Javanese Gamelan Workshop

I spent three hours yesterday at Victoria University’s music department doing a gamelan workshop and just totally loved it! The workshop was taken by Budi Petra, a master musician from Indonesia who is resident at the university. Following the signs on the way to the gamelan room, there was no doubt we were in the right place when we walked into this room (click image for larger version)

Budi demonstrated the role & sound of each instrument in the orchestra & also explained the difference in tone & approach to Javanese gamelan as compared to Balinese gamelan (there was also a balinese gamelan set in the other half of the room) – the main difference being that Javanese gamelan tends to be played more softly and have a softer tone. This was evident through the implements used to play the instruments too; the Balinese tend to use quite hard sounding small hammers whereas most of the Javanese implements were dampened…. There was a total of ten people attending, all beginners & Budi slowly taught us a simple piece of music and once we had a section basically working, we would swap instruments to get experience with the different tones & roles… I, of course, gravitated to the big bass gongs & spent the last hour playing these as the piece we were learning developed and the ten beginners slowly began to form a slightly dysfunctional gamelan orchestra. Once the rhythm was locked in & we could stop watching the pattern Budi had written for us on a whiteboard I found the experience totally trance inducing – that beautiful no-mind state where you are totally present & participating but not consciously thinking at all. Occasionally Budi would join in on one of the instruments & I almost lost the plot a few times through listening to his syncopation instead of staying focused on my own playing!
Its funny too – there are moments in gamelan music that give me a deja vu feeling from messing with beats in the computer. Back when i used to make drum & bass I always loved having the sped up beat clocking at 160bpm & then at some point dropping into half time, so its kind of like playing a hiphop beat at half speed, and some gamelan patterns evoke the same feel especially when the beats are distributed across the instruments of the gamelan orchestra…
Apart from the beautiful tones produced by the instruments, there were two other aspects to gamelan music that I thoroughly enjoyed. First was dynamics: Budi would conduct us to go from playing ‘normally’ to much softer, and hearing the tones blurr at a quiet level was just so beautiful. The second was tempo changes: Budi would play one of the oblong drums, which is often used as the tempo reference for all of the players to follow, and once we had a pattern of music working he would then over the course of 16 bars do a beautiful tempo deceleration down to a final note, and as we got (marginally) better at playing, the deceleration felt so natural and organic, almost like a pendulum coming to rest.
I put my name down to be involved in further workshops. Victoria University has a first year paper in learning gamelan, but its impossible for me to attend such things during daylight hours. But it was suggested that if there was enough interest a weekly Thursday night session could be started…. fingers crossed!

Great ASCII Music Video

the band is the hugely talented SJD, check them out here

NZFF#1: Ponyo

Just got back from first few screenings at NZ Film festival & my first film was a treat: A Ghibli Studios film by Hayao Miyazaki called Ponyo – thankfully it was subtitled & not dubbed into english/american… Such fun to see such a great animated movie on 35mm film at a very good theatre – Ponyo is screening again on Sunday afternoon at the Embassy theatre, so if you live in Wellington… heres the trailer:

An hour or so later I also caught another film at same theatre called Soul Power about Zaire ’74, a concert staged in Africa – trailer here (it was fantastic to see/hear James Brown live, and hear those rhythm sections!

No films tomorrow, but the rescheduled gamelan workshop is on… then two Korean films Sunday…. wahooo!

Horace Andy Remix Update

Wow – there were 450 entries to the Horace Andy remix competition! They haven’t decided a winner yet due to there being so many entries & also being on tour, but it goes to show how much love there is for Horace Andy’s voice & equally how many people have the spare time & passion to participate… They’ve reduced it down to 90 which you can have a listen to here and its great to hear the range of styles and approaches. There are definitely a few I intend to go find what other music they make & check out their originals….
Two other aspects surprised me: firstly, how few people seem to know how to embed metadata into mp3 files (!?!) and secondly, how maybe 10% of the remixes are obviously smacking a limiter to hell – mastering your own music doesnt mean pounding it into an L1 or whatever but I guess comments like those just fall on deaf (to dynamics) ears.. in fact that could be their catchcry: DEAF TO DYNAMICS!
But despite them all being very good & showing a plethora of inventiveness, out of those 90 below are the six I would consider the actual contenders (& its a shame they don’t instigate a voting system as per the Peter Gabriel remix, so there can be an audience choice too)

2. Nico Mueller aka Show Your Shoe – Show Your Horace Remix

16. Gareth Desmond and Johny Quinn aka Analogue MIndfield – When I look Back Remix

23. Mark Wall aka Kosine – Shine In The Dark Remix

45. Rodrigo Sanchez aka Linchaco – Slow Rhythm RMX

62. Leyton aka sonsine – watch we (dig mix)

75. Jon Martin aka Pier – Pier Refix

The ultimate test has to be this: which track out of those 90 do you instantly want to play again? And again. For me, its that Kosine mix – nice work!