Collections of themed recordings curated by John Noise Manis

Gamelan Pictures at an Exhibition
on Philip’s Corner

 

Track 1 gamelan IX “Evenning of Evennesses” (1977)
Gamelan ensemble Son Of Lion at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation, New York, May 26, 1978, with marching hubcaps.
Track 2 gamelan Antipode (1983) with Piece for String Instrum. #5 (1958)
Violin solos by Malcolm Goldstein, superimposed, at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation, New York, Dec 11, 1984.
Track 3 gamelan IX “Evenning of Evennesses” (1977)
Gamelan ensemble Son Of Lion at the International Gamelan Conference in the Indonesian pavilion, EXPO Vancouver, Aug 20, 1986. Marching hubcaps, with a prelude on kenongan.
Track 4 gamelan Vox (1980)
Claudio Calmens on electric guitar and vocalizing. VII Encuentro de Teatro, Buenos Aires, 2002.
Track 5 gamelan IX “Evenning of Evennesses” (1977)
Gamelan ensemble Son Of Lion at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation, New York, May 26, 1978, with marching hubcaps.
Track 6 gamelan “Coming & Going” (1983)
Piano duo with counting, played by the composer and Evan Schwartzman, Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts, New Brunswick NJ, Nov 27, 1985.
Track 7 gamelan S-D “Space Density Time Synch” (1981)
Piano 4-hands played by the composer and Evan Schwartzman, Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts, New Brunswick NJ, April 1984.
Track 8 gamelan IX “Evenning of Evennesses” (1977)
Gamelan ensemble Son Of Lion at the International Gamelan Conference in the Indonesian pavilion, EXPO Vancouver, Aug 20, 1986. Marching hubcaps, with a prelude on kenongan.
Track 9 gamelan Col TJ II (Collaboration II with Tom Johnson) (1982)
Piano 4-hands played by the composer and Stephen Whittington, University of Adelaide, April 2, 1996.
Track 10 gamelan Maya (1980)
Malcolm Goldstein, violin with the composer at the piano, Stichting Logos, Gent, June 1981.
Track 11 gamelan IX “Evenning of Evennesses” (1977)
Gamelan ensemble Son Of Lion at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation, New York, May 26, 1978, with marching hubcaps.
Track 12 gamelan Birdcount (1989)
played on copper chimes, and gamelan Italy Revisited, III “Regolato” (1978) prepared piano played by the composer, Roulette, N.Y.City, Mar 22, 1981.
Track 13 gamelan = (1981)
Piano solo played by the composer, in the studio of KPFA Berkeley, CA, Dec 1981.
Track 14 gamelan “The Gold Stone” (1985)
Originally for Malcolm Goldstein but here played on the cello by Anton Lukosceviece, 12 April, 2005, Chelsea Space Gallery, London.
Track 15 gamelan Humoresque (1980)
Piano solo by the composer, Livingston College, Rutgers University, Piscataway NJ, May 1, 1981.
Track 16 gamelan Vox (1980)
Ensemble realization by Continuum: Ellen Lang, mezzosoprano; David Krakauer, clarinet; Mia Wu, viola; Cheryl Seltzer, piano; Joel Sachs, piano & director. Berlin, June 6, 1989.

 

 

The brilliant idea by John Noise Manis (aka Giovanni Sciarrino) to organize this selection of “samples” from my gamelan-inspired musics following the order of Moussorgsky’s famous sound-picture gallery, makes particular sense here.  Just as the original “Pictures at an Exhibition” makes sense of a variety of disparate sketches by turning them into an organic whole,  here the all-too-evident singularities of the compositions chosen demonstrate how, on the basis of a unique and simple technical procedure, an extremely wide range of sound-possibilities may be made manifest.

That is, my Gamelan series itself, keeps constant a principle of my compositional work, that each title-definition retains a certain amount of freedom as to realization possibilities, so that each performance must be made anew. Chief among these variables is instrumentation:  conceived and destined for eventual performance by rightly construed gamelan ensembles, each piece may be transcribed for other instruments.  Thus, as pianist I have played many myself, and in duo-keyboard form, and even one for 6-hands.  As a member of Gamelan Son Of Lion based in New York many others have been played by that ensemble.  And there are others.

In addition, there are technical norms, principally a strict equation between spatial (pitch) and temporal (rhythm) organization.

The very first piece, called simply “GAMELAN” comes from 1975, at the instigation of Barbara Benary.  It marked a decisive change in my compositional approach—but wait:  not-at-all in the sense of any “change of style” renunciation, but rather an enrichment by the addition of rational procedures hitherto mostly absent in my work.  So, all the acquisitions of modernism: like dissonant harmonies (tone-clusters, and even noises), silence, repetitive “minimalism”, indeterminacy, both as to parameter choices and in-performance improvisation are retained, while bringing in a rationalization of time-structure with a link to aspects of pitch organization.

At its most basic, this consists of dividing a constant pulse into divisions by half—-in that first piece the “beat” is counted as 64 stretched seconds, adding new parts at 32, then 16, 8, 4, 2, 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8.  Our typical performance was thus carried out to 10 voices.  These come in at ever-ascending pitch-levels, to be chosen depending on the given instruments at every new performance.

