Collections of themed recordings curated by John Noise Manis

15 Returning Minimalism: InNem

In Nem ‘Seven’ (phrases: Al Suwardi)

In Nem ‘Four’ (phrases: Joko Purwanto)

In Nem ‘One’ (phrases: group improvisation)


Tracks

1 – 27:48 In Nem ‘Seven’  (phrases: Al Suwardi)
2 – silence
3 – 21:24 In Nem ‘Four’   (phrases: Joko Purwanto)
4 – 1:36 silence
5 – 19:00 In Nem ‘One’    (phrases: group improvisation)

XV. Returning Minimalism: In Nem

Collection: Gamelan of Central Java, Original Series

L’expérience mise à jour par ce disque pourrait être résumée par la formule « retour à l’envoyeur ». C’est un peu ce que suggère le titre Returning Minimalism : à la fois retour au minimalisme et retournement du minimalisme. Il est notoire en effet qu’une bonne partie de la musique contemporaine minimaliste (ou répétitive, ou sérielle) a été influencée par des musiques extra-européennes – indienne, africaine, japonaise et indonésienne – que l’Europe occidentale et les États-Unis ont découvert notamment durant les années 1950 et 1960.

….Aujourd’hui, juste retour des choses, c’est un gamelan javanais, constitué de huit musiciens issus du ISI (Institut Seni Indonesia) Surakarta, qui reprend à son compte des idées émanant d’une œuvre-phare et pionnière du courant minimaliste : ce n’est pas une pièce de Steve REICH, comme on aurait pu s’y attendre, mais une de Terry RILEY, In C, enregistrée pour la première fois en 1968.

Les raisons de ce choix tiennent à ce que Terry RILEY a introduit dans cette œuvre deux éléments fondamentaux du minimalisme, le retour à la musique tonale (en l’occurrence la tonalité de « do majeur »), et la répétition de courts motifs musicaux. In C est effectivement constituée de 53 formules mélodiques et rythmiques de durée variable que chaque musicien peut jouer dans un ordre pré-établi, ou autant de fois qu’il le souhaite !

De la même façon, les pièces consignées dans Returning Minimalism : In Nem sont le fruit d’un travail semi-improvisé fondé sur l’utilisation de modules ou phrases répétées à l’envi par les huit musiciens de l’ISI Surakarta.

L’enregistrement s’est étalé sur tout un week-end et, de ses sessions, trois versions ont été retenues : la 1, la 4 et la 7, présentées dans l’ordre chronologique inversé. Chacune est de durée différente (19, 21 et 28 minutes), et se distingue par ses choix instrumentaux et son impulsion rythmique (lente, rapide, ou irrégulière). Mais dans chaque cas, l’atmosphère engendrée provoque un état d’hypnose substantiel en tous points identique à In C ! Ainsi en va-t-il généralement de toutes les musiques « à bourdon », quelles que soient leurs provenances géographique et temporelle…

L’idée de détourner un gamelan javanais de son terreau musical traditionnel provient de Daniel QUINN et John Noise MANIS, l’ethnomusicologue à qui l’on doit la fameuse collection Gamelan Of Central Java, et dont les quatorze précédents volumes présentaient différents aspects de la tradition musicale de Java-Centre. Or, le Vol. 8, Edge of Tradition, avait déjà commencé à mettre le pied en territoire plus contemporain. Avec ce Vol. 15, on est plein dedans ! C’est bien une musique minimaliste, sérielle, qui s’offre à notre écoute, mais jouée sur des instruments de gamelan traditionnels.

Mais comme il est dit dans le livret – et comme chacun pourra le vérifier à l’écoute –, sans l’élément pulsatif, ces pièces pourraient très bien être perçues comme traditionnelles, sans lien direct avec l’œuvre de Terry RILEY. Il ne faut pas y chercher la réinterprétation fidèle et respectueuse d’In C (ce qui serait un gag prodigieusement paradoxal, eu égard aux préceptes de base de cet opus), mais plutôt percevoir ces pièces comme des variations semi-improvisées au noyau rythmique bourdonnant qui sont devenues des compositions originales de gamelan.

Que les puristes pointilleux s’y reprennent donc à deux fois avant de juger hérétique l’intégration de cette (re)création dans une collection de musique « traditionnelle ». Car au fond, c’est comme si la tradition du gamelan se nourrissait d’une partie d’elle-même ! C’est un juste retour – ou retournement – des choses, qui retournera effectivement les oreilles de plus d’un auditeur !

Stéphane Fougère, Ethnotempos

 

Avec “In Nem”, huit musiciens de Java répondent en musique au “In C” de l’Américain Terry Riley. Un instrument dans les méandres de l’histoire et des échanges Orient-Occident.

