Music of the Balinese gamelan may be familiar and ubiquitous, but there are some (not so quiet) revolutions happening in this art.
A fair number of Balinese musicians have long been inclined to try various innovations and new compositions, or to group traditional instruments in new ways, and just experiment and have fun. We didn’t always get to hear such changes and creations. Musicians had no training in promotion, or even how to properly record a performance. It didn’t help that the arts establishment adhered to the idea that innovation was plain wrong (a remnant colonial attitude).
Now that recording equipment is a fraction of the cost, and the fragility and size of equipment is less of a factor, it is possible to preserve these one-of-a-kind performances and new compositions. Today, an engineer and an assistant with motorbikes can go anywhere on the island with the components of a mobile recording unit riding in their backpacks. Here’s what’s going on with one such enterprise.
A dynamic and professional young recording outfit called Insitu has been busy over the last couple of years, recording and videotaping dozens of new works. There is an Insitu Recordings youtube channel and there is even a patreon.com site for supporting Insitu and subscribing to the label’s new releases.
The channel provides discerning listeners a chance to discover various unique new sounds. You may be quite surprised at the virtuosity, moods, and dynamism from the different artists who have been professionally videotaped and recorded for the site. A personal favorite of mine is the gentle Maju Mundur by I Wayan Arik Wirawan, using two musicians on the very large gongs and a four-man reyong (the long row of exquisitely sonorous gongs that rest horizontally). See www.youtube.com/insitu_recordings
At Denpasar’s 40th annual Arts Festival this year, two of the hottest acts were the Gamelan Pesel, playing truly inspired new songs from their album Nada Hidup (Insitu Recordings Imprint), and I Made Arsa Wijaya (aka Wa’one or Wawan), who performed with his group Seni Sana Sini.
The annual Bali Arts Festival in Denpasar (16 June – 14 July 2019) is an assured place to find more new compositions being played, but in 2018, the schedule changed after online release, and Gamelan Pesel’s appearance was moved forward by two hours without notice. Solution: make social media contact with these musicians, follow their posts, and check for notifications often.
Village arts festivals like the Tabanan Fiesta, Sanur Village Festival, Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, and Bali Spirit, can be good places to check for new Indonesian music, and I recently caught up with one multiple prize-winning young woman composer who participated in the second Tabanan Fiesta, Ni Made Ayu Dwi Sattvitri.
Sattvitri is Bali’s fastest rising female gamelan composer. She says that teaching young children the joy of gamelan is her greatest passion, and finds musicianship is intrinsic to fostering pride in Bali’s arts. She can be heard on recordings made by Insitu, such as Ceraken’s Bibit Volume 2 and Insitu Sessions Volume 2, and she composed a piece for Insitu Sessions 5.
Insitu began with Jonathan Adams, an American electronic music composer and dj, who, as a BA candidate, spearheaded the University of Washington’s move to bring master composer I Wayan Sinti’s 9-tone gamelan Siwa Nada into the collection of the music department. Today, ethnomusicology students there learn Sinti’s compositions for his unique ensemble of instruments. Jonathan continued his formal studies of Indonesian music, and, once beginning Doctorate work in Ethnomusicology at Vancouver’s UBC, he was back in Bali meeting and helping young musicians.
This led Jonathan to act as a liaison between Italian Giovanni Scarino (a producer of Scarlotti compositions played by gamelan) and Bali’s creative gamelan milieu. Scarino gave some equipment for local musicians to use in further projects. One key component was a laptop he gave to Balinese wunderkind I Putu Gede Sukaryana (aka Balot), a top student of composer, master musician, and eccentric iconoclast Subandi.
Jonathan brainstormed with Balot and these young musicians and it was decided to launch their own record label. Jonathan updated the kit, mentored local musicians in recording engineering, tutored Balot on laptop video editing, and today the Insitu label is set up as a cooperative nonprofit; attractively packaged CDs go to participating musicians, so that they can in turn sell them and keep the proceeds.
The shared mobile recording studio is busy making superb productions. Just see these videos: first link is Sanggar Kembang Ceraki rendering a segment of Scarlatti’s Sonata K 67, and the second is a taste of Balot’s own Selendro (Anomali) movements of his trademark maximum sound in a small ensemble:
A listener need not be an aficionado of Balinese music to enjoy these, but the collections of Insitu recordings are sophisticated enough to beautifully augment the music collection of any Bali and Indonesia audiophile. Ride the sound wave by visiting here:
Subscribe to new releases, check out cool new merch, and support the musicians:
Balot’s back with Jonathan at UBC, instructing and studying (he was a resident artist earlier this year). An advocate of experimenting with traditions, Balot has inspired a gamelan using bicycle parts, Gamelan Bike-Bike. youtu.be/pUzYc0vCi40
To see I Wayan Sinti’s students performing with his 9 tone instruments: digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu/digital/collection/ethnomusic/id/1565
Upcoming Art and Culture:
Live Painting! Campur Kembali v.2 November 24, 6pm Tyaasa Sangar Seni (art school) in Berawa, Canggu 08113919911
Indigenous movie night Dec. 14, 7:30 Paradiso Theatre, Ubud 085737614050 Be amazed by the stories and sheer magic of this ongoing film festival.
Denpasar 2018 show on til 5 January at CushCush Gallery, Jl Teuku Umar, Gang Rajawali no 1A 0361 242034 What is jingga? Invited and juried artists tell.
Bali International Women’s Association (BIWA) annual bazaar, Lotte Mart, all day 9 December. Cottage industries, NGO’s, and local producers of foodstuffs and crafts have tables. Gifts for the season, & a great way to give back to Bali through its hardworking yayasans.
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