Saturday, 29 June 2013

Big Gamelan weekend coming up

Gamelan is bigger in Europe than most people realize, so prize any oppotrtunity to hear good gamelan and see dancing that goes with it. Since modern western music is hugely influenced by gamelan, anyone seriously interested in 20th vcentury music should take heed. Professor Mervyn Cooke, the Britten specialist, in a short piece titled "Pagodaland : Britten and the Gamelan"  quotes Britten, speaking in 1956: "[Balinese] music is fantastically rich – melodically, rhythmically, texture (such orchestration!!) & above all formally. It is a remarkable culture… At last I’m beginning to catch on to the technique, but it’s about as complicated as Schönberg."

And not only Britten and Indonesian music. Messiaen heard gamelan in Paris in 1931. Turangalîla-Symphonie springs from the exotic, alien sensuality of  the "east" but even more radically, Messiaen addressed new ideas of form, tempi, pitch and rhythm . Chronochromie (1959) and Sept haïkaï (1962) are hugely innovative. Boulez and Cage knew them well. The influuence of non-western art and music on the west is huge, but unappreciated because we're still hamstrung by concepts oif western superiority.

Two big opportunities to hear gamelan next week.  At the South Bank, there's a Gamelanothon (horrible name!) the weekend of 6th-7th July.More info on the South Bank site , nice videos.The South Bank doesn't have the only big gamelan artillery in the UK. All the big gamelan bands in the country will be there. One of the biggest gamelan ensembles is based in Oxford in the Bate collection. They've been doing gamelan programmes there for nearly 40 years. One good thing about gamelan is  that you don't need formal western training, you just need to get the vibe and the idea of focussed improvisation. On Monday 8th gamelan will come to Cheltenham at the Pittville Pump Room (part of the Cheltenham Music Festival)  Many years ago, for some reason, I was wandering around the attic storerooms in the Pittville Pump Room,  and found their gamelan collection. Cheltenham is another British gamelan stronghold, but I didn't know, and wasn't expecting it in a listed building in the Cotswolds.

photo : Estafania Vaquer

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