Gamelan Tunas Mekar

Kembali Ke Bali

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Despite the title ("kembali ke Bali" means back to Bali), this Balinese gamelan ensemble is American (although Indonesian-led), based in Denver, CO. The gamelan is the classical orchestra of Indonesian music, consisting of a set of gongs and sets of tuned bronze strips struck with mallets; there are also bamboo flutes, percussion, and sometimes a Western instrument or two. The music consists of big, rhythmic cycles and sections (delineated by the largest gong), filled in and elaborated by the smaller instruments in complex interlocking layers that create an effect often described as shimmering. Various tunings and pitch collections are used; the "gamelan angklung" heard here is based on a relatively simple four-tone group. Gamelan music from the island of Bali is arguably the most virtuosic of Indonesia's various tradition -- fast, fiery, and reflective of a long period of self-conscious artistry encouraged by visitors as far back as Dutch colonial times. It is not simple, but it can be taught through traditional methods to American players who are willing to put in the rehearsal time. The ensemble here, Gamelan Tunas Mekar (the name means something like "Flowering Seed," appropriate to the transport and new roots of the ensemble itself, which an Indonesian audience would find important), has the authentic sound and has accompanied various authentically Balinese ceremonies -- Hindu temple observances, life-cycle ceremonies, and plain old parties -- as well as performing in Western concert settings. They execute the more virtuosic contemporary pieces cleanly (check out the very last one on the disc for an example of the symphonic ensemble of which they are capable). Gamelan Tunas Mekar was well reviewed when it performed in Bali itself, and it surely offers a good introduction to the music that so amazed Claude Debussy when he encountered it in Paris in the 1880s. Little information on the music or the group is offered in the CD booklet itself, but the listener is directed to the wealth of detail available on the group's website.

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