Benjamin Brinner

Job title: 
Professor, Ethnomusicology

Although I retired on July 1, 2021, I intend to continue to teach a few courses and work with my graduate advisees who are completing their dissertations, while completing my own book on expert musical memory.

Over more than thirty years as a professor at Berkeley I have enjoyed working with numerous graduate students in the Department of Music as well as from departments and programs such as Anthropology, Folklore, Performance Studies, South and Southeast Asia Studies, and Near Eastern Studies. I have taught several thousand undergraduates in the large-enrollment Music in American Cultures course, smaller survey courses, and seminars. I have also had the good fortune to co-direct Gamelan Sari Raras, UC Berkeley’s Javanese music ensemble, with Midiyanto, Santosa, and Heri Purwanto. The group gives four or five performances a year, often including shadow play or dance.

I have worked extensively with colleagues across campus, for instance on the executive committees of the Centers for Jewish Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, and South and Southeast Asia Studies. I have served as chair of the Department of Music, Faculty Director of the Center for Jewish Studies, and Faculty Director of the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life.

Throughout my career the question “How do musicians do what they do?” has motivated much of my research. I am interested in the knowledge and processes that musicians use in performance, not as isolated units but in relation to one another. I am particularly fascinated by the dynamics of interaction among performers. I am also interested in matters of musical cognition such as the acquisition, differentiation, and distribution of musical competence, musicians’ conceptualizations of the pieces they know, and the workings of memory. I have pursued these interests primarily in Indonesia (Central Java and Bali) and Israel, with more recent research in Irish music.

My dissertation research, supported by a Fulbright DDRA fellowship (1982-83), concerned Javanese musicians’ interaction in the performance of pathetan. I explored the interplay of different levels of competence, mutual assessments, and social differences. These interests developed further to form the basis of the cross-culturally applicable analytical frameworks presented in Knowing Music, Making Music (University of Chicago Press, 1995; winner of ASCAP’s Deems Taylor Prize 1996).

Ten years later I returned to Indonesia, with the support of a Fulbright Faculty Research fellowship, for a comparative study of the workings of musical memory in Java and Bali. The focus was on the memorization and recall of long gamelan compositions, some of which are confusingly similar.

Before coming to UC Berkeley I taught in Israel for three years at Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I also directed the Workshop for Non-Western Music at the Jerusalem Music Center where I taught Javanese gamelan, coordinated instruction in Arab, Jewish, and East African music and produced concert series dedicated to exposing the public to a broader range of musical practices than was then generally known in Israel. Returning to Israel on numerous occasions from 1991 to 2003 I conducted research on the emergent field of performance involving Palestinian musicians from the West Bank as well as Israeli Jews and Arabs. This research culminated in publication of Playing Across a Divide: Israeli-Palestinian Musical Encounters



Playing Across a Divide: Israeli-Palestinian Musical Encounters. Oxford University Press, 2009. Awarded the Alan P. Merriam Prize by the Society for Ethnomusicology, 2010.

The Music of Central Java: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. Global music series. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Knowing Music, Making Music: Javanese Gamelan and the Theory of Musical Competence and Interaction. University of Chicago Series in Ethnomusicology. University of Chicago Press, 1995. Awarded ASCAP’s Deems Taylor Award, 1996.

“Competence and Interaction in Central Javanese Pathetan Performance.” Ph. D. diss. University of California, Berkeley, 1995.


“The Ecology of Musical Transmission between Indonesia and the United States” Performing Indonesia (2016).

Multimedia Review. Lontar Foundation Wayang Educational PackageAsian Music 47/1 (2016).

Book Review. Orientalism and Musical Mission: Palestine and the West by Rachel Beckles Willson. Twentieth-Century Music 11 (2014): 301-307.

“Beyond Ethnic Tinge or Ethnic Fringe: The Emergence of New Israeli/Palestinian Musical Competences & Connections.” Min-Ad: Israeli Studies in Musicology Online. 7:2 (2008-2009).

“Interaction in Gendhing Performance: The Panerusan.” In Gerd Grupe, ed. Virtual Gamelan Graz: Rules — Grammars — Modeling. Graz Studies in Ethnomusicology 22. Aachen: Shaker Verlag, 2008. Pp. 27-58.

2007    Review (with Lisa Gold) of Deep Listeners: Music, Emotion, and Trancing by Judith Becker and Unplayed Melodies: Javanese Gamelan and the Genesis of Music Theory by Marc Perlman. Journal of the American Society of Musicology 60/3: 677-688.

“Beyond Israelis vs. Palestinians or Jews vs. Arabs: The Social Ramifications of Musical Interaction,” Music and Anthropology, 8 (2004).

Review. The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Vol. 6: The Middle East, ed. Virgina Danielson, Scott Marcus, and Dwight Reynolds. Notes 59/3 (2003): 654-7.

“Indonesia III,1: Central Java,” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Ed. Stanley Sadie, 2001.Vol. 12: 311-29.

“Performing Practice II: Non-Western and traditional music,” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Ed. Stanley Sadie, 2001. Vol. 19: 384-88.

“Pesindhèn” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Ed. Stanley Sadie, 2001. Vol. 19: 485-6.

Review: “Music of Indonesia vol. 10-12.” Ethnomusicology on Line 7 (2001).

“Cognitive and Interpersonal Dimensions of Listening in Javanese Gamelan Performance,” The World of Music 41/1 (1999): 19-35.

