Classical Spin: Gamelan Madu Sari
Gamelan Madu Sari
New Nectar (Songlines)
In the global scheme of things, Vancouver is shaping up as one of those places where cultures intersect and where artistic technologies both new and old can meet and feed each other to their mutual benefit. For proof of this, listeners need look no further than the first CD release from local ensemble Gamelan Madu Sari, which features ancient Javanese techniques and instruments married to the imaginative output of five relatively young Canadian composers.
Javanese music has inspired western musicians ever since Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel encountered it at the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition, and a century later its elaborate, interlocking parts and sinuous melodies have lost none of their appeal. But gamelan has rarely had such sensitive translators as Kenneth Newby, Chris Miller, Mark Parlett, Michael O'Neill, and Paul Plimley, the composer-performers who appear here. With the exception of the jazz-based Plimley, they've all studied in Indonesia and base their inventions on a thorough understanding of traditional gamelan structure. (Plimley's Born Again Needle Dancers, New Nectar's final piece, sounds like it gets its gamelan inspiration secondhand from minimalist composers such as Steve Reich and Terry Riley, but it's no less delightful for that.) Within that framework, though, there's a lot of variety: Newby's Dreams He Is a Ball of Fire... Or a Hummingbird is as warm and lush as its title; O'Neill's Lessons of the Garden is a stark, ritualistic work for bee-buzzing reeds; Chris Miller's two numbers explore sound with whimsical integrity; and ensemble director Parlett's Intimate Distance is an ever-shifting mind-movie of considerable depth. Beautiful and provocative, New Nectar is a signpost pointing toward the future of our city--and, perhaps, of music in general.