‘Gamelan’ refers to the large traditional percussion orchestras found on the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali. Balinese gamelan music typically accompanies theater and dance performance or serves as an acoustic offering within Balinese Hindu temple ceremonies. Gamelan was introduced in university and community settings in the late 1950s in North America where there are today there are over 200 ensembles. Gamelan Dharma Swara, an ensemble of American musicians and dancers led by a family of Balinese master artists, performs the music of the large gong kebyar ensemble, a modern repertoire and orchestra developed on Bali’s northern coast in the early twentieth century.
Gamelan Dharma Swara’s 2010 Bali Tour
In the annual Bali Arts Festival, the island’s premier regional gong kebyar ensembles meet in head-to-head concerts, sometimes organized as formal contests, but always in a healthy spirit of competition. As the island is divided into nine districts, each year a tenth group must be found to face off against the ninth ensemble, usually an up and coming group aiming to enter the formal contest the following year. In an unprecedented move, the organizing committee decided in 2009 to invite a foreign ensemble to participate in this capacity. Gamelan Dharma Swara accepted this honor, agreeing to perform at the festival for an audience of nearly 6,000 rambunctious spectators, facing one of the island’s leading ensembles. Inspired by this honor, the ensemble prepared a combination of highly challenging traditional repertoire as well as boldly experimental original compositions. Prior to the final concert at the Arts Festival, the ensemble conducted several performances at local temple ceremonies and meeting halls around the island.
Tabuh Pisan Bangun Anyar was composed in 1978 by Bali’s foremost living composer, I Wayan Beratha. In this prize-winning work Beratha extended the compositional possibilities of the ancient lelambatan repertoire—long-form instrumental works performed in temple ceremony contexts. For his Tabuh Pisan, Beratha incorporated elements of interlocking and orchestration from the dynamic kebyar repertoire while maintaining the languorous extended melodies of the classic form. Music arranged by I Nyoman Saptanyana. (19:50 min.)
Sikut Sanga was composed for Gamelan Dharma Swara in 2010 by Andrew McGraw (suling flute arrangement by Richard Marriott). The work is an experimental instrumental that incorporates parodies and mashups of traditional gamelan techniques and musical patterns. Americanisms include quotes of jazz tunes, afro-American rhythms, and game show themes. If, as a listener, it helps to have a metaphor to hang on to, listen for the growth of an individual from the cellular level through adolescence, adulthood and finally dementia. The live performance of this worked involved kitschy gags and absurdist theater acts meant to entertain Bali’s rowdy audiences. (13:18 min.)
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Kebyar Legong was composed in 1914 by Pan Wandres during the heady days of radical musical experimentation that coalesced in the kebyar music and dance style. The work, originally performed by boys but now by young women, portrays the sudden shifts of mood and the volcanic energy of youth. Several members of Dharma Swara studied this work in July 2009 with Wandres’ grandson, I Madé Keranca. Dharma Swara members Ida Ayu Ari Candrawati, Phoebe Dawkins, Noopur Singha and Shoko Yamamuro danced this work during the 2010 Bali tour. (30:53 min.)
Sudamala is an accompaniment to an experimental dance and shadow theater work of the same name created by the Balinese dalang (shadow puppeteer) I Gusti Putu Sudarta. The music was composed collaboratively: 0:00-2:10 Joel Mellin, 2:10-6:30 Peter Steele, 6:30-10:30 Nicole Reisnour, 10:30-13:00 Matthew Welch, 13:00-16:30 Vivian Fung, 16:30-19:30 Matthew Welch, 19:30-21:30 Richard Marriott. Narration: I Gusti Putu Sudarta, Ni Kadek Dewi Aryani. The compositional inspirations range from American noise, Balinese experimentalism, Scottish traditional music, and jazz. The voice of the dalang is omnipresent, as he introduces the narrative through formalized traditional passages and provides the voices of each of the characters, speaking in a combination of archaic (Kawi) and vernacular languages.
I Gusti Putu Sudarta’s synopsis of the narrative:
Kunti Dewi, the mother of the five heroic Pandawa brothers of the Mahabharata epic, worries over her sons’ fate as they battle the ogres Kalantaka and Kalanjaya. Kunti prays to Dewi Durga [an avatar of the goddess of Death] for their safety. Dewi Durga appears, agreeing to safeguard the brothers if Sahadewa, a younger Pandawa, is offered as tribute. Kunti cannot acquiesce but the malevolent Kalika, exploiting Kunti’s anguished and confused state, manipulates her into bringing Sahadewa into a graveyard as a sacrifice to Durga.
Protected by a blessing from Siwa, Sahadewa is immune to Durga’s attacks and, using the magical weapon Tebusala, transforms Durga into her original form as Dewi Uma, Siwa’s consort. Sahadewa is anointed as Sudamala, one so pure in thought as to hear the profound whisperings that cleanse the spirit.
Sahadewa (Sudamala) departs the graveyard, meeting the ascetic Tambapetra in the Prangalas monestary where he cures the yogi’s blindness. In gratitude Tambapetra offers his two daughters as wives. Pleased, Sahadewa rejoins his brothers in the battle against Kalantaka and Kalanjaya in which he breaks the spells cast upon the ogres, transforming them into gods.
Gong: Kadek Bagus Bhayu Saptanyana
Ugal: Putu Bagus Krisna Saptanyana
Kendang: I Nyoman Saptanyana, Andrew McGraw
Ketuk: Willa Roberts
Ceng-ceng: Nyoman Suadin, Nabeen Singha
Jegogan: Nick Cudahy, Joel Mellin
Calung: Vivian Fung, Ardi Kuhn
Penyacah: Ida Bagus Gede Widnyana, I Wayan Galung Marwanaya
Reyong: Nabeen Singha, Nicole Reisnour, Bethany Collier, I Gusti Nyoman Darta, Peter Steele
Trompong: Peter Steele
Gangsa Kantilan: Elizabeth Leininger, Elizabeth Behrend, Michael Lipsey, Eric Hung
Gangsa Pemade: John MacDonald, Matthew Welch, Victoria Lo, Lela Chapman
Suling: Ellen Lueck, Richard Marriott, I Wayan Sudirana, I Wayan Diana Putra, I Wayan Eka Sutawan, I Putu Agus Okto Saputra, I Wayan Sudibya, I Made Putra Wijaya
I Nyoman Saptanyana: Artistic Director
Ida Ayu Candrawati: Dance Director
Andrew McGraw: Executive Director
Christopher Romero: President, Arts Indonesia.
Jennifer Mangels: Treasurer, Arts Indonesia.
The Consulate of the Republic of Indonesia, New York and Consul General Trie Edi Mulyani. Fuad Adriansyah. Bank Negara Indonesia. Puri Ubud. I Madé Keranca. I Kadek Suardana. The Committee of the Bali Arts Festival. Governor Madé Mangku Pastika. Lieutenant Governor A.A.N. Puspayoga. Rachel Cooper and the Asia Society. Noah Sapir. James Shinn. The Midatlantic Arts Council. The New York State Council of the Arts. Dr. I Madé Bandem. Dr. I Wayan Dibia.
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