Celebrating 10 Years of Gamelan together

This year marks the 10th anniversary of BronzAge Gamelan. What a journey it has been from 2009!

We’ve travelled to China, Thailand, India, Japan, Indonesia, bringing what we could. Spent many weeks rehearsing together, sometimes just for fun. Sent off old members, welcomed new ones. Joined festivals, dropped out of festivals. Became very much stagnant when everyone started graduating from university, some moving to live abroad and some busy with kids. Tried out different combinations of instruments for different gadhon configurations, while also trying to convince people that they will never be able to get a 12 ensemble group for $500 or for exposure. But all in all, still having fun making music together somehow.

We hope this year brings new ideas to the table with lots more music installed for us all. Some of us are playing with various other gamelan groups in Singapore. Catch us around!

Observatorage in Japan! Feb 2016

CONTINUUM TPAM

All of us in BronzAge come from different background and some of us were musically trained differently. We have Jazz pianists, a Clarinetist, a Sheng player and myself a singer trained under Western Popular music style. But what we have in common is our thirst for trying out new styles of music.

Apart from traditional Gamelan music or Karawitan, we are fascinated by brilliantly well-written fusion pieces. When The Observatory reached out and asked us if we could help re-stage Continuum, we were much obliged.

The Observatory is an art-rock experimental band from Singapore. They were formed in the early 2000s and have released 8 albums so far.

For their 7th album, the band released Continuum in 2015. It took the band 4 years to complete the album after taking classes introductory to Balinese Gamelan classes under Dewa Alit. Observatory devised their own six-note scale Gamelan set and experimented fusing the Balinese Gamelan traditional instruments such as the Reyong, Jegong, Pemade and Ceng Ceng on Western musical instruments.

Brian, Zachary, Yat and I were privileged to be part of the Continuum ensemble that consists of 10 people on 23 and 24 July 2015.

 

Image by Vincent Wong

Image by Vincent Wong

The Observatory had an invitation to re-stage Continuum for The Performing Arts Meeting 2016 that was held in Yokohama. Needless to say, we were thrilled!

Located on the south part of Tokyo, Yokohama is Japan’s second largest city with a population of over 3 million. It was chilly in Yokohama compared to Tokyo as it was closer to the sea.

The Performing Arts Meeting, or TPAM is a festival where art practioners, festival directors and all kinds of professionals gather to network, discuss issues and exchange informations. There were also international meetings and programs that were being conducted. Total of 639 professionals participated in this festival.

There were 10 of us in the ensemble plus a photographer, an audio engineer and a visual artist. You can imagine the amount of instruments and equipments that we needed to ship over! We were thankful that everything went smoothly and there were no issue of any missing items. Thank you, ANA!

There were many other acts happening but due to our busy schedule, we did not manage to catch any of the other performances as we had just enough time to prepare for our performance at the Kanagawa Kenmin Hall.

The performance was a success! With the supporters of The Observatory in Japan and fellow art enthusiasts, the venue was full house. It was an exhilarating 45 minutes set.  The preparation for Continuum was long and intense so when it ended, it was a little bitter-sweet. We were having the post-production blues.

We managed to clear the venue in less than 2 hours thanks to the fast and efficient crew for TPAM! Everything went smoothly.

Thank you to The Observatory, Tang Fu Kuen, Aki Onda and the TPAM crew!

 

LATIHAN BERSAMA LAMBANGSARI

On our last day, we visited Gamelan Lambangsari’s Latihan at Nishishimbashi, Minato-ku. We had quite a difficult time finding the place. We were running late as we got lost. Most of the office buildings were closed so it was dark. We only had the lights from the street to guide us. To make matters worse, it was getting windy and cold.

It was located at a basement of a tall building. It was a rather cosy and humble space for a rehearsal with the mandala tapestry hanging on the rack, a clothes hanger rack, books about music and gamelan and pictures of performances and certificates on the wall. We instantly felt comfortable. The Lambangsari musicians were so welcoming.

 

No true latihan is a latihan without snacks!

No true latihan is a latihan without snacks!

We played several pieces in both Slendro and Pelog such as Ladrang Asmaradana and Ketawang Wigaringtyas. They meet for latihan 3 times a week despite it being a part-time and leisure thing for some of them. I noticed that it helped push them to polish their playing on many instruments. There was a college student who only started playing the Kendhang for only a few months and he was already playing for a Wayang show. I wish it will be easier for us back in Singapore to hold more latihan a week but it is crucial as there will always be a clash in everyone’s schedules.  

I was impressed at how fluent they were conversing in Bahasa Indonesia. Most of them only spoke in Japanese and Bahasa so it was a little difficult at first communicating with them as only a few of them spoke in English. But music itself is a universal language.  I guess that’s the beauty of Gamelan; It’s the same in every country. However, each piece itself has many different forms so during latihan, there were many times that either one of us will ask, “Gaya Mangkunegaran?”.  

