Bali to New York

Bali to New York (1996)

With its infinite rhythmic patterning and metal percussion orchestration, Indonesian gamelan music has had a strong influence on many composers.

The American Colin McPhee spent several years in Bali during the 1930s transcribing this luminous and fiery music, including the ceremonial Gambangan. In the following decade, under the spell of this magical sound worlds, John Cage and Lou Harrison collaborated on Double Music for an assortment of Chinese gongs, water buffalo bells and thunder sheet. Existing in a similar sphere is the transcendental In C, the first classic of minimalism, composed by Terry Riley in the 60s.

The programme also features the world premiere of Seventh Heaven by Mark Lockett, as well as Gamelan Disco by Jan Steele and Charlie Barber‘s Kantilan Karangan, a re-invention of traditional ‘flower’ arabesques of the Balinese gamelan.

Andy Warhol’s New York of the late 60s, represented by The Velvet Underground‘s improvisational free-for-all, is heard alongside the lively rock-and-roll of Dance by David Lang and the motoric rhythms of Gamelan II by Philip Corner, two present-day New York composers.

A revised version of the programme, with different instrumentation, toured in 2008. Details here

Music direction: Charlie Barber

Musicians: Simon Stewart (clarinet, saxophones), James Scannell (clarinet, saxophones), Alan MacDonald (trumpet), John Randall (trombone), Ruth Wall (piano), Simon Limbrick (percussion), Tim Wright (percussion), Claire Nelson (violin), Tim Davies (violin), Madeleine Zagni (viola), Sharon McKinley (cello), Paula Gardiner (double bass, bass guitar)

Stage manager: Jim Mayer

Photography: Paul Jeff

Administration: David Sheppard


16.02.96CARDIFFThe Point, Cardiff Bay
18.02.96BRACKNELLWilde Theatre, South Hill Park
23.02.96MANCHESTERRoyal Northern College of Music

With the financial support of: Arts Council of Wales, Foundation for Sport and the Arts, Musicians’ Union, Performing Right Society, South Glamorgan County Council


“Last night, metaphorically at least, The Point became a temple for a programme inspired by Javanese gamelan music. Ever since the great Exposition of 1889 when gamelan ensembles were brought to Paris to perform, this music has exercised amazing powers of seduction. Claude Debussy was one of the first composers to incorporate the gently exotic sounds of Eastern gongs into his music and the fascination shows no signs of abating a century on.

Charlie Barber here devised a programme, including Terry Riley’s seminal In C, which neatly charted the way composers on both sides of the Atlantic have quietly freaked out on gamelan over 50 or so years. Colin McPhee’s Gambangan and David Lang’s Dance were fascinating examples of how the gamelan scales and sounds can be used with such dramatically different effects. It was possible to feel graceful dance movements in the McPhee, whereas the Lang was dark and menacing, with a sinister insistance of bass drum.

Charlie Barber’s own Kantilan Karangan, conceived for the six keyboards of Piano Circus, lost some of its original hedonistic lightness in his new arrangement for the 12 instrument line-up of this ensemble. But it gained a pungency where lines were now heard with the reedy expressive sound of saxophones and still stood up well as a piece.

Barnaby Oliver’s arrangement of the the Velvet Undergound’s Sister Ray was a dramatic reworking of the sixties original, reaching relentless and frenzied peaks, with nothing short of an assault on the piano keyboard matching Lou Reed’s hard core violence.

The newest piece of the night was one of the most impressive, Mark Lockett’s Seventh Heaven, being given its world premiere by the Band, mixed pop and jazz with the gamelan sounds in a rhythmically stimulating and imaginative way. It was curious how a chord which is fundamental to Western music takes on such a different mantle when its constituent notes are spread out into a hypnotic gamelan motif. The good vibes and subtle atmosphere of this concert will last a long while.” Rian Evans, The Western Mail, 17 February 1996




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