Murmuration, a gathering event for writers and readers presented by literary collective The Murmur House, marked the official launch of their biannual journal’s latest volume. (Photo courtesy of The Murmur House)

Murmuration Brings Words to Life Through Literary Performances


MAY 14, 2015

Jakarta. On a recent Saturday, a pack of 20-something literature aficionados could be seen crowding the vintage-inspired interior space at Kedai, a cafe in Kemang, South Jakarta, for an afternoon of live reading performances. If you looked around, you'd overhear hushed conversations about anything from their new favorite authors to rare music vinyl, while some visitors were getting ready to recite their written-word performances in front of the eager audience.

It was the second edition of Murmuration, a gathering event for writers and readers presented by the Murmur House, a literary collective that started in Jakarta last year. The event simultaneously marked the official launch of their biannual journal’s latest volume, the contributors of which became the headliners that afternoon.

“Murmuration gives us a chance to interact directly with those who have been supporting our community. We turn it into a place where we can get to know other communities, talk about collaborative projects and simply hang out with old friends,” says Syarafina Vidyadhana, also known as Avi, who established the Murmur House with Rain Chudori.

Themed “Love and Other Drugs,” both the print journal and the reading event explored the age-old notion of love along with the pleasure and pain it brings. The journal’s current editor-in-chief Dwiputri Pertiwi kicked off the afternoon with her editor’s note, which was followed by a throng of writers.

“My job was to select the most appropriate works for our journal. We were looking for fresh literary works — things that we thought were not too safe and managed to explore and expand the ideas based on our theme,” Dwiputri says of her editing process.

Avi also adds that this theme has provided a wide space for interpretation for the writers.

“The diversity of our contributors’ approaches has made this second volume richer and more dynamic. Esthetically, we are also satisfied with the accompanying illustrations and artworks that are more cohesive with one another. Hopefully, it gives a more impressive reading and visual experience for our readers,” she explains.

From a small stage in the middle of the cafe, one of the contributors, Andhyta Firselly Utami, read from her essay entitled “Post-Facto Notes and Whatnots," a musing on the opposite poles of pain and ego in one’s subconsciousness. Next came a string of promising young writers, including Ben Laksana, Arman Dhani and Talissa Febra, who presented their original works.

Impromptu reader Antonia recited her poem, “Negeri Panggung” (“Stage Nation”), which responds to the recent controversy surrounding the death penalty in Indonesia. Indie bands Amygdala and The Colour Mellow also gave their music performances as an intermezzo in the midst of the three-hour event.

Growing interest

Compared to countries with a higher percentage of avid readers in their population, literary performances in the archipelago are still few and far between. But Andhyta, who works as an analyst at an environmental think-tank, notes that the art form has recently been gaining in popularity.

“I think Murmuration serves the growing interest in literature among young Jakartans. Having attended other previous events like ‘Unmasked,’ an open-mic spoken-word event, and ‘Malam Puisi’ [‘Poetry Night’], I saw a  high turnout, which suggests [Jakarta] is not just about mundane shopping or coffee-shop chats. The city has youths who have been yearning for culturally enriching, self expressing and soul fulfilling avenues like this,” she observes.

Rocky Intan, a political researcher who attended Murmuration for the first time, echoes Andhyta's sentiments: “I came because it’s nice to attend an event in Jakarta that bears a literary touch. Also, I have friends who performed [at Murmuration]. It was pretty refreshing, although I think the set-up [of the venue] could be improved.”

The team at Murmur Houses is happily embracing this surge in enthusiasm for literary events. Avi enthuses, “We have received some e-mails from our readers, telling us that they cannot wait for the next edition of Murmuration.”

Avi also hopes that, through these events, appreciation for literature will continue to spread among the younger generation of Indonesians.

“This could be a sign that more people are getting interested in reading. We also want to strengthen the support system for those involved in literature. It is great to see how performing your own literary works in public is no longer considered as strange,” she says.

Nonetheless, amid this prevalence of literary performances, Dwiputri emphasizes the importance of the words themselves — not the person writing them. 

As she explains, “There is a huge difference between these performances and the actual production and consumption of literature. Eventually, it all comes down to content, and reading events and performances like what we have here is an added bonus — something that can gather people and communities together. It is at the very end of that long literary process.”