Gamelan Sekar Petak
In York

By Martin Longley

Opportunities are rare enough to witness a fully jangling gamelan array (outside of Indonesia, of course), but to hear this ornate collection of gongs and metallophones used to perform new works as well as traditional pieces is doubly enticing. It sometimes seems as though every university in the land has commissioned its own beautifully crafted gamelan, from either Java or Bali, but actual public concerts are infrequent, and visitations from genuine Indonesian troupes are made only on very special occasions, and invariably alight on London town.

This Javanese gamelan arrived at the University twenty-five years ago, but has enjoyed the caresses of an ever-changing roster of players. The University Of York holds an annual concert of gamelan music, for which its students are presumably writing, rehearsing and meditating towards all year long. As the audience gathers, the gamelan's gently shimmering metal is welcoming them in the traditional manner, smearing the line of when the performance officially begins.

Each half of the gig opens with an established traditional piece, but the new compositions that follow unavoidably address this deep-rooted vocabulary. When the sound of a writer's 'instrument' is so specifically chiming, throbbing, clanging and whispering, a certain quivering aura of 'exotic' sound cannot be escaped.

Peter Moran is a current student, and his Western Canteen is one of the evening's most enchanting works, featuring two trombonists to the right, with violin and cello seated to the left. India Bourne (she's suitably named, as Moran wrote this piece in Puttaparthi), is particularly sensitive as she decorates her cello parts with sympathetically graceful string slippage. Then, there's a very short arrangement of a very early Philip Glass number, Two Pages, which proves that it wasn't just Steve Reich who was getting into gamelan music in the late 1960s. His minimalism is well-attuned to the resources of a gamelan, or should that be the other way around?

This is a short concert, with both halves barely passing thirty minutes. After another traditional opening, complete with wooden flute and two-stringed rebab fiddle, the second part's key piece was its closing, climactic ROC (Rhythms Of Cacophony), arranged by the gamelan's leader Neil Sorrell, who probably qualifies as the UK's most eminent authority on the music. This flighty piece deals with the more aggressively ringing tones that lie dormant within the gamelan's bowels, frequently operating at high speeds, with a clanging clatter of invigorating excess. It's the ideal rush of energy for a concert that also embraces soothing introspection, exultant group singing and endless deep gong reverberations.
Fran posted 28 June 2007 (01:21:08)
Sounds excellent. Would love to have been. Maybe next year. Never been to york, so maybe theres an excuse! .. The review was a pleasant read too, if a little short. Short and sweet.
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