed as so called ‘class traitors’ in order to gain control of the golden head.


1961 CE: After perfecting the flight mechanism with the launch of Sputnik 1, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin is ordered to bring the golden head into orbit. The mission is successful, but control is quickly lost. Because the head spontaneously activates itself and uses its powerful flight system to fly out of orbit and escape detection. Nikita Khrushchev speculates that the head has gained some kind of sinister consciousness and abandons the project. He orders all scientists who have worked on the head to be shot.


1972 CE: N.A.S.A. discovers the presumed remains of the upside down temple complex of Gunung Padang on the lunar surface in a region that later came to be known as the Sea of Tranquility. But what they really found was the golden head enthroned on top of a dead volcano. It is brought back to Earth for testing.


1991 CE: American filmmaker and former Pentagon insider David Blair directs a film entitled Wax or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees, which contains numerous thinly veiled references to the kraton phenomenon and its deep history. The film is released on the Internet and David Blair disappears from public view.


2000 CE: Several reports in early Internet chat-rooms speak of clear memories of an incident in which a politician wearing a golden mask came to power in Eritrea and united the Middle East thanks to his ruthlessness and futuristic weapons. According to these ‘memories’, after a ten-year reign of terror in the countries of the Middle East, a Golden Horde set out on the road to world domination and unleashed an ultimate weapon that was thought to destroy "all of Europe by sound waves". On New Year's Eve 1999, however, elite troops of the army raged, killing many of their own citizens and friendly military personnel. Later conspiracy theories assume that the space-time continuum returned to zero when the millennium time paradox occurred. The events in the Middle East no longer exist, history is erased, and ripple effects caused by the disruption of the space-time continuum cause some people to remember this alternative timeline. The phenomenon is called the Mandela Effect, because in the alternative timeline the South African politician Nelson Mandela died in his prison cell in the 1980s.


2014 CE: The megalithic complex of Gunung Padang on Java is rediscovered and excavated by the Indonesian government. The excavation coincides with reports of mass hallucinations in Southeast Asia and Oceania and the rare conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, which has been described as "fire in the night sky". The strange content of these hallucinations is strikingly similar between people and describes of a kind of eschatological prophecy that summarizes earlier events related to the kraton phenomena. The prophecy reads as follows: On a day more gloomy than night, a monster (or devil) will rise from the waters (some people have described it as a sea or ocean). In response there will be the terrible descent of a crystal mountain. Its shape is in constant flux, carrying the reflections of many fire-eyes in the endless refractions of its complex geometry. It will be as if all the bells will suddenly go into furious frenzy to make a great roar against Satan. Even the wandering spirits and lost souls under his control - those without master, faith or country - will burst into a persistent, whimpering cry. Vibrations will imitate solid walls, and the earth will turn into his vast prison. Satan will continue to rage with eternal hatred and strike relentlessly at the walls of his dungeon. Without drums or music, long pale spider creatures will descend from the crystalline mountain to take his soul, while all struggles, hatred and hope are defeated. And we will rejoice when the spider beings spin us deep into their webs while Satan weeps in impotent despotic fear. Sudden drums from the crystalline mountain will announce the end of the spectacle. Satan's wretched soul is brought to the center of the mountain where the song of bowed skulls in front of an empty throne birth the world in oceans of blood.


2016 CE: Research into these hallucinations is carried out by an international team of scientists. Among the people interviewed, several people who are familiar with musicology and classical music theory are identified and asked to describe the intangible and vague musical motive of the hallucinations. All respondents were able to vividly recall the heavenly melodies and were equipped with the necessary musical vocabulary to describe what they heard. They describe it as transcendental maximalism or as a rich musical tapestry full of symbolic meaning. The report explains this in more detail: "The listener does not hear the sophisticated symbolic structures that underlie this music. It is beautiful, it moves the heart, and it creates feelings that can be described as orgasmic, frightening but calming, or simply religious. But the music itself does not convey any theological information that must have been incorporated into its composition. Only by studying its ‘grammar’ is one really able to theorize what has gone into the music and what is happening in it". The report closes with the following words: "It is a kind of music that aims at a deeper communion with the divine. A kind of music that expresses the existence of absolute truths in faith. It evokes and is on the one hand very earthy and earthly, as it is played on raw ancient instruments (e.g. drums, bow skulls, bells), but it also evokes something heavenly in a strange way."


2017 CE: A music group from Kiribati called Anatomy of the Heads calls their eclectic music kraton.


2. Musical Analysis and Conclusion

Now that we know the rich and baffling history of the genre, a discussion of the actual music is necessary to understand what kraton is as a genre. The compositions, if you can call them that, consist of large, fused sections of unequal length and duration, in which there is a great variety of structural and compositional techniques. From a macrostructural point of view, a piece can often be divided into three parts, which consist of three different subsections: (a a a b) (a a a a a1 b) (c d b1). This structure is in the form of a song in a popular style. Each subsection in it is heard twice, either sequentially or alternately, and often all end on the same note. The popular familiarity of this simple structure is hidden by all sorts of tricks, which will be discussed afterwards. Remarkably, even for occasional listeners, notice the dramatic change between sophisticated maximalist sections of dense composition and technically less complex and formal sections such as long instrumental solos, which are reminiscent of sequences from medieval Plainchants. Symbolically, these sequences can be understood as a musical addition to a sermon, like an alleluia or a hymn response to the incarnation of a world. The perceived impressions of the structures have a certain degree of accessibility, namely through the use of a familiar rhythmic form.


