When people ask me for tips on writing, I would tell them to listen to music. As I have discovered through my travels, listening to music while writing is the most powerful way to cultivate the imagination. Whenever I write, I need music. And music alone helps me to recall the sea of scattered memories, of the city streets I have visited and of the people I have met along the way.
It has been famously said, perhaps translated from Plato, that “Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.
Music has long been believed to be a medium of therapeutic value, something that uplifts the spirit, others even see music as being a spiritual medium that can bring us closer the big whole. Music often serves as an emotional medium.
Regardless of how we perceive music, I think we can all agree that it brings out our emotions: the superficial; the subtle; and the hidden. To me, whenever I hear the traditional musical instrument of panting (similar to a psaltery), I would immediately imagine my hometown in South Kalimantan, Borneo. Similarly, whenever I heard the clanging bagpipes, my imagination would immediately drift to the clouded Scottish highland.
While roaming in Kyoto, Japan, I had a taste of the acoustic guitar duo Depapepe. The song titled Start in their 2005 debut album Let’s Go!!! was bright and energetic, and that made an indelible mark on my experience in the country. To this day, the essence of Japan remains this upbeat and happy sense of fun-filled adventures. By the same token, when I was backpacking through Europe in 2006, the song on repeat was Number One by Pharrell Williams featuring Kanye West. Naturally, when I returned home and started writing my travel book, this song became a constant reminder of the Land to the West, sharpening my memories at every turn.
Do not forget traveling with the intention of watching a music concert. I went to a concert by Radiohead in Belgium with hitchhicking style when I was in Lyon. Perhaps my madness is not as big as the madness of my friend Ivan Hadi, who went to a Metalica concert in some Asia. For him it feels like a pilgrimage even though he may have to save for months. The love for music brings us to travel.
If you are planning to travel, do not forget to make a playlist of songs that would become songs of the journey. Also, don’t be surprised if you return from traveling, and when you meet with friends at a cafe, and you suddenly hear a song of your journey, you’ll fall back into that mood of the journey. This is because your imagination flies back to places you’ve visited.The Indonesian government’s program of transferring parts of the Javanese population to the areas such as the island of Borneo, provides a strong rationale for the importance of music you associate with a place.
In my home in South Kalimantan, I travel to a small town where many migrants settle down to start a new life and talk to them.
The migrants come because Java is too densely populated. No longer leaving hopes to work and to properly raise and educate their children. That is why they take the opportunity and move to other places where they are offered land to build their homes and for farming.
During the evenings and after a long day of farming, the parents of the migrants are sitting in their wooden chairs and listen to music on the Java radio. Their imagination flies to the land where they were born and raised. They close their eyes to immerse themselves into memories through traditional songs. They have high hopes someday their children will be successful in life and bring them back to the land of Java. In these situations, music becomes the transmitter of lived memory.
Well, if you see me on the street in some country humming to the sound coming from my earphones, or if you see me moving vigorously to the beats, don’t say I’m crazy, because maybe at that time I listen to the songs of my country, to remind myself that I’ve a home to return to.