Le son du gamelan a désormais assez profondément pénétré l’imagination et la mémoire sonore collective en Occident. Que Terry Riley ait été beaucoup plus influencé par les musiques indiennes qu’indonésiennes n’a finalement pas tant d’importance ici. Pour de nombreux auditeurs, de par sa nature percussive, son caractère cyclique et son affranchissement vis-à-vis des accords, via son rapport entre l’individu et le collectif (et entre la simplicité des 53 motifs répétés et la captivante complexité du moiré de leur superposition), In C « sonne ‘gamelan’ » même si une stricte analyse ADN de la partition n’établirait sans doute aucun lien de filiation tangible émanant de la musique javanaise ou balinaise.

‘Returning Minimalism: In Nem’ est enregistré en deux jours…. Au final, les trois prises d’environ vingt minutes retenues pour le CD ne proposent ni strictement une version de l’œuvre de Riley, ni de la musique de gamelan d’inspiration locale, mais une sorte de fascinante créature hybride à plusieurs têtes et à seize bras. Plutôt que deux miroirs d’une qualité irréprochable se faisant face dans un parallélisme millimétré et renvoyant à l’infini l’image identique de l’objet placé entre eux, il s’agit ici d’un processus où les surfaces réfléchissantes sont légèrement déformantes ou obliques l’une par rapport à l’autre. Dès lors, comme dans la célèbre scène finale de The Lady from Shanghai d’Orson Welles, c’est une déclinaison d’angles et de points de vue variés qu’offre ce dispositif. Dans cet ordre d’idées, un des atouts supplémentaires de ce disque intriguant est de proposer, au-delà de l’évidente aura de séduction de sa musique, vingt pages de notes de pochette à plusieurs voix (Daniel Quinn, les huit musiciens javanais et le compositeur Philip Corner) qui ne gomment en rien ni les difficultés ni les limites de ce projet d’accointances.

Philippe Delvosalle, La Médiathèque

 

In Nem nasce da suggestioni e riflessioni diverse scaturite attorno allo storico pezzo “gamelanesco” di Riley…  un’esperienza che teoricamente e concettualmente dovrebbe essere ciclica (con scambio Oriente-Occidente-Oriente), risulta piuttosto da inquadrare all’interno della tradizione musicale giavanese anzichè altrove. Questo non toglie nulla alla musica, nè all’esperienza, interessante e di piacevole ascolto.

Francesca Odilia Bellino, All About Jazz

 

Nuova vita per il minimalismo.

Piercarlo Poggio, Blow Up

 

Un album molto curioso, molto interessante.

La notte di ‘Battiti’ (12.11.11), Radio3

 

“Let us speak of stillness in the constancies of nature, when ‘music for my ears’ is not merely sentimental, and not only to be found by meditating besides a waterfall, but, being attentive, in the fullness of the world.”  So writes Philip Corner in the booklet that comes with the CD.

….As Nicola Campogrande writes in the sleevenotes to ‘Music of Remembrance’ (volume XI in the Gamelan of Central Java series) gamelan music continues to seduce us especially for its capacity to push the clock in a corner, to make us pulsate with an alternative rhythm, to offer us a representation of existence devoid of tensions, targets, and thus relaxed, harmonious, enviable.
Living in the rush and crush that is Jakarta, such moments are rare. You have to go to a concert at Gedung Kesenian (the Jakarta Arts House) to hear gamelan played live, and then you have to put up with folk chattering away on their mobile phones or taking photos in order to reassure themselves and their social networks that they were there. If you are fortunate to live in a back street far from the hum of incessant traffic noise and not too close to a mosque, settle down on your front terrace or porch shortly after jam maghrib, the time of the evening prayers. This is the bewitching hour – actually just 15 minutes if you’re lucky – when an innate fear of hantu (ghosts) means that all and sundry seek the safety of indoors and an unusual calm settles over the neighbourhood. For a very short while you can be  “a representation of existence devoid of tensions”  listening to the rhythm of the evening within yourself.
It is this almost primeval element of gamelan that has inspired western musicians for over a century, although the roots of gamelan lie much further back in Indonesian history and mythology.

….Gamelan is probably a central influence on the minimalist school of music. Terry Riley composed ‘In C’, possibly the seminal minimalist work, in 1964; it was released on CBS label in 1968, and has been the subject of much scholastic discourse. ‘In C’ proposes a delicate balance between the individual and the group. It is very much a product of community. Gamelan and minimalist forms of music have that in common.

