Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Balinese Gamelan

Although Balinese gamelan is on my mind alot, especially since we have this wikipedia project, and well because it was my most favorite musical experience in my life so far, it really came to the forefront of my thoughts when I was reading the Cook this week. We all understand, at least somewhat and we continue to learn, about Western Art Music and the relationships between performer, composer, and listener. Cook writes that "reception based approach says that we best understand music by being in the middle of it". Throughout chapter 5, the idea of community and communal music is brought to light. Although we often work in ensembles and collaborate with others, gamelan as I have learned is music that can only be performed and worked on as a community.
The music of gamelan, whether it be Javanese or Balinese, is based on interlocking rhythms and melodies, so therefore, there is never one soloist and throughout the music, one member is only one half of the melody. The music is often so fast that one person would not be able to play one melodic line on their own. There is no such idea of the "virtuoso" or "soloist" in gamelan. There isn't even the idea of a conductor. You learn to follow a drummer and their cues for different sections and tempos but this "leader" is not viewed with our traditional Western idea of a conductor. There is no heirarchy in this community ensemble. The person who has composed a piece of music does not not have the means to write it down, because there is no "traditional" notation for gamelan music, and is only learned aurally. So therefore, music can only be learned and performed as an entire community. Traditionally, the instruments are not to be moved individually either, and one instrument is never to leave it's family of instruments.
This is only the tip of the iceberg concerning gamelan music. Hopefully this just peaks your interest and you can read more, when I get this on wiki, but in the meantime, go to the American Gamelan site http://www.gamelan.org/ and read more. Also, http://eamusic.dartmouth.edu/~gamelan/directoryusa.html#MA has been gracious and given us an entire list of gamelan's (including their type!), in the US. If you have a chance and want to "be in the middle" of music making, you should check it out, even go to a rehearsal. They'll probably have you participate in some way.

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