Review: Shadows of Empire: Colonial Discourse and Javanese Tales. Laurie J. Sears. American Ethnologist 26/3 (1999): 756-7.

Review: In the Course of Performance: Studies in the World of Musical Improvisation. Nettl, Bruno and Melinda Russell, eds. in Yearbook of Traditional Music 31(1999): 132-133.

“Cultural Matrices and Innovation in Central Javanese Performing Arts,” Ethnomusicology 39/3 (1995): 433-56.

“Ceremonial Court Music From Central Java: Program Notes,” in Berkeley Festival and Exhibition. Abrams, Laura and Hilary Ley, eds. Berkeley: University of California, 1994. Pp. 104-6.

“A Musical Time Capsule from Java,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 46/2 (1993): 221-260.

“Freedom and Formulaity in the Suling Playing of Bapak Tarnopangrawit,” Asian Music 24/2 (1993): 1-38.

“Cultural Matrices and Innovation in Central Javanese Performing Arts,” in Perlman, Marc, ed. Conference Summaries. New York: The Festival of Indonesia Foundation, 1992. Pp. 8-10.

“Performer Interaction in a New Form of Javanese Wayang,” in Foley, Kathy, ed. Essays on Southeast Asian Performing Arts: Local Manifestations and Cross-Cultural Implications. Berkeley: Centers for South and Southeast Asia Studies, U. C. Berkeley, 1992. Pp. 96-114.

Review Essay: “Karawitan: Source Readings in Javanese Gamelan and Vocal Music, ed. by Judith Becker and Alan Feinstein,” Ethnomusicology 34/1 (1990): 140-6.

“At the Border of Sound and Silence: The Use and Function of Pathetan in Javanese Gamelan,” Asian Music 21/1 (1989/90): 1-34.


Numerous concerts as co-director of Gamelan Sari Raras.


1985 Ph.D. in Music, University of California at Berkeley
1979 M.A. in Music, University of California at Berkeley
1977 B.A. in Musicology, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel

Academic Positions
2020-2021: Faculty Director, The Magnes
2015-202: Faculty Director, Center for Jewish Studies
2009-2014: Chairman, Dept. of Music, U.C. Berkeley
2007- present: Professor, Dept. of Music, U.C. Berkeley
2003: Visiting Professor, Colorado College
1999-2001: Assistant Dean, College of Letters and Science, Undergraduate Advising
1995-2007: Associate Professor, ethnomusicology, Dept. of Music, U. C. Berkeley
1988-95: Assistant Professor, ethnomusicology, Dept. of Music, U. C. Berkeley
1985-88: Visiting Assistant Professor, Dept. of Music, Tel Aviv University, Israel Director, Workshop for Non-Western Music, Jerusalem Music Center, Israel Lecturer, Dept. of Music, Hebrew University

Professional Activities
Executive committee member, Center for Southeast Asia Studies and Center for Middle East Studies, U.C.Berkeley
President, Northern California Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology (1994-96, 1998-2000)
Council Member, Society for Ethnomusicology (1996-99)
Program and prize committees for Northern California Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology

Convened and Chaired Conferences
“Preparing the Unforeseen: Approaches tMusical Improvisation” UC Berkeley (2002)
“Indonesian Music: Twentieth Century Innovation and Tradition” (1991)
Curated exhibit of Indonesian musical instruments, Lowie Museum of Anthropology, UC Berkeley (1991)


ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for book Knowing Music, Making Music
Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Abroad fellowship
Fulbright Faculty Research Abroad fellowship
various UC Berkeley grants for research in Indonesia and Israel
Alan P. Merriam Prize for best book in ethnomusicology, awarded by the Society for Ethnomusicology in 2010 for Playing Across a Divide: Israeli-Palestinian Musical Encounters

Dissertations chaired

Ritwik Banerji, 2018
Eliot Bates, 2008
Robert Beahrs, 2014
Rachel Colwell, 2019
Mark DeWitt, 1994
Tim Fuson, 2009
Ofer Gazit, 2016
Ian Goldstein, 2017
Partow Hooshmandrad, 2000
Maria Klemenc, 2004
Hong-June Park, 2020
Matthew Rahaim, 2009
Santosa, 2001
Merav Singer, 2015
Henry Spiller, 2001
Christina Sunardi, 2007
Andrew Weintraub, 1997

Dissertation committee member:

Rebecca Bodenheimer, 2010
Carla Brunet, 2004
Thomas Cooper, South and Southeast Asia Studies, 2000
Shannon Dudley, 1997
Philip Flavin, 2002
Arathi Govind, 2019
Pattie Hsu, 2010
Paige Johnson, Performance Studies, 2019
Inderjit Kaur, 2014
Rajna Klaser, 2001
Chan Le, 2002
Ali Momeni, Composition, 2005
Jeffrey Piatt, Anthropology 2014
Steven Pond, 2000
Sumitra Ranganathan, 2015
George Ruckert, 1994
Kendra Salois, 2013
Stephen Shirreffs, South and Southeast Asia Studies, 1998
Oliver Wang, Ethnic Studies, 2004
Wei Hua Zhang, 1994

MA theses

Benjamin Kramarz, Folklore MA, 2014
Rebecca Stevenson, Folklore MA, 2006
Rebecca Lomnicky, Folklore MA, 2019