Of course we ended the evening with Bubaran Udan Mas. 

Group shots

Group shots

It was a fruitful latihan and they were all so helpful and patient. Thank you so much, Mbak Kayo, Mbak Keiko, Mbak Nami and the rest of Gamelan Lambangsari! We had such a great time and we look forward to visiting you again! 

 

Zachary, Brian, our friend Irsyad and myself extended our stay as we wanted a short vacation before heading back to Singapore. 

On the last day, we had trouble figuring out a direct route to Narita Airport. We were staying in Minamioi in Shinagawa which is closer to Haneda Airport so the journey to Narita Airport will be longer. Almost 3 hours by train.

We bumped into Mbak Keiko at the Omorikaigan train station and she was so nice with helping us with the directions and made sure we took the correct express train.

2 hours and 45 minutes later, we reached Narita Airport. After paying about SGD30 for the train ride and secretly crying about it, we spent our remaining yen buying Japanese tidbits and snacks before checking in.

And with that, it was the end of our Japan trip.

Thank you The Observatory for the opportunity!

Brian in New York City Gamelan visit

Latihan Gamelan Kusuma Laras Dec 2015 – Brian Lim

 

On 18th December 2015, I had the privilege of attending a latihan (rehearsal) with Gamelan Kusuma Laras in New York City.

Upon arriving, I was warmly welcomed and introduced everyone, and we promptly started the latihan proper. I seated myself at a saron demung and found myself surrounded by musicians of various experience levels, Americans and Indonesians alike.

We started with Gendhing Gambirsawit, slendro sanga, a somewhat medium-lengthed piece. A gendhing typically has at least two sections, the merong and inggah, each of which can be repeated.

Gendhing Gambirsawit, slendro sanga

 

This piece was somewhat challenging for me, as I was not too familiar with the gendhing form, and how it moved from section to section. The musicians around me were encouraging and I always managed to figure out where we were in the music by consulting someone mid-piece or simply deducing the balungan (melody) from the elaborating instruments.

After a while I was able to settle down and listen more “big-picture”, and I was able to follow the elaborating instruments such as the saron peking and bonang concurrently with the balungan, and it became much easier to “go with the flow”.

Following that, we moved on to Gendhing Cucurbawuk, an ambitiously complex and long piece with many sections. Even the more advanced players were a little hesitant, but we were determined to give it our best shot.

Throughout the piece, whenever we seemed to get lost, the teacher Pak Harjito (who was on the kendhang) would shout out the note numbers, or the section names to us, but he never got frustrated with us. Instead he would give us a gleeful smile when we got it right.

We managed to put together a decidedly admirable gendhing cucurbawuk despite our initial reservations.

 

Pak Harjito (left), and myself

Pak Harjito (left), and myself

Gendhing Cucurbawuk, slendro manyura, not by us.

 

Then, it was time for a break. I was expecting a short break for us to get a drink of water or visit the washroom, but I was instead whisked away along with everyone else to the basement, where there was a table laden with Indonesian dishes such as sambal telur (hard boiled eggs in sambal chilli sauce) and sayur lodeh (stewed vegetables in coconut milk curry), cooked by one of the Indonesian Ibus.

It seems this was normal practice for the musicians to break right in the middle of latihan for a communal Indonesian dinner, and I felt right at home with the home-cooked food and great company.

Following dinner, we played a few simpler pieces, that included Lancaran Dara Muluk, “a children’s piece”, as described by Pak Harjito. An interesting feature of this piece is that while most of the music is set in slendro sanga, the gerong (vocal) part makes use of some notes set in barang miring, which typically is used to evoke a feeling of sadness. (Notes in barang miring are flattened slendro notes, which approximate notes in pelog)

Lancaran Dara Muluk, slendro sanga by University Gajah Madah – Try to identify the notes of the vocal part, which sometimes do not fit with the notes that (most) of the other instruments play.

 

I had a great time with Gamelan Kusuma Laras, and I’m especially grateful for Pak Harjito, Anne Stebinger and Stuart Frankel for allowing me to join in the latihan.

Gamelan Kusuma Laras

Gamelan Kusuma Laras

For more information about Gamelan Kusuma Laras, visit their website:

www.kusumalaras.org

Zachary back in Central Java Gamelan trip

Yogya/Solo Travel Journal - 8 Dec 2015 to 18 Dec 2015

Mangkunegaran Palace

Mangkunegaran Palace

Solo (Surakarta) and Yogyakarta, heirs to the Mataram Sultanate, are considered today to be the cultural centers of ‘high’ Javanese art forms, with artistic lineages that have been in constant development spanning centuries, predating the HinduBuddhist courts of Java till today. I visited these cities earlier this year with BronzAge and was captivated; Yogya is expressive and dynamic, Solo is tranquil and meditative. Central Java came to be a place that represented refuge for the mind, away from the troubles of my own city. When I saw an opportunity to travel there this term break as a study trip with Singa Nglaras, I immediately decided to go for it.

