V/A Night Recordings From Bali CD review [Sublime Frequencies]

Music Reviews
V/A Night Recordings From Bali CD review [Sublime Frequencies]
Nov 1, 2003, 21:01

VARIOUS ARTISTS Night Recordings From Bali CD

Just about any recording of gamelan music is welcome in my house, even a problematic one like Night Recordings From Bali. Overall, the genre tends to be entrancing (the right pieces in the right circumstances literally so) and is sufficiently exotic to Western ears to tickle even with repeated exposures.

The word “gamelan” means “orchestra” as opposed to a particular instrument as it's popularly understood. More precisely it refers to particular assemblages of specific instruments—not just types of instrumentation but certain individual instruments. Musicians migrate from one ensemble to another but the instruments stay put in their home village. The primary voice of the orchestra is the “wayang” a sort of xylophone of bronze slabs or bars and individually tuned resonators; this is what's mistakenly thought of as the gamela. There can also be tuned pot gongs or the odd large hanging gong or two.

In the Occident people's preconception of gamelan music is as genial, even-tempoed and composed of ongoing interweaving melodic and rhythmic lines as this is the style most often exposed outside Indonesia. This style has also entered Western music's vocabulary through composers like Phillip Glass and Steve Riech whose “serial” or “minimalist” oeuvres are primarily adaptations of this type of gamelan composition. In Asia this format co-exists with “Gabor” or “Gebar” which is its polar opposite: uproarious, cacophonous and downright frantic, which is rendered even rougher going by being punctuated with abrupt stops, stars and shifts of tempo.

Night Recordings From Bali is mainly comprised of “Gabor” performances and will sound pretty harsh to casual listeners to begin with. Moreover, the performances are interspersed with environmental recordings in and around the performers' village: wild life in the surrounding forest, barking dogs in town, activities like funeral processions. And this could all function as a fascinating audio documentary… if there were any explanation of what the hell was going on, or at least an attempt to set the scene via explanatory text that would be truly helpful but there isn't. These segments as rendered are meaningless distractions; period. It's like watching a badly done slide show of someone's vacation without being clued in to whether the dirt road shown is in Kenya or Carnarsie! [www.sublimefrequencies.com]

-Howard Wuelfing

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