….There are many ways to listen to ‘In Nem’, although being free from distractions is a major key to the listening pleasure. The three pieces, ranging in length from 19 to 28 minutes, have a hypnotic insistence which is at times increadibly funky. There are two silences of a minute and a half each between the three tracks, time enough to think about where you’ve been, to come to terms with where you are and to anticipate where you are going next. It’s a journey worth taking and I hope that sometime the other four tracks recorded over the two days will also be released.

Jakartass, blog, also published on Jakarta Expat

 

The subtitle of this disc, “Returning Minimalism,” denotes a key fact about twentieth-century American minimalism: it makes extensive use of the formal elements of gamelan. The circular structures, repetitive melodies, intricate rhythms, and incremental modulations of tone are all hallmarks of the music of such American composers as Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, La Monte Young, and John Adams through at least part of their careers. (While minimalism is not quite as dominant a school as some might think, references and traces show up in the work of composers as diverse as Lou Harrison, Michael Nyman, and Harry Partch, to name just a few.) As Daniel Patrick Quinn notes in his essay, there are other roots of this American hybrid, of course — jazz, twelfth-century plainsong, classical raga, African drumming — but the basic structures and the sound are so strongly reminiscent of gamelan that it was only a matter of time, I suppose, until someone thought to investigate gamelan’s reaction to minimalism. Thus, Returning Minimalism: In Nem.

The first track, In Nem “Seven”, built on phrases composed by Al Suwardi, is remarkable first for its clarity: each voice seems to be set off in its own space, and while they blend to give a rich texture, one can follow individual threads with ease. It’s hypnotic, as is so much gamelan, so much so that the introduction of new voices almost causes one to jump.

In Nem “Four”, on phrases by Joko Purwanto, begins in similar fashion to the previous track, with a rapid, simple, and very precise pulse, around which various voices build variations on the basic phrases. This one is somewhat denser in texture, although it still maintains clarity, and equally hypnotic, although the trance music feeling takes a bit longer to establish itself.

In Nem “One”, a product of group improvisation, establishes quite a different character from the very beginning: the pulse is established by a melody rather than percussion at the start, a phrase with quite a definite end, and there is a readily audible drone. Voices appear and disappear (much like, as it happens, the visual dynamic of watching a Steve Reich or Philip Glass concert in the late 1970s, as musicians suddenly joined in the activity and just as suddenly sat back). It also sounds to me the most like many of the early serial minimalist works I remember from the 1970s and ’80s. I think this one is my favorite — it has the greatest range of sounds, including passages that almost sound as though singers were involved, and the richest colors and textures.

I’m sitting here listening as I’m writing, and one thing that I find faintly humorous is that it sounds like gamelan and I have to really think about the connections between the music I’m hearing and its Western model — in this recording, as it happens, that was Terry Riley’s In C, often credited as the beginning of minimalism in music. (Maybe I’ve just been listening to too much Indonesian music.)

…I also found this review extraordinarily difficult to write, I think for one main reason: the music is so hypnotic that I kept getting lost in it and forgetting to write about it. Take that as you will.

Robert M. Tilendis, Hedgehog

 

The first thing you notice about In Nem is that there are 96 seconds of silence between each of the three tracks. How powerful can this music be, you wonder, to require this kind of recovery period? In fact, if it’s a sonic punch-up you are after, you’d be better off looking elsewhere – this is a disc to put your headphones on for and trance out to.
Traditional gamelan is a major influence on Western minimalism. Here, Javanese musicians return the compliment, playing minimalist music on gamelan percussion. Each piece borrows the structure of Terry Riley’s classic composition ‘In C’. The melodic fragments and their order is preordained, but not how many times they are played, or how fast. The players also improvise around the themes, just as they do in traditional gamelan. The effect, however, is more ambient than minimal. It’s a lovely sound-world in which to spend time, and there are some great moments (a Javanese gong dropped on top of churning percussion ostinatos is a guaranteed spine-tingler), but the pieces somehow miss the trick of the best minimal music – of producing huge effects out of tiny changes.

John Whitfield, Songlines

 

Oriente – Occidente, andata e ritorno: il capolavoro del minimalismo americano, In C, trasfigurato attraverso le improvvisazioni di un’orchestra gamelan giavanese.

Federico Capitoni,  Saturno – Il Fatto Quotidiano

 

Eight of Java’s most accomplished gamelan musicians answer back to Terry Riley’s In C with their own take on Western minimalism…  The outcome is a tasty Javanese groove spread across three tracks and unfolding without the cumulative drama of Riley’s tour de force. Intricate patterns overlap and interact, colours blend into a moiré shimmer, spontaneous designs executed with dancing precision. This cross-cultural experiment is conducted in local time and realised beautifully with local know-how.

Julian Cowley, The Wire

 

Booklet