This seminal work (known in Java as “the long, slow piece”) is not represented in this collection but may be heard on Alga Marghen’s “3 Pieces for Gamelan Orchestra”.

Representative examples of this procedure apply (although the principle can be admittedly, and admissibly, stretched) can be found, most spectacularly, in  “gamelan S-D”,* for piano duet.

*by the way,  this orthographic formulation is the one preferred by me, from the very beginning of the series, where i began, from #2, to use Roman numerals.  When descriptive names were added they too liked to preserve that carved-in-stone Roman  look;  and eventually i stopped the numbering.   Lower-case  “gamelan”  as prefix shows its belonging to the series beyond the specifics of instrumentation.

Here I started from both ends, the highest and lowest, and in a strictly symmetrical way moved towards the center. The seating arrangement, one pianist behind the other, gives the very image physically of the inherent symmetry, as the intervals go both down and up towards the center, where they meet as a minor 2nd.  Given that it had started as a 5th, harmonic contraction follows the spatial one. And is applied also to dynamics, diminishing.

Ofcourse the speed doubles too at each repetition. The second part, as the exact retrograde, makes it a classical example of binary form. (Only the first half is heard here.)

This same principle inheres in the march here-used as “Promenade”—-how appropriate!    Tracks 1, 3, 5, 8, 11.  (I permit myself to relate that this composition, many times played by Son Of Lion, is of particular satisfaction to me—having as a student failed to write a successful march.)

The beat is, certainly, quite short—-fast enough to feel like moving the feet. The next note in gives the half-beat; and subsequent divisions keep the duple time.  But here’s the rub:  at any time one of the gongs may drop out, leaving a syncopated hole—which must be filled.  So the rhythms get more and more swinging.  Given that the instruments were lined-up in scalar order at first, the procedure progressively disrupts the pitch relations as well.

By the way, the portable gongs here are actually automobile hub-caps, easily had in the concrete jungle that is New York City.  The version (used here 2 times) from the stairwell at 537 Broadway out into the street, from performance at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation, is truly “New Yorker”.  More “world-musicaliy” as it sounds across the open space of the Vancouver Expo, especially as preceded by the true Javanese peaceability of the bonang prelude.

Gamelan VOX manifests the underlying principle in a surprising way. After all, if you can divide by halves you can also do so by increments, giving rise to irrational numbers.

This piece was in fact created as an exercise in the mastery of odd subdivisions, and a mnemonic combining them one-against-the-other is a vocalized component of any performance.  I myself have never carried it beyond six—which is what the performers here do, the guitarist, and the ensemble with soprano, in their separate ways.  The singer, please notice, clearly maintains the coordinated pitch complement, making an attractive melody out of it. The instruments use the same scale too for their doublings (tracks 4 and 16).

As a perhaps amusing additional anecdote i mention my solo version for handbells and body-slaps;  a different sound for each rhythmic level required a different place on the skin, requiring me to strip, which in turn caused a mini-scandal at the WDR studio in Köln when recording for one of Klaus Schöning’s Hörspiele;  and inspired the “Belly Slap Sonata” collage, a portrait of myself by the artist Ben Vautier.

(I might also mention that the series does contain a “gamelan SKIN”, but i play it naked in a different way. Très amusant also, the memory of after-performance in Nice where a local rationalist composer complimented me thus:  “Très intéressante, votre petite étude rhythmique!”

Ah yes, incrementing numbers.  The second piece i wrote in the series (immediately after GAMELAN)  uses a simple arithmetic scale-of-durations.  (Listenable on the CD “The Complete Gamelan in the New World”, Locust Music; or the original Folkways. Vol.2). One hears here for the first time, the translation of notes into verbal utterance—as if the counting system needed any more clarification!  This can create quite an effect when, as when i was invited to lecture at the Arts Academy in Surakarta during my first visit to Java, the group participation carried it to 34 voices—-which i had to learn in the Bahasa Indonesia!

In rehearsal there is always the one person who will lengthen sev-en into two syllables, thus making it an eight!  Such mistakes strike the ear, even out of complex combinations, because of an all-too-obvious synchronicity between two parts.  Easily “cleaned up” in rehearsal.  But, for the memorable performance in Madrid by the Orquesta de las Nubes, a difficulty arose from the 22 tuned flowerpots divided among 11 players;  in spite of all attempts at maximum simplification of the combinations of both hands with separate rhythms, some indivisible countings did present themselves, leaving the leader Pere Estevan with 13 against 21!—-what a musician!

But after the mechanical perfecting, must remain interpretive feeling.  I remember thinking at one point “This is so boring”.  (What to do?)   So i simply said, recalling my Son Of Lion friends back home, whose performance had proved that it was interesting, “It sounds like an exercise:  Suppose you played it like a piece of music.”  “Aha!”  This time with delighted expressions on their faces, and extra-sensitive touchings, you could see then hearing and appreciating the polyrhythmic phasing and contