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Sample Track 1:
"Ketawang: Puspawarna " from Java: Court Gamelan (this track is on a gold-plated record that NASA launched into space in 1977)
Sample Track 2:
"Bubaran: Hudan Mas" from Java: Court Gamelan
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Java: Court Gamelan (this track is on a gold-plated record that NASA launched into space in 1977)
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Layer 2
The Reawakening of Javanese Music

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Asian Week, The Reawakening of Javanese Music >>

Bang a gong — get it on. OK, the salacious, decadent grooves of T. Rex might not really mesh with the stately, otherworldly rhythms of Indonesian gamelan music. But the sentiment is right on, because after listening to the recently reissued Javanese music on Nonesuch Records’ Explorer Series, I just want to sink into a bed and roll around with these radiant pieces. If you look hard enough, you can even find a little earthly sexiness among the unearthly sonic beauty — there’s the erotic roots of the Sundanese Jaipong and Other Popular Music CD and the obsessive overtones of The Jasmine Isle: Gamelan Music’s “Bendrong,” which was written to accompany a lover’s dance. In any case, the Explorer Series is definitely worth visiting if you’re a curious newcomer — or revisiting, if you’re a well-traveled fan. The groundbreaking series of field recordings, which was put out on vinyl from 1967 to 1984, include some of the first commercial releases of gamelan music. Revelatory in their musical breadth and stunning in the quality of production, the discs were instrumental in exposing Western pop, experimental and avant-garde audiences to “world music.” Though some were re-released on CD over the years, Nonesuch is now unleashing the entire series of 92 recordings on CD, repackaging and releasing each batch by geographic region. The first slew, 13 volumes of African music including the amazing East Africa: Witchcraft and Ritual Music, was put out last August. January saw the arrival of titles featuring the music of Java, Indonesia’s most populous island, along with CDs of works from neighboring Bali and songs from the South Pacific. For those, like myself, who dipped into some of these albums when they were still in print, it’s like a return to a magical time, when you first ventured into traditional and pop music from other parts of the globe and felt your mind expanding with each passing groove. Hopefully the reissue of these important releases will do the same for new listeners. Here’s a look at some Explorer Series reissues of music from Java. Look for future columns on the music of Bali and other points in Asia. ‘The Jasmine Isle: Gamelan Music’ (Nonesuch/ Explorer Series) Originally released in 1969 and one of the older recordings in the series, The Jasmine Isle provides an emphatic, vividly recorded introduction to the gamelan, a set of tuned percussion instruments that includes gongs, drums and metallophones (essentially metal rather than wood xylophones). In contrast to the more brash gamelan gong kebjar of Bali, Javanese gamelan emphasizes a more formal intricacy. Communally played at religious rituals, theatrical performances and court ceremonies, gamelan is sparkling, layered and multi-textured stuff. Offering instrumental versions of well-known Javanese pieces, The Jasmine Isle puts forth an embarrassment of riches, starting quietly with the woody, almost organ-like, solo gender performance of “Pangkur,” building to the startlingly modern-sounding, minimalist “Bendrong II” and the bold “Sigromangsah” (“Preparation for Battle”) and closing with the plangent, inexorable, masked-dance accompaniment, “Liwung” (“Excited”). ‘Court Gamelan, Volume I’ (Nonesuch/Explorer Series) Magical and dignified as only the music of a royal court can be, Court Gamelan, Volume I (1971) was recorded by Robert E. Brown, who coined the very phrase “world music” in 1962, at the Paku Alaman in Yogyakarta. The Grammy-nominated full-length album also showcases one of the most famous heirloom gamelans in this classical music tradition: one made in 1755 after the political schism between the court in Yogyakarta and that in Surakarta (Solo), which developed its own rival style of music, dance and wayang (shadow play). All these auspicious origins are the perfect background for the opening track, “Ketawang: Puspawarna” which was originally written for the entrance of a prince — and was eventually selected to be included on the gold-plated copper record placed on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977, as a document of the diversity of human life and culture on Earth. “Puspawarna” may be Carl Sagan’s favorite Southeast Asian gong-chime piece, but the short, sweet and shimmering “Bubaran: Hudan Mas” is mine — possibly because it sounds like the source music for a gamelan-inspired work by the late South Bay composer Lou Harrison. ‘Court Gamelan, Volume III’ (Nonesuch/Explorer Series) Court Gamelan, Volume III’s liner notes assert that this 1979 disc’s music is even closer to the most traditional form of Yogyanese gamelan than the music on Volume I. Perhaps that’s so, because the recording, made at Kraton Yogyakarta, captures the strength and boldness of the style, a contrast to the more refined nature of Solonese music. The vocals blend closely upfront, never shying away from the louder, more propulsive and simultaneously more detailed backing music. There’s definitely more going on here — just listen to the drifting, busy and lovely “Gendhing Lung Gadhung” as the sarons (metallophones with bronze keys) and bonangs (small kettle gongs) dramatically break away in pitch from the vocalists and the rebab (bowed string instrument). Radical. Eundanese Jaipong and Other Popular Music (Nonesuch/Explorer Series) Back in the day, this album, originally released in 1987 as Idjah Hadidjah’s Tonggeret, was quite the buzz with budding ethnomusicologists and hip “world music”-savvy rock fans. Even today, it’s utterly amazing, as the supple-voiced Hadidjah, the wife of a famous puppeteer of the Wayang Golek theater, turns in a memorably passionate performance, while the men in the Jugala Ensemble grunt, hoot and whoop it up in a vocal percussive style known as senggak. A pop style with no discernable Western influences, jaipong, also known as jaipongan, was the brainchild of producer/composer/arranger/choreographer Gugum Gumbira Tirasondjaja, a former rock ‘n’ roll fan who patriotically rose in 1961 to President Sukarno’s challenge to Indonesian performers to revive indigenous arts. Exploring the regional dance and music of Sunda in West Java, he decided to base jaipongan on ketuk tilu, a relatively raunchy genre that focuses on a female singer (often a prostitute) who dances with male spectators. Discarding the actual ketuk (kettle gongs) of his inspiration and adopting a jazzy percussion style thanks to virtuoso Jugala drummer Suwanda, Gugum gave birth to the first popular regional genre as well as a dance craze that swept West Java in the late ’70s and early ’80s. This great album starts strong with the sinuous “Tonggeret” and the ebullient “Mahoni,” continues on a compelling, less dancey track with the mysterioso, Kliningan-style “Hiji Catetan” and the dreamy, Celempungan-genre “Arum Bandung.” 05/16/03 >> go there
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