Professor of Music, Graduate Advisor for Ethnomusicology and Musicology
(On sabbatical Winter Quarter)
Henry Spiller is an ethnomusicologist whose research focuses on Sundanese music and dance from West Java, Indonesia. He is interested particularly in investigating how individuals deploy music and dance in their personal lives to articulate ethnic, gender, and national identities. He has studied Sundanese music and dance for almost five decades, and he has conducted fieldwork in Bandung, West Java, on many occasions.
ABC-CLIO published his first book, Gamelan: The Traditional Sounds of Indonesia, in 2004. It was named an Outstanding Academic Title by CHOICE. In 2008 Routledge released a second edition under the title Focus: Gamelan Music of Indonesia; a third edition, with co-author Elizabeth Clendinning, came out in 2022.
His monograph, Erotic Triangles: Sundanese Dance and Masculinity in West Java, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2010, focuses on constructions of masculinity in Sundanese men’s improvisational dance in West Java, Indonesia. It received Honorable Mention for the 2011 Alan Merriam Prize, the Society for Ethnomusicology’s most prestigious book award. Another monograph, Javaphilia: American Love Affairs with Javanese Music and Dance (University of Hawai’i Press, 2015), chronicles the careers and motivations of twentieth-century North Americans who were attracted to Javanese music and dance to develop a better understanding of American orientalisms and the subtleties of identity formations. It was awarded SEM’s Bruno Nettl Prize in 2016.
Spiller’s latest book, Archaic Instruments in Modern West Java, Indonesia: Bamboo Murmurs (Routledge, forthcoming 2023), investigates how the physical qualities of a landscape and the resources it provides shape musical styles and aesthetics by examining contemporary revivals of bamboo instruments in the city of Bandung.
Spiller’s research activities have been supported by grants from the Fulbright program (1998–99 and 2013), the Mellon Foundation (2002), the Whiting Foundation (2004 and 2005), the Balzan Foundation (2014), the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS, 2019), the Luce Foundation (2019–22), and the Vossius Center (University of Amsterdam, 2023), as well as a variety of grants from UC Berkeley, Kenyon College, and UC Davis.
His articles and book chapters appear in publications such as Asian Music, Worlds of Music, Asian Theatre Journal, Ethnomusicology, and Journal of the Society for American Music, as well as many edited collections. He has written dictionary entries for standard reference works including The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (MGG). He has presented papers at regional and national meetings of the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM), the Association for Theatre Arts (ATA), the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM), and the Congress on Research in Dance (CORD).
Spiller holds a bachelor’s degree in music from UC Santa Cruz, a master’s degree in harp performance from Holy Names College, and a master’s degree and the Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from UC Berkeley. He taught gamelan at Mills College in Oakland, California, and music at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. From 2002 to 2005 he served as Luce Assistant Professor in Asian Music and Culture at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.
Since 2005, at UC Davis, Spiller teaches world music classes and graduate seminars, and directs the Department of Music’s gamelan ensemble. He served as chair of the Department of Music from 2012 to 2016 and 2017 to 2018.