The Influence of Bali and Java

The Influence of Bali and Java
9th-century musicians at Borobudur, Java
Photo by Gunkarta
The Influence of Bali and Java

With exotic scales and rich percussive textures, gamelan was for centuries the traditional ensemble music of Bali and Java in Indonesia. Its unusual and hypnotic language attracted the interest of European composers in the nineteenth century — including Claude Debussy and Erik Satie — during a Javanese gamelan's appearance at the 1889 Paris Exposition. Gamelan scales, melodies, rhythms, and textures continue to inspire composers, as you can hear in these pieces.
Listen on Spotify John Adams
China Gates (1977) piano
"China Gates, written in 1977, and Phrygian Gates, from 1977-78, were some of the earliest essays in his new, gamelan-like language."
International Piano

Michael Gordon
Timber (2009) percussion ensemble
"At varying points, the main rhythms and the polyrhythms felt logical and precise — sort of a combination of the minimalism of Steve Reich (in an untempered sense) or Balinese Gamelan music…"

Lou Harrison
Four Strict Songs (1956) soloists and orchestra
"Harrison's interest in gamelan had led him to explore the possibilities of pentatonic modes. Each of the four movements of Strict Songs is based on a different pentatonic mode."
New World Records

Colin McPhee
Balinese Ceremonial Music piano duo
"Just as the metallophones of the gamelan do, the two pianos create a 'ringing' effect together, transferring the gamelan sonorities to the keyboard…"
Philpedia, LA Philharmonic

Symphony No. 2, Pastorale (1957) orchestra
"…making considerable use of Balinese melodic material collected during the years I spent on the island of Bali."
Colin McPhee

Tabuh-Tabuhan (1936) soloists and orchestra
"Although Tabuh-Tabuhan makes much use of Balinese musical material, I consider it a purely personal work...…"
Colin McPhee

Nico Muhly
Our Present Charter (2014) chorus a cappella
"…a semi-chorus of trebles and altos sets up a gamelan-like 'open' sonority of repeated cells on the text 'to no,' over which the full choir intones the text in a simple, declamatory fashion."
Nico Muhly

Wish You Were Here (2007) orchestra
"…pays homage to Colin McPhee, one of the first western musicologists to study Balinese gamelan, as well as to the great illustrators Carl Barks and Hergé (responsible for Donald Duck & Tintin, respectively)."
Nico Muhly

Per Nørgård
Square and Round (1983) percussion ensemble
"…one player is the rhythmic leader (player IV) playing the pulse on two different sounding instruments (a wood and metal instrument, for instance a Japanese woodblock and a Balinese cheng-cheng)."
Per Nørgård

Poul Ruders
Alarm (1983) percussion solo
"To produce the right atmosphere of uneasiness and nervousness Ruders uses, among other things, the Balinese cymbal-machine 'ching-ching' and the snore of the 'didjeridoo' from Australia."

Gerard Schurmann
The Gardens of Exile (1991) soloist and orchestra
"Superimposed on this idea were my recollections of a vast expanse of semi-wild tropical gardens in Java…in which I was allowed to play and roam freely as a child…"
Gerard Schurmann

Tan Dun
Orchestral Theatre (1990) orchestra
"…focuses on the ancient rituals, the orchestra players not just playing but they are shouting, hunting, humming, singing, and it's like Balinese, it's like Aboriginal, it's like a kind of ensemble in the village."
Tan Dun

Augusta Read Thomas
Resounding Earth (2012) percussion ensemble
"…a constellation of singing, ringing and chiming bells, gongs and other metallic implements, representing cultures and traditions from around the world, serves to honor nine venerated 20th-century composers."
The New York Times

Watch on YouTube Ole Buck
Rejang (1986) percussion solo
"…one player is the rhythmic leader (player IV) playing the pulse on two different sounding instruments (a wood and metal instrument, for instance a Japanese woodblock and a Balinese cheng-cheng)."
Per Nørgård Stewart Copeland
Gamelan D'Drum (2010) soloists and orchestra
"The music sometimes echoes Javanese and Balinese gamelans, with their hypnotic patterns on hung and kettle gongs, sometimes the intensity of African drumming."
Dallas Morning News Anthony Davis
Notes from the Underground (1988) orchestra
"Imagine Ellington's lush, massed sonorities propelled by Bartók's vigorous whiplash rhythms and overlaid with the seductive percussive haze of the Balinese gamelan orchestra…"
Time Magazine Avner Dorman
Frozen in Time (2007) soloist and orchestra
"The title refers to land masses, geological phenomena and 'the era of globalisation.' You get the drift. Cow bells, gamelan and jazzy grooves conjoined Europe, Africa, the Americas, Asia and grunge rock…"
The Guardian Missy Mazzoli
These Worlds In Us (2006) orchestra
"The rhythmic structures and cyclical nature of the piece are inspired by the unique tension and logic of Balinese music…"
Missy Mazzoli Esa-Pekka Salonen
Karawane (2014) chorus and orchestra
"…as a rhythmic unisono section starts…this music is heavily influenced by the Balinese Ramayana Monkey Chant, better known as Kecak."
Esa-Pekka Salonen
Other Notable Works  Geoffrey Burgon
Think On, Dredful Domesday (1969)
chorus and orchestra
"Another influence on the piece is the sounds and textures of Balinese music and this is most apparent in the instrumentation: the use of piano, celeste, vibraphone and xylophone to try and echo the sounds of 'selunding' — Balinese funeral music."
Geoffrey Burgon

Gending (1980) chorus and orchestra
"Gending is a Balinese word meaning simply instrumental composition and this work takes as its starting point the colours, textures, rhythmic patterns and formal procedures of Balinese music."
Geoffrey Burgon

Adam Gorb
Oriental Overtures: A Journey Through Southeast Asia student percussion and orchestra
"Written for children with learning difficulties and based on melodies of Java, Bali, and Malaysia."

Olivier Messiaen
Chronochromie (1960) orchestra
"His rhythmic investigations ranged from Gregorian chant, to ancient Greek poetic meters, to Indian raga, to gamelan music."

Marc Neikrug
Concerto for Flute and Orchestra (1989)
"…a section based on Balinese gamelan music…at the end of the [first] movement where its expected arrival has been heightened in intensity."
Marc Neikrug

Per Nørgård
Gendhing (1980) percussion ensemble
"Gendhing is based upon a calm and slow Javanese theme ('Cucubawur'), used as a point of departure for a series of variations."
Per Nørgård

Ground (1983) percussion ensemble
"Ground is based on a choral song with the title 'Solen er rund' ('The Sun is round,' to a poem by the Danish Inger Christensen, 1982), built upon the Balinese 'pelog'-scale in a multi-layered version, accompanied by the polyphonic voices of my so-called infinity rhythms."
Per Nørgård

Many Returns to Bali (2003) piano
"In gamelan orchestras the fastest layers of MAmusic are played by high pitched instruments, the slowest layers by instruments with deep octaves. The same idea is present in my piece, and gives the music a Balinese touch…"
Per Nørgård

Tjampuan (1992) chamber
"Any nature phenomenon with a character of its own — a bat cave, a very old banja tree etc — is by the Balinese regarded as holy (for which reason very often a temple is placed close to it !). Thus also the place where two rivers meet (called 'tjampuan' in Indonesian…)"
Per Nørgård

Michael Tilson Thomas
Island Music (2003) percussion ensemble
"Dedicated to the late Lou Harrison, Island Music reflects some of the older composer's influence in its pentatonic writing and gamelan style. The Balinese influence comes through vividly…"