American gamelan

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Gamelan Son of Lion, a Javanese-style iron American gamelan based in New York City that is devoted to new music, playing in a loft in Soho, Manhattan in 2007 Gamelansonoflion.jpg
Gamelan Son of Lion, a Javanese-style iron American gamelan based in New York City that is devoted to new music, playing in a loft in Soho, Manhattan in 2007
Kyai Barleyan, a Javanese gamelan at Oberlin College in Ohio. Acquired in 1970, it is believed to be the third-oldest gamelan in use in the United States. Oberlingamelan.JPG
Kyai Barleyan, a Javanese gamelan at Oberlin College in Ohio. Acquired in 1970, it is believed to be the third-oldest gamelan in use in the United States.

American gamelan could refer to both instruments and music; the term has been used to refer to gamelan-style instruments built by Americans, as well as to music written by American composers to be played on gamelan instruments. American gamelan music usually has some relationship to the gamelan traditions of Indonesia, as found primarily on the islands of Java and Bali in a variety of styles. Many American compositions can be played on Indonesian or American-made instruments. Indonesian gamelan can be made of a variety of materials, including bronze, iron, or bamboo. American gamelan builders used all sorts of materials including aluminum, tin cans, car hubcaps, steel, antique milk-strainers, etc. American gamelan may also describe the original music of American ensembles working with traditional instruments.

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Dennis Murphy is often credited as being the first American to build instruments modeled on those of the Javanese gamelan, circa 1960. This work led to his doctoral thesis at Wesleyan University, entitled "The Autochthonous American Gamelan". Murphy started a gamelan group with his instruments at Goddard College in Vermont in 1967; that group later became the community-based Plainfield Village Gamelan.

There have been other American builders of gamelan as well, on both the East and West coasts. Following Murphy's model was Barbara Benary, who built the instruments still used today for Gamelan Son of Lion. On the West coast, the airline industry made aluminum affordable, and this became the material of choice for several gamelan builders. Daniel Schmidt, a composer-builder, built an ensemble called "The Berkeley Gamelan" (independent of the University of California, Berkeley) as well as the set of instruments that would develop into Gamelan Pacifica in Seattle. Paul Dresher also used aluminum.

Harrison and Colvig

Harrison worked with John Cage in the 40s on percussion compositions with found metal objects, resulting in alternate scaled music. Lou Harrison and William Colvig, who met in 1967 in San Francisco, built a set of tuned percussion instruments that they called "an American gamelan" in order to differentiate it from Indonesian ensembles. It was first used in Harrison's work La Koro Sutro in 1972. [1] These are now referred to as "Old Granddad", and Harrison wrote some pieces that can only be played on this set, including La Koro Sutro. Lou Harrison spent some time with a Javanese gamelan in 1976 (when Kyai Udan Mas, now at the University of California, Berkeley, was in residence at San Jose State University). This inspired him and his partner William Colvig to build a gamelan modelled specifically on Udan Mas (in instrumentation, although not in tuning). For this he used aluminum primarily, although the "great gong" was eventually fashioned out of iron.

Colvig and Harrison built two large "double" gamelan (meaning that there were instruments in both the pelog and slendro tunings). The first was Si Betty, named for the financial benefactor Betty Freeman. Si Betty was bequeathed to Jody Diamond, and was in residence at Harvard University from 2007 to 2017; in 2018, Si Betty moved to Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. The second was named "Si Darius/Si Madeleine" after Darius Milhaud and his wife, because it was while holding the Milhaud chair at Mills College (where the gamelan still resides) that Harrison and Colvig had the support for its construction; a group there (as of 2008) is directed by Daniel Schmidt. Lou Harrison was well known for his compositions for gamelan; he was particularly adept at combining western instruments with his Javanese-style gamelan ensemble. (The scores for all of his gamelan works are published by the American Gamelan Institute).

See also

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Pelog Indonesian musical scale used in Gamelan

Pelog is one of the essential tuning systems used in gamelan instruments that has heptatonic scale. The other, older, scale commonly used is called slendro. Pelog has seven notes, but many gamelan ensembles only have keys for five of the pitches. Even in ensembles that have all seven notes, many pieces only use a subset of five notes.

