I'm a backpacking ethnomusicologist traveling Indonesia researching and recording rare and endangered traditional music, then sharing it all for free online.
My name's Palmer Keen. I'm a guy who's obsessed with music in a corner of the world that most people never even think about, Indonesia. Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world and also perhaps the most musically diverse country on the planet, but so much of this music is unknown or unavailable outside the country. My mission is to share this stuff with the world.
For more than four years I've been traveling around Indonesia researching and recording dozens of Indonesian music styles and sharing it all for free on my website, Aural Archipelago. Without a formal background in ethnomusicology, I've figured it all out as I go: becoming fluent in Indonesian, learning how to do fieldwork, and making connections with musicians and communities across the thousands of islands in the archipelago. I travel with all my gear in a backpack, staying with musicians in their homes, going to remote villages that have never seen foreigners, and finding music that's never been heard outside of these islands. There have been lots of adventures along the way and so, so much great music.
A few notes to answer FAQ:
How do I make money?/Is this my job?: This isn't my job. For most of the time I've been doing this I was supporting myself and the project by teaching English full time. My description may have been a bit misleading, I travel often but it is not a constant thing. This is a passion project, but I don't make a living from this. I receive donations on my site occasionally, but these are forwarded to musicians. I now also do occasional work as a fixer and guide for others looking for music in Indonesia.
How did you get into this field?: To be clear, I have no academic background in ethnomusicology. I studied the traditional music called gamelan as an extracurricular in university, then decided to move to Indonesia to teach English and learn more about the gamelan that I'd fallen in love with. Since then everything I know about ethnomusicology I've figured out along the way. It's a fascinating field for anyone interested in music, but for those who want to make it their career (again, this is not my career, just a passion project!), it has the same pitfalls of any other job in academia.
Do you pay the musicians?/Aren't you exploiting them?: Yes, I always pay musicians a reasonable fee for performances that I commission. I'm not releasing whole albums of their music for free, just a track or two to get people interested, something the musicians are very much on board with. The idea is that rather than put this music on albums that won't be affordable for everyone (especially Indonesians themselves), the music is available online for everyone, especially Indonesians and people from these communities who couldn't afford a proper album.
Ask me anything :)
If you're interested, check out:
The site: Aural Archipelago
YouTube: Aural Archipelago on YouTube
EDIT: Okay guys, it's been fun, but it's late here in Indonesia and I've got to go to sleep. If I have time I'll try to get to the rest of the questions tomorrow. I hope those who are interested will go to the site and maybe fall in love with some of this music just as I have. If there's a particular group or artist that you like, you can leave a comment and I will relay it to the musicians, almost all of whom I'm still in touch with. Terima kasih!