The strong sense of rhythm connects these phantasmagoric compositions with each other, although individual rhythmic patterns end abruptly or immediately before the point at which the beginning of the rhythmic cycles would reconnect, creating a feeling for the incomplete. This is often done to draw attention to another instrument that picks up or modulates the overall pulse of the composition. In addition, rhythmic patterns are often long or complex and are perceived as an improvised solo. For example, some parts of the album Anatomy of the Heads. Worship in prayer and ritual requires ninety repetitions of the upper rhythm and eighty repetitions of the lower rhythm to find the specific combination of departure. This music device is known from medieval music and is called isor rhythm, in which metrically defined phrases and patterns of stressed and unstressed beats are avoided. Rather, these isorhythmic patterns behave like wheels in wheels, destroying every sense of the meter and thus creating a piece of music that has the feeling of being out of time. The perceived pulse of the piece thus exceeds a simple idea of time. Beyond the use of the iso rhythm, both the upper and lower voices use very structured Hindu rhythms with considerable theological consequences. Because these rhythms match those found on a table of one hundred and twenty Dekî-tâlas codified in the thirteenth century. The underlying symbolic formula contains two equivalent notes (e.g. dotted eighth notes) that represent the entire human rhythmic creation and the subsequent development and shifting through reduction, withdrawal and return of the point. Old rhythmic patterns are linked and permuted in a kind of U-shaped pattern, in which the music does not jump from one extreme to the other, but has to change through movement through the center.


Despite the clear composition order and the pulse in the music, it often sounds chaotic due to harmonic overload. This is a music device in which chords are either stacked on top of each other or completed by the final note of the melodic material. While the chords used lie harmoniously on the dominant (the fifth of the scale), the abundance of melodic levels can be built up to all notes of the corresponding major or minor scale, as well as their darker modes (especially Aeolian, Phrygian or Locrian). For traditional western sensitivity to music, the resulting chord, which consists of all the notes of a scale, is hardly standard and questions the entire concept of harmony and dissonance. However, the final impression of a coherent harmony also arises for listeners who have no avant-garde sensitivity through the interplay of harmony and time. A deep (but not always conscious) feeling of harmonic unity is created by the basic chord preceding its harmonic additions. Another thing has to be said about the way in which harmonic addition interacts with time and melody. The exact order in which the additions occur is in itself a melody that interacts with the piece's already rich tapestry and creates something that can be described as micro-sensations, similar to a main theme, but of shorter duration and more subtle. These can be viewed as comments or footnotes that contrast or improve individual melodies. Regarding these micro-sensations, the heavy use of the tritone or ascending / descending chromatic runs is to fill, move or connect one tune with another, with fifths being the most common form in which harmonic overload is built up. In less harmoniously complex passages, an effect similar to the harmonic overload is created by chord movements in which a chord on the dominant is repeatedly transposed both up and down. The result is a kaleidoscopic treatment of a single chord that produces an effect like that of a stained glass window or a light reflected from the water. However, the previously discussed U-shape of permutation is not applied to instruments that carry a melody and appears to be reserved as a rhythmic device. As a result, melodies are used less fluently and more spontaneously, explosively and wildly.


Finally, the content of kraton melodies have compared with the melodic lines of ornate choirs such as those of J. S. Bach through his expressive and strict arabesques, which overload the often solemn, long and slow chord progression. However, an obvious difference is the abundance of melodies that lie on top of each other. This transcends any consideration to the skills of an individual actor. Often, the first three melodic phrases (about nine measures) are playful and contain about fifty-three notes: Three added notes in the first phrase, fifteen added notes in the second phrase, and thirty-five added notes in the third phrase, musical repetition of the second phrase. While decorating a melody, which has been transferred to a new mode, is the most common way to modulate an established melody. At least three other compositional techniques are used to alter melodic lines. added-value rhythms to transform original rhythms with the occasional addition of extra time, typically by means of an additional half-value. Second, melodic lines are changed by eliminating melodic notes. While this technique is much more difficult to identify, especially in such an ornate environment, it seems to be used at least frequently in easily observable places. Finally, through the interplay of the micro-sensation discussed earlier, which adds a perfect interval or tritone to the melody line to highlight the note after the added sensation. Ultimately, the relationship between harmony and melody suggests a fairly appropriate correspondence with the other musical layers of the compositions: Heavenly salvation contradicts the standards imposed by the world, and yet the community of faithful voices, despite this gift, sings praises of harmony to the heavenly in frequent harmonic clashes .


About the Author

Dr. Yaron Schwebitz-Yamamoto is a Dutch ethnomusicologist, music collector, curator and sound engineer. Schwebitz-Yamamoto's passion for the music of India and Central Asia led him to study, travel, and record various music, theater, and dance traditions throughout India from the late 1950s to the early 2000s. His collection includes original audio and video recordings, commercial records, books, magazine editions, photographs and slides. The Department of Musicology at the University of Laurentia houses most of this collection.


Publication Notes

This article was first published as: “We Are All Musicologists Now”; or, the End of Ethnomusicology  in Journal of Musicology (2020) 37 (1): 1-32.

This abridged version has been adapted for Gateway Magazine by Weena Mercator