Indonesia’s gamelan tradition has exerted an enormous fascination on music-making in Western cultures since the late 19th century. From the influence of Javanese Gamelan music on Debussy's compositions for the 1889 World's Fair, to works by Steve Reich or Claude Vivier influenced by their travels to Indonesia, to polyrhythms and extended percussion in pieces by Aphex Twin or Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the avant-garde of the last hundred years is unthinkable without gamelan.
In September, KONTRAKLANG presents two current European ensembles that explicitly refer to gamelan in their music.
The ensemble Nist-Nah was founded in 2020. The nine-piece ensemble is led by Australian drummer and composer Will Guthrie and is based in Nantes, France. All of the musicians in the group are outstanding experts in their own right in the fields of traditional gamelan, contemporary composition, noise, jazz, and everything in between. Nist-Nah performs with drum kits, traditional and junk percussion, and a full set of Javanese gamelan instruments.
The music of Nist-Nah clearly distances itself from dry academic discourse or questionable exoticism. Rather, sonic issues are at the forefront: here, at times, rapid arpeggiated figures are driven by manically busy percussion, while melodic lines float in slow motion above. Then influences of Balinese kecak, Ornette Coleman, Javanese court music and Miles Davis' Dark Magus become audible in abrupt tempo changes, fragmented unison passages and monumental grooves.
More hands. More possibilities. More drones. More polyrhythms. More fun. This was the starting point and the idea of Bakunawa, which composer Pak Yan Lau realizes with her freshly founded ensemble, consisting of the musicians Vera Cavallin, Giovanni Di Domenico, João Lobo and Theo Lanau. The musicians dive deep into the sound spectrum of out-of-tune toy pianos, worn out gong sticks, prepared harps, metal tubes and ring modulators. Rich harmonic textures from more unconventional instruments form a haunting sonic impression with captivating microtonal detail. The underlying rhythms move in ghostly patterns and are inspired by Filipino mythology, in which the moon-devouring sea dragon Bakunawa is scared away by loud drumming on pots and pans.
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