About the Music:
Gamelan Pandan Arum is the only group in America performing the repertoire of the gamelan Semara Pegulingan of Kamasan village in Bali, the last remaining link to a 400 year old tradition of Balinese court music which to this day can not be heard anywhere else on the island. The compositions still performed today in Kamasan persisted, virtually unchanged, from the Golden Age of Bali in the 16th century until the Dutch conquest of Klungkung in 1908. In the battle known as the Perang Puputan, the highest king of Bali and his vastly outnumbered court intentionally faced off against the Dutch army and sacrificed their lives. The court musicians were among them, and with their deaths, the repertoire and instruments of the Semara Pegulingan were ostensibly lost.
Following this tragic event, the nearby village of Kamasan decided to commission a new set of instruments in order to revive and preserve the music of the Semara Pegulingan. They found a man named Kaki Gondol, the one court musician who had survived the Puputan, and engaged him to teach the repertoire to a new group of musicians from the village. In the 1920s and 30s, Kaki Gondol single handedly resuscitated the music of the Klungkung court, which could not be found anywhere else in Bali. He left the repertoire in the hands of the Kamasan musicians, who endeavored to preserve it throughout the generations.
The group successfully learned many compositions and performed for decades until Ketut Bhuana, the leader of the gamelan and the last person to remember the complete repertoire, was killed in the anti-communist massacres of 1965. In 1966, the village leaders of Kamasan were left with a set of instruments but no knowledge of how to play them. They once again sought the expertise of Kaki Gondol, now in his mid 90s, in order to teach the ancient repertoire to a new group of musicians. That year, the player appointed to the leading instrument of the ensemble was a 14-year-old boy named Wayan Sumendra. Pak Sumendra remained the sole leader and source of knowledge of this music until his untimely death this past July.
In the summer of 2013, Pandan Arum director Tyler Yamin became the first person from outside Kamasan to live there in order to learn the music. Studying with Pak Sumendra, the trompong player for the past 47 years, he not only learned the commonly performed pieces of the Kamasan repertoire, but also the rarer pieces that had already fallen out of popularity and the memory of most musicians in the group. Five weeks into his stay, Pak Sumendra suddenly and unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack. Much concern over the future of the music arose with his untimely death since not one other member of the group had ever needed to assume his leadership role. The future of the group and of the music hinges on raising interest and enthusiasm both in Bali as well as abroad, and Pandan Arum's performance at the Smithsonian will bring awareness to the entire American gamelan community.
Gamelan Pandan Arum is now learning these rare pieces gifted to Tyler Yamin by Pak Sumendra before his passing. This repertoire, filled with long, slow and stately compositions, is distinct from that of every other group in Bali or America. Unfortunately, the beautiful hallmarks that set it apart from other gamelan music are also those that keep it from mainstream interest. The pieces are long and difficult to memorize as each contains at least two body sections of 256 beats each, one of the longest forms in Balinese music. The ensemble includes rare instruments such as the gumanak and kecicak, which are not found in any modern style of gamelan. The 7-tone tuning of the ensemble is unique, resulting in 5-note modes that can only be approximated on other 7-tone gamelans.
We are currently learning gending Sembung Radas, one of the most rare and unique pieces from Kamasan's repertoire, which will be featured in our performance at the Smithsonian. Only remembered by a few of the most elderly musicians, it is performed in Saih Lebeng (13467), an unusual scale expressed differently everywhere else in Bali. Please watch this video of us learning the long pengawak section and enjoy the haunting melody and distinctive tuning.
Pandan Arum plays this music on instruments built in America by Tyler Yamin specifically designed to play the music of Kamasan. Although there are plenty of gamelan sets available across the country, none of them are sufficient to perform rare Semara Pegulingan repertoire in an authentic way.
The instruments of Pandan Arum are constructed from a variety of materials, chosen from consideration of timbre as well as cost, availability, and workability. The keys of the gangsa instruments, played with hard mallets, are steel, while those of the pokok instruments, played with rubber-tipped mallets, are aluminum. The current trompong, made from iron, was custom ordered in Bali, as it is currently infeasible to construct in the current Pandan Arum workshop. All the wooden frames were made from readily accessible American wood and are fitted with PVC resonators.
As gamelan sets constructed in America are typically designed to play contemporary music, building one to perform traditional repertoire has been an unprecedented learning experience. The instruments have gone through several phases of construction and tuning before settling on the current form. Besides the influence of the Kamasan gamelan, the individual tuning and ranges of the Semara Pegulingan sets from Ketewel and Teges in Gianyar as well as Pagan Kelod and Titih (melted down in the 1950s, but described by Colin McPhee beforehand) in Denpasar were considered. In the current design of Pandan Arum, the repertoires of all these groups are playable with very little compromise, all in their original, differing scales and physical key arrangements.
In order to attend The Performing Indonesia: A Festival and Conference of Music, Dance and Theater 2013, Gamelan Pandan Arum is attempting to raise a modest $500 per person to cover airfare, lodging, and transport of the instruments. With your help, we will be able to bring our unique performance to an eager audience that would not otherwise have an opportunity to experience it. Please share this page with anyone who might be interested in our story or helping us meet our goal. We cannot do it without you!
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