Memorial Day Gamelan at the Bridge

May 25th, 2008 · No Comments · By

The Charlottesville Gamelan ensemble is performing at The Bridge on Monday afternoon; chances are, you’ve probably got the day off of work, so you should definitely come check it out. As the name implies, they’re a local group of 10-12 folks who play Javanese Gamelan.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Gamelan music: look it up, it’s seriously amazing. It’s a type of percussive chime-and-gong based music from Indonesia, containing tuning scales and time signatures which are vastly different from the western 12-tone scale and 4/4-beats that we’re all familiar with. It’s been part of indigenous Indonesian culture since at least the 3rd century (predating the Buddhist influence in that area), but despite the fact that it’s an ancient cultural tradition, it’s undergone a lot of radical transformations. Most notably, as a reaction against 19th-century Dutch imperialism, a lot of Gamelan music became incredibly dense, hyperactive, gorgeous, and thrillingly complicated, and started doing stuff like re-appropriating Hindu mythology to tell stories about solidarity in the face of oppression.

My favorite Gamelan recordings are this recording of the Dancers of Bali from 1952 (which I believe was the first recorded Gamelan music to be commercially released in the West), this much slower and spookier 1971 recording of the Javanese Court Gamelan, and best of all: this record from 1966, containing two 10-min Gamelan pieces and a 20-minute Ketjak “monkey chant” performance. Despite the super-cutesy cover art and the precious-sounding title, it’s one of the most terrifying and intense pieces of music I’ve heard. Very highly recommended.

Anyhow, I think it’s totally sweet that we have a Gamelan Ensemble right here in Charlottesville, and I’m quite embarrassed by the fact that I haven’t heard them perform yet. They’re playing at 3pm tomorrow (Monday) afternoon, and I’m seriously excited about it.

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