Travelling in Yoyga

Borobudur

Borobudur

As usual, I visited the touristy spots the shopping districts and the monumental temples auspicious for the upcoming year. Borobudur radiates a silent assurance from its core that the universe is ; the Bodhisattva path that promises enlightenment by the end of your ascent the multivalent structure it is a mountain, a mandala, and a stupa all at once.

Prambanan stands as a testament to the Shaivite Kingdoms that flourished in central Java, it’s triple spires surging upward to the celestial realms. It is the axismundi of the Sanjayan Kingdom, the metaphysical Meru, a symbol of power, a center of Hinduism.

I must mention that I have visited these two temples before, but I just had to see them again, and I will see them again if I have a chance. Of course, the best time is to go when there are as little tourists as possible.

After visits to several museums and galleries in Yogya, me and my travel buddy headed to Solo to meet up with the rest of the group.

To Solo

Private Lessons

I took one Gender lessons from Mas Darsono bagus. It was a good introduction to an instrument one can probably spend a lifetime learning.

Ibu Cendani and Rose

Ibu Cendani and Rose

I sat in on Rose’s (my gamelan youth club mate) Sindhen classes from Ibu Cendani. I remember listening to her sing in the Pujangga Laras. We practiced the Gendhing Gambir Sawit. From the classes I sort of understand very briefly how the Pesindhen part is structured within a piece. It was really great. I want to be a Pesindhen.

Group Latihan

During our group latihan throughout the week we did a couple of pieces. One of them was a Gendhing Bonang titled Majemuk. Majemuk is a long piece with a slow but really rewarding build up. It starts pensive and extremely reserved, but crescendos into a glorious, thundering work that demands for your attention, calling for an audience to a show. I learned the sekaten style during this trip, doing the demung imbal, which was really a wise choice for me at my level of musicianship because it was challenging but not impossible to grasp given the amount of time we had.

The second piece we did was Ladrang Sri Karongron. I learned the gerongan parts for this, which was great because 1. the version that I learned from Mas Darsono Bagus is not on youtube and 2. there is a senggahan part during irama wilet which is really cute “é oaé lontong, lontong é lontong gosong” 3. it’s a really nice piece in general, something that I will loop on my ipod (and I already have since I came back) .

During the dance rehearsals at the Mangkunegaran at night we revised Beksan Menak Koncar, as well as did some pieces that I had not done before such as Tari Srimpi Pandelori, Gambyong Pareanom, Gambyong Pangkur, Tari Sancaya Kusuma Wicitra and others which I cannot remember off the top of my head. We also learned a mysterious new Lancaran ‘a’.

Ruwatan

Dhalang and the Wayang Kulit puppets

Dhalang and the Wayang Kulit puppets

I had an opportunity to see a Ruwat (Wayang Kulit version) with Mas Jarwo, who drove me up to Klaten. From my limited knowledge Ruwat is a ritual cleansing ceremony to remove bad luck that can be performed by only a select number of people (mystics, priests? and the Dhalang). It was a really a nice experience tucked away at a quiet village on the outskirts of the main city. I always feel nervous at these kinds of things because I am so obviously an outsider but I am surprised every single time. This is what I love about Java. I was graciously offered hospitality that would be hard to get in Singapore, I was given a nice place to sit (beside the sindhens) and offered food and snacks which were delicious.

As a nerd for all sorts of religious / spiritual things, this was perfect for me: I saw the ritual cleansing which involves the Dhalang reciting a mantra before cutting a lock of hair from the boy and then cleansing him in with water scented with flowers. The best part was the mad rush and negotiations for the free stuff (which I think are offerings) at the end of the ceremony.

Calung

Calung is a bamboo ensemble from Banyumas, the Eastern side of Java. In contrast to central Javanese arts which our teacher Pak Darno describes as extremely serious, Banyumasan music is more lighthearted and whimsical. I was placed on Gambang Barung (I think for most parts) and it was really quite challenging because of several things: it being a new instrument to me, the speed etc. (even though we are doing the easiest things and Calung is the 2nd easiest type of bamboo ensemble). The vocal melodies and lyrics (graciously translated by Mas Damian) are extremely quirky and fun to sing. I’d certainly like to do more of this in the future.

Thank Yous

Trying out the becak

Trying out the becak

A huge mega thank you to Xin Wei who made everything so easy and possible; from booking the accommodation to scheduling and liaising with teachers and bringing me to buy a drum. This trip would not have been so fruitful and fulfilling without his planning.

Thank you to Ibu Fitri for one of the most pleasant kost experiences one can ask for, & thank you to everyone on the trip and everyone who loves KARAWITAN.

Launch of our website

Hi Everyone!

Today, we launch our brand new website! This is a new way of communicating and a proper presentation of ourselves as a performing arts group. Feel free to browse and check back regularly for any updates and events.

BronzAge Gamelan