When I was a boy, and even as a young teen, much of Bali was lit only by fire. Late afternoon, we’d line up our lanterns on the porch, the small tin ones for the bedrooms, the larger Aladdin lamps with graceful chimneys for the dining room and parlor, and fill them with kerosene, ready to be lit at dusk.
The predominant noises in the evenings were garden crickets and the occasional growl of a passing truck. But some nights there would reverberate from the unknown distance the slow measured drumming of the large gamelan gong. On an island lit only by fire, this was also the island’s loudest sound, louder even than the villages’ kul-kul drums, a mysterious beating from the drenching dark of night that seemed to say, something this way could very well come, and I’d tremble a little. (Ever since HEART OF DARKNESS, it’s a cliché to speak of a distant drumming being an island’s exotic beating heart, but it wasn’t a cliché to me.)
Today, all is electrified, including the gamelan. The other night, the pura dalem temple several hundred meters from our house had a rededication ceremony. A sacred Rangda dance was performed, and whereas in the old days her natural screeching voice was enough to give one the heejie-beejies, this night she was miked up to the speakers, loud enough over the clanging gamelan for even cruise ships in Benoa to hear. It wasn’t shivery scary—it was just deafening.
Electric amplification? Why, oh why? The louder it gets, the more something gets lost–a sense of the other, the numinous mystery of the unseen.