Mormon Artists Group is pleased

to announce the publication of

The Island of Bali Is Littered With Prayers

By Jeremy Grimshaw

The exotic island of bali is the background for this new book written by Jeremy Grimshaw, a musicologist responsible for bringing gamelan, a traditional Indonesian percussion orchestra, to Utah. The story is equal parts picaresque adventure and an exploration into the culture, religions, traditions, and patterns of Balinese life.  But the book is also set in Provo, Utah.  Along the way, the author comes to view his own culture differently, not merely his Utah upbringing and Mormonism, but his view of music, community, the cycles of life, and the power of our offerings to each other and to God.

Grimshaw’s travels are detailed with an eye open to paradox and wonder. As fortune would have it, his excursion into Bali coincides with a celebration of rare magnitude as a city cremates its king. As a westerner with unusual access to their rituals, the author provides a glimpse into a system of beliefs and manners far removed from his own. In a way, The Island of Bali Is Littered With Prayers is his construction of a bridge between two distinct geographies.


Jeremy Grimshaw is an Assistant Professor in the School of Music at Brigham Young University where he conducts research and teaches surveys and specialized courses on world music and directs Gamelan Bintang Wahyu. He has published extensively in academic music journals in the United States, and he is the author of the forthcoming book, Draw a Straight Line and Follow It: The Sonic Life of La Monte Young, to be published in 2010 by Oxford University Press.


The Island of Bali Is Littered With Prayers is printed on Mohawk superfine ultrawhite text weight paper. The volume is 9.5” x 6.25”, 130 pages, with Fabriano Tiziano endpapers. The binding by

Glen Nelson is Smythe sewn and covered in red batik fabric imported from Bali.

The volume is presented in a slipcase wrapped in batik and a black and white photograph (below) of the gamelan. Designed by Cameron King, the text is paired with ten photographs of Bali by the author and studio images of the gamelan by Adam Grimshaw.

This book is limited to 25 copies.

The Island of Bali Is Littered With Prayers

Paperback edition - $14.95

Kindle edition (available at - $9.95

Limited edition - Sold out; no longer available


The island of Bali is littered with prayers.  Sacred words, yes, but also sacred objects. You encounter them everywhere: at the thresholds to homes, businesses, and temples; on windowsills, sidewalks, and countertops; on the dashboard of a car or the seat of a parked motorcycle or the lid of a toilet tank.  Some prayers are large and elaborate; others are so perfunctory they could fit on a Post-It.  Some are recent enough that smoky wisps from them still trail up to the gods.  Others are old and rotting or torn apart by the nightly patrols of barking strays.  Once, walking up the main road in Pengosekan, I counted to see how many steps I could take before passing over one on the sidewalk.  After a few blocks the average was one prayer every thirteen steps—and that number would have been even smaller had I excluded from my calculations a god-forsaken vacant lot forty steps long.

    These prayers are spoken through all of the senses.  They contain words and chants, uttered just within earshot of the other world. They also contain sticks of incense to tease the gods’ nostrils.  They quench the gods’ thirst with sprinkles of purifying tirta, or holy water, and feed their hunger with dabs of rice or pieces of fruit. (Also, because the gods sometimes like to indulge, they might even be offered candy, crackers, or a cigarette.) And I wonder, upon reflection, if this isn’t why Balinese gods always have great bulging eyes with gaping pupils: to take in the sight of all these prayers. Balinese women carefully arrange them inside baskets meticulously woven from palm fronds or pandanus petals or cut from banana leaves. They decorate them with frangipanis, hibiscus, lotus blossoms, clusters of oleander, and delicate rosettes made from rice dough, all arrayed in careful patterns and circling symmetries.

- A People Without Art

With the lumber, offerings, ornaments, and incense consumed, the two royals became the principal fuel for the flames.  I discovered that it was true what I had heard: that the scent of burning human flesh is difficult to describe, but that I’d know it when I smelled it. Upon grasping this scent, I felt an intense desire to flee—not out of physical revulsion, but out of psychic panic.  The smell had filled me with a distinctive feeling, one that, at the end of such a long and chaotic day, I could not immediately identify. It was so powerful, however, that I was emotionally overwhelmed.

The cremation platform stood between me and the nearest exit, and the path that opened up through the crowd took me within just a few meters of the King.  I paused for just a moment inside the field of unbelievable heat that surrounded the bodies.  I listened to the roar of the gas torches, and watched for a minute longer as the rough silhouette of cloth and flesh became a smooth skeletal shadow.  I forced myself to take in another breath of air, to remember it, then wove my way to the street.

- The Cremation of the King of Ubud

There are a few points in the semester when these discoveries are such an easy sell that if I don’t elicit one of these “ah ha” moments, I know I must have blown it: when a piano student, who always assumed that the twelve notes in the octave of a keyboard were the smallest possible units of melody, discovers through South Indian raga that all sorts of other pitches had been hiding all along in the cracks between the keys; when an avowed dysrhythmic suddenly discovers the connection between his ears and his hands while playing West African Gahu drumming; when students see the famous 1916 picture of a Blackfoot Indian chief listening to himself on a phonograph for the first time, or hear the song of a Tibetan folk singer who has never seen his homeland, or try to follow along as a northern Colombian guacharaca player, using only his humble notched stick scraped with a comb, executes rhythms so fast and complicated he turns the straight, taut string of time into a mess of macramé.

Music new to the ears—like brush strokes to the eyes or spices to the tongue—does not merely send new sounds spiraling down the same old cochlear coils.  It defamiliarizes and dehabitualizes the act of hearing. It shows us a previously unimagined way of apprehending the world.  It creates a new mode of resonance between the body and the spirit, the physical and the metaphysical.  The payoff for introducing students to sounds they’ve never heard before comes not so much when they point at the instrument you’re showing them and say “What is that thing,” but when they reach up to their ears and say “What are these things?”

- Pak Beratha, the Scanning Laser Doppler

Vibrometer, and the Beauty of Difference

I like to think that when we opened those twenty-one crates and removed the gamelan instruments, the spirits that had inhabited them in Bali decided to stick around.  And I like to think that they felt rather at home in their new surroundings—in fact, I suspect these musical spirits might have even been fooled into thinking they had arrived back home.  After all, upon venturing out of the Fine Arts building onto the quad, they would have gotten their bearings by looking north to the two-mile-high Mount Timpanogos.  This they very well may have mistaken for the two-mile-high Gunung Agung, Bali’s highest peak and the island’s spiritual center.  They would have looked around to see a valley dotted with steeples, different in design but nearly as numerous as the shrines in which the Balinese worship.  They may have heard the temple-goers in Provo, like those in Bali, whispering reverently, and lovingly, and with absolute surety, of ancestors beyond the veil.  Then, after surveying their surroundings, the spirits must have wandered back to the rehearsal room and settled back into their hiding places—that one straightening like a rod and slipping into a shaft of tuned bamboo, this one curling into the curve of the great gong.  Then they waited for the first day of school, when the villagers—whoever they were—would arrive and begin to play them.

This book is my tale of how I wooed these spirits here, and how I hope to convince them to stay.

  1. -Stowaway Spirits in the Shadow of Mount Timpanogos


The Island of Bali Is

Littered With Prayers