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William (Bill) Colvig was an electrician and amateur musician who was the partner for 33 years of composer Lou Harrison, whom he met in San Francisco in 1967. Colvig helped construct the American gamelan used in works such as the puppet opera Young Caeser [sic] (1971), La Koro Sutro (1972), and the Suite for Violin and American Gamelan (1974).

Dennis Murphy (musician)

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Mantle Hood American ethnomusicologist

Mantle Hood was an American ethnomusicologist. Among other areas, he specialized in studying gamelan music from Indonesia. Hood pioneered, in the 1950s and 1960s, a new approach to the study of music, and the creation of the first American university program devoted to ethnomusicology, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He was known for a suggestion, somewhat novel at the time, that his students learn to play the music they were studying.

Kempul Indonesian musical instrument used in Gamelan

A kempul is a type of hanging gong used in Indonesian gamelan. The kempul is a set of pitched, hanging, knobbed gongs, often made of bronze, wood, and cords. Ranging from 19 cm to 25,4 cm in diameter, the kempul gong has a flat surface with a protruding knob at the center and is played by hitting the knob with the "soft end of a mallet." "The wooden mallet used has a ball shape head with heavy padding on a short wooden handle. The number of kempul gongs present in a gamelan ensemble varies but, "although there can be two to ten kempul on one separate rack, it is common to have five kempul hanging on the same rack as the Gong ageng and gong siyem".

Jody Diamond

Jody Diamond is an American composer, performer, writer, publisher, editor, and educator. She specializes in traditional and new music for Indonesian gamelan and is active internationally as a scholar, performer, and publisher.

Gong ageng

The gong ageng is an Indonesian musical instrument used in the Javanese gamelan. It is the largest of the bronze gongs in the Javanese and Balinese gamelan orchestra and the only large gong that is called gong in Javanese. Unlike the more famous Chinese or Turkish tam-tams, Indonesian gongs have fixed, focused pitch, and are dissimilar to the familiar crash cymbal sound. It is circular, with a conical, tapering base of diameter smaller than gong face, with a protruding polished boss where it is struck by a padded mallet. Gongs with diameter as large as 135 centimeters have been created in the past, but gongs larger than about 80 centimeters are more common especially to suit the budget of educational institutions.

The American Gamelan Institute (AGI) is an organization devoted to promoting and documenting all forms of gamelan, the performing arts of Indonesia, and their international counterparts.

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(Joseph) Vincent McDermott was a classically trained American composer and ethnomusicologist. His works show particular influence from the musics of South and Southeast Asia, particularly the gamelan music of Java. He was among the second generation of American composers to create and promote new compositions for gamelan.

Betty Freeman arts patron and photographer

Betty Wishnick-Freeman was an American philanthropist and photographer.

Munggang

Gamelan Munggang are considered among the most ancient gamelans of the kraton (courts) of central Java. The ensemble of instruments consists of gong ageng, kempul, kendang and horizontal gong chimes tuned to three pitches. Very low in absolute pitch, each ensemble consists of two types: pelog and slendro. There is a repertory of several repetitive pieces, the best known permutation being high-middle-high-low. It is theorized that pelog was derived from the three note munggang scale. The origin of the munggang ensembles themselves are described in Javanese myths, however the first one may have been imported to Indonesia in the first century CE, with the first ensemble constructed by the Javanese made in the 4th century.

Daniel Schmidt (musician) Musical artist

Daniel Schmidt is an American composer and builder of American gamelan. He currently teaches gamelan and instrument building at Mills College. He is also a long-time collaborator with composer Paul Dresher.

Gamelan Pacifica is an American gamelan Cornish College of the Arts ensemble in residence, formed as a community group in 1980. The instruments were built by composer-builder Daniel Schmidt using aluminum. It is a Javanese style iron and bronze double gamelan ; Cirebonese slendro bronze (Tentrem).

Jonathon Grasse is an American composer, ethnomusicologist, and improvising electric guitarist. He is a professor of music at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

References

  1. Kozinn, Allan (15 March 2000). "William Colvig, Musical Instrument Builder, 82; Collaborated on Gamelans". The New York Times.

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