Gamelan (part 2) AFTER….

Ok, I’ve been back a week & my internal word clock still doesnt know what time it is… which is handy as I have so much work to catch up on every time my computer says its 4am I think NO FCKNG WAY IS IT 4am!?!!?!! But hang on! oh right – its 4am HERE!!!! Anyway FWIW the week I just spent in Bali was fantastic – a bunch of photos are here (god bless the time zone change I managed to shoot a few sunrises!) and meanwhile a bit of feedback/advice re my travels & getting to spend a few hours with a real Balinese Gamelan orchestra…
To summarise (incase your attention span isnt up to much) during my week in Bali I got to hear two or three performances by Gamelan orchestras of various shapes & sizes.. By the end of this week a bunch of recordings will appear here as evidence but each & every time it was fantastic, like stumbling across a band you never knew of, but wish you had – long ago….But nothing compares to the workshop I did at ARMA Museum in Ubud.
We arrived a little late due to having not eaten & there being a very good restaurant at the entrance to ARMA Museum, but our tutor seemed non-plussed.. although that impression was based on nothing he said, as he couldnt speak any English, but that isnt his problem – I’m in his country after all – and as with many travel situations in the past, a lack of language often leads to far more entertaining & in some ways more human communication ie laughing & pointing, nodding & gesticulating….. and in this case communicating via music & rhythm.

Basically, he explained/illustrated which instruments do what & then proceeded to teach us as many patterns as our poor brains could cope with… It was funny – I obviously spend a lot of time playing & messing with sound, sync, patterns & music/tone generating objects but each time he showed us a new pattern my first thought was, “Oh my God! I am NEVER going to learn/remember this!!!!” But ten minutes later I was in a trance, locked into playing the repeating patterns that my arms had learnt regardless of my brains complaining…
Travel is good for confronting your fears, regardless of the context, but when he showed us a pattern that I soon realised was in 5/4 (or 5 something) my brain just wouldn’t shut up: “You can’t play that! Wheres the ONE? Wheres the downbeat? If this is 4/4 (like everything else you do) the ONE is going to keep moving, its IMPOSSIBLE!!!!” But ten minutes later, drool is starting to appear, as I became locked in to a rhythm I presumed I could never play….
After about an hour of learning & laughing & sweating (it was damn hot & very humid!) we finally had one of those moments that as an occasional bass player (& jammer) I am quite familiar with & totally savour ie when suddenly a group of people lock into a rhythm & without saying a word magic happens! For much of the lesson it was just me, the tutor & my girlfriend; who I had expected to bail out at any stage from 5 minutes in, but her perserverance paid off… After an hour of lessons & talking we were all three locked into practising a pattern & had been looping it for ten minutes when another person working at the museum quietly sat down, picked up a drum & joined in…. I tried to smile & acknowledge him but every time I did my rhythm would falter & I would fear our locked in pattern would fall apart at the seams… Another 5 minutes and another worker joined in & so we carried on for a while (I had lost all track of time by now) until rapidly we all, as a group, realised the person who was assuming the metronome role was slowing in speed, ie decelerating to an ending…. During all this I had earlier switched from playing the smaller xylophone-like instrument (that the three of us had been using/learning on) to playing the two big gongs….. Being a basshead I’d been itching to hit those big gongs since I arrived & when I did the overtones almost brought a tear to my eye, it was like swimming in low frequencies – a LOT more like playing bass than playing drums…. Anyway we all, without saying a word, decelerated until half way through the bar someone with more foresight than I indicated with a nod directed my way that maybe THIS was the last bar & maybe I should end it on the big gong…. BOOOOOOOFFFF!!!!!!
A perfect decelerating tempo (I know thats not the technical term, but whatever….) to the end, at which point everyone paused for about five seconds & then we all burst out laughing! It was really FCKNG GREAT!!!!!!! That decellerado or whatever was the highlight of my week in Bali – in all its collective consciousness/instinctual/musical way…. I’m almost scared to listen to the recordings of it incase it doesnt live up to the memory, but one thing was sure: for a moment it totally transcended being a tourist… and Amen to that!!!!!!!

some recordings to follow…. maybe 🙂

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