Bang a gong!
September 16, 2003 4:28 PM   Subscribe

Gamelan, the traditional percussive orchestras of Java and Bali, has many contemporary ensembles in America. Why don't you take a seat and play along?

P.S. No thread on Gamelan would be complete without reference to the Ramayana Monkey Chant and the story behind it!
posted by moonbird (23 comments total)
Great post, moonbird. Thanks!
posted by homunculus at 4:45 PM on September 16, 2003

i second that! that's a really nice collection of links moonbird.
(disclaimer: i'm friends with the guys in monkey c, but don't hold that against them, they're worth seeing).
posted by dolface at 4:51 PM on September 16, 2003

We have a great gamelan ensemble in town. They have t-shirts that read 'Gamelan: Real Heavy Metal.'

These are some excellent resource links. Well done, sir.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:08 PM on September 16, 2003

I should have written "Well done sir and/or ma'am." Sorry!
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:09 PM on September 16, 2003

For the London Mefites, the RFH offers Gamelan Taster Days and free shows from the South Bank Gamelan Players. (Great post moonbird!)
posted by shoepal at 5:12 PM on September 16, 2003

Gamelan music is amazingly hypnotic. Initially, it sounds a bit like muzak when you first walk into a hotel lobby and hear it playing, but it does not take long before you are mesmerised by it.
posted by dg at 5:15 PM on September 16, 2003

Minnesotans should be aware that the Schubert Club in Saint Paul sponsors a gamelan ensemble that gives both classes and performances.
posted by gimonca at 5:23 PM on September 16, 2003

My favorite Gamelan outfit is the one that works out of UNC in Chapel Hill, because they publish mp3s (creative commons licensed even) of their shows online. It's great music to work by, sort of running the background.
posted by mathowie at 5:29 PM on September 16, 2003

Debussy had the epiphany that sparked his world of sound after hearing Gamelan music!
posted by Satapher at 5:30 PM on September 16, 2003

Joey Michaels, thanks for your throughtfulness... sir tends to work best, though a tish formal.

I remember a great group in Delaware of all places, connected to the University. I think it was called "Lake of the Silver Bear," and their compositions were wildly eclectic, even, at times, traditional. It was a large group, 40 or 50 players, seeming to play independantly at times, then washing over the crowd with thunderous energy.

Talk about trance music!
posted by moonbird at 5:33 PM on September 16, 2003

I study folk music... A couple of years ago we had a course on "different musical cultures of the world" and we went to the Indonesian embassy to play some gamelan music.

That must be the weirdest experience I have ever had during my years of musical education.

First, the notation was somehow "upside down" or "right to left". Well anyway it wasn't like anything I had previously seen.

There were eight of us in the class and we all got different instruments. A friend of mine (a veery good mandolin player) got the biggest one: a huge "bell" that was played once in every 8/16/xxx bars, whenever the song/part started again. (Alpha-male kind of thing, don't you think?)

Then there were the "middle┬┤" instruments that played two to eight notes per "bar.

And... yes, you guessed right. I got the "lead" gamelan.

During those two hours I was soo completely lost. I should been playing eights and sixteenths with notation that was just dots on a paper. With an instrument I had never seen... It became hysterically funny in just a matter of minutes. The result was quite chaotic.

Nevertheless. Very fascinating music. I've bought some records afterwards.
posted by hoskala at 5:34 PM on September 16, 2003

There's one here in Denver called Tunas Mekar. I played with them briefly, long ago. (As a jazz musician, I was uncomfortable with not being able to improvise, although I dug the hell out of the music and it was a blast to be a part of it.)

They go to Bali now and then, to learn, and also as an example to the local kids, who, like kids the world over, are more interested in Jay-Z and B. Spears than their own local music. So: if Americans are doing it...maybe it ain't that uncool to play Grandad's music...?
posted by kozad at 5:39 PM on September 16, 2003

I've been to gamelan concerts (by FSU's ethnomusicology program) that have also included the ketjak. Very neat stuff.

The traditional dances and other events that call upon gamelan music are fascinating in their own right - among my favorites are the shadow puppets.
posted by Sangre Azul at 5:55 PM on September 16, 2003

damn! why did i think this post was about gamers and lan parties? thanks moonbird!
posted by quonsar at 6:24 PM on September 16, 2003

I love gamelan! The UW has a Javanese ensemble, and at one point, my ethnomusicology class got to try our hands at playing. I also have quite a fondness for the Balinese style.
posted by kayjay at 7:14 PM on September 16, 2003

For those of you who live in the Boston area, the Tufts Gamelan Ensemble performs fairly regularly in Alumnae Hall, Medford. (617-627-4042) They have a show Nov 22.

It really is amazing stuff, though you wouldn't want to carry it. I did while I worked as a stage hand for work-study in school. That giant mother of a gong/bell weighs a ton!

Spellcheck wants Gamelan to be Pamela. But then, Word wants my last name to be Gassiness.
posted by kahboom at 7:16 PM on September 16, 2003

Wow. So that monkey chant is the sample that Mercury Rev put on the opening of their "If You Want Me to Stay" cover.
posted by twitch at 8:30 PM on September 16, 2003

Anybody into their gamelan might want to check out a "rock" band called Macha. I've got their superb 1999 album See It Another Way, featuring "traditional gamelan instruments such as Sumatran gongs and Javanese zither, which instead of drums, bass, or keyboards (also present in the music) act as the driving force of the songs. And that is perhaps the most "rock" aspect of See It Another Way: though the music is perhaps slightly more to the gamelan side of the fence, it has the forceful propulsion of rock music, which gives the album a sense of immediacy."
posted by Onanist at 3:52 AM on September 17, 2003

Samba Sunda were quite good when I saw them this year, mixing Gamelan music with Brazilian is pretty damn cool. Unfortunately, they also had the Indonesian fascination with over-long ballads.
posted by asok at 7:00 AM on September 17, 2003

Cool post. Very cool. Very, very cool.

Initially, it sounds a bit like muzak

dg, I think you're talking about Javanese - it's nice and all, but if you haven't sampled Balinese you owe it to yourself. Not very Muzaky.

Also, don't forget the gamelan at your fingertips.
posted by soyjoy at 7:43 AM on September 17, 2003

Los Angeles area folks might be interested in the rare combination of gamelan plus rhythm tap dance.

Disclaimer: Sorry for the kinda-sorta self-linking, but my wife is a member of the tap company.
posted by stigg at 7:53 AM on September 17, 2003

I played with a gamelan group in Seattle for a while, started on kanong and was promoted to gong, which was great fun. I sat by the huge gong in back and would strike it with a padded mallet every once in a while and give everybody a good, strong tingle down in their loins. Now that's power.
posted by Ty Webb at 8:59 AM on September 17, 2003

my friend & i did an intro gamelan class at RFH when i was in london. we had a blast. i especially liked playing the gong, which, though played least frequently, was most important. i need to get a gong.
posted by jcruelty at 1:33 PM on September 18, 2003

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