E. Koestyara

Sangkala

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In 1985, Icon records, run by Yale Evelev (who would go on to preside over David Byrne's Luaka Bop label), released this amazing recording of Indonesian popular music known as gamelan degung. The septet led by E. Koestyara consists of bamboo flute (suling), a set of small drums, and various gongs and kettles. While there is certainly a similarity to the better-known gamelan ensembles of Bali, this music is more relaxed and overtly melodic, the flute wafting over the ensemble like an exotic, fluttering bird. The pieces tend to lope along at a medium tempo, spurred by the metallic percussion that supplies layer upon layer of heartbreakingly gorgeous melodies and unusual but absolutely catchy rhythms (often in groups of five). The overall effect is one of dreamy luxuriousness with tinges of nostalgia and melancholy, tempered by a subtle sense of resolution and purpose. Sangkala is one of the very rare examples of this subgenre of Indonesian music to surface in the West and it's a shame that, as of 2001, it has not made the transference to disc, remaining very difficult to come by. But it's an utterly gorgeous record, one that will appeal strongly not only to fans of Indonesian gamelan, but also to anyone with an ear for pure melodic beauty.

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