Gamelan Son of Lion

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The Gamelan Son of Lion is not a traditional Indonesian group but a gamelan-like collection of instruments built in New Jersey; it includes junk percussion as well as metallophones modeled on those of the Javanese gamelan. In existence since the 1970s, the group has specialized in new music written by American composers for gamelan ensemble. The recordings heard here were made in the early '80s.

The instruments of the Gamelan Son of Lion are tuned to Indonesian scales, and a few of these composers make use of the natural disposition of the Indonesian instruments -- one basic structural principle of gamelan music is that of multilevel heterophony, with each level of a cycle being decorated and elaborated in turn by the smaller, more numerous instruments that play at a higher pitch. For the most part, however, it is striking to note how little this music reflects any familiarity with Indonesian music. Instead the gamelan is merely a canvas for the realization of mostly minimalist concepts. David Demnitz in Either/or-or/eitheR, track 2, writes that he "analyzed the sound" of church bells he heard: "The bells ring simultaneously, ring one at a time, or they are silent." Peter Griggs' Through the Looking Glass, track 6, makes use of canons and mirror structures. Philip Corner's gamelan IX "evening of evennesses" had an innocent genesis: "I always wanted to write a march. We led pied-piper-like citizens off the street to folk music festival at Princeton." Daniel Goode's Hear the Sound of Random Numbers and Random Chords, tracks 7 and 8, are at least honestly stated to be "for gamelan (or other) ensemble." As a relic of the early years of minimalism this collection has value, but as a cross-cultural experience it's on a par with watching one of those Juan Valdez commercials for Colombian coffee.

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