Saturday, July 5, 2014

When I Hear Gamelan Angklung and Semarandana

Balinese Angklung
The Balinese interpret the gamelan angklung as very sad music and only within the past year when I was in Bali have I started to empathize with that same feeling. Otherwise, you would the very opposite when you first hear it (see example below). The angklung is the gamelan used for funerals; the gamelan of death. When I first started to play it, the only thing that would come to mind is how much like little bells everything sounded. I could only hear the higher instruments (also because our bass-line instruments were out of tune with their resonators) and so that made me think of happy music. Once I was able to sing the bass melody and see the funeral rites performed did I start to feel sad inside. At the same time, I think the music has a cheerful tune to let the spirit move on to it's next phase of life.


Balinese Semarandana, in Çudamani
The Balinese Semarandana has a very alluring and mystical quality for me much more powerful than all other gamelan I've encountered. I wonder if this has partly to do with my nostalgic connection to it as the first gamelan I played during my first trip to Bali. The first program I joined in Bali with the Çudamani Summer Institute in Pengosekan and I had so many great memories with the people I got to learn gamelan with as well as my teachers and Balinese peers. But this feeling of elicited hypnotic nostalgia came to me even during the first day. I had probably heard the gamelan once before in Berkeley but that set didn't elicit the same emotion as the set at Çudamani.

The first piece we learned to play was for a dance exercise, Tari Desar Wanita Satu. I can remember the first patterns that I interlocked with on the gangsa. I can remember the warm sun and the ceramic tiles we sat on. The large gamelan instruments covering us as we sat cross-legged on the floor (or tried to). The Çudamani practice space with its large trellis overhead hung flowers for all the bees and butterflies. The teachers in front of us directing and listening to our every strike of the golden keys.

It still feels like a very protective womb. Once I hear the sound of this Semarandana set, I feel encased in a setting where no where else have I experienced such comfort. There is also something to be said of the program at Çudamani where we were very warmly offered one of the tastiest Balinese lunches I've ever had during my stay on the island. Surrounded by our Çudamani study mates and our Balinese family, the music of the Semarandana brings up these memories from the well of sweet memories from Bali.


The people were just as nourishing if not more than the food itself. The home of Pak Dewa and Ibu Emiko was very supportive in a world we were just getting to know. We were all Bali babies at that point.

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