Gamelan Pacifica

Trance Gong

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AllMusic Review by Steven McDonald

One of the most amazing kinds of music on the planet is made by gamelan orchestras. Mainly found in Bali and Java, gamelan orchestras consist of a group of players performing intricate and shifting pieces on chimes and gongs. The scales used in the compositions can be remarkably fractional -- microtonal tuning is extremely common. Gamelan has come to be a major inspiration in the Western world during this century, with a number of modern composers creating pieces specifically for gamelan orchestras -- Lou Harrison is perhaps the best known of these composers (with Harry Partch, endlessly experimenting with new gamelan-like creations, not far behind.) Gamelan Pacifica, based in Seattle, is dedicated to performing modern works, many of them commissioned for the ensemble, though they don't stay locked solely to the concept of gamelan -- the title track here, for example, is performed on roto-toms and xiao-bo, bringing up more of a connection to Steve Reich's "Drumming" than to Java or Bali. Other pieces involve suling, kendang and erhu, giving these quite a different tone as well. The pieces on Trance Gong are a mix of group compositions with pieces from Jeff Morris, Jarrad Powell and Jon Keliehor, along with a Jarrad Powell gamelan arrangement of John Cage's "In a Landscape" that was first performed (with the composer's enthusiastic approval) in 1980. Trance Gong is a beautiful album, sometimes suggesting minimalism, sometimes hypnotic in its intricacy, always engaging and never overdone. The assorted explorations using other instruments (along with an aluminum gamelan constructed in the United States) provide a very useful and interesting set of variations on the more traditional structures of gamelan music -- even so, there's a timeless, unchanging sense to this music that keeps it firmly grounded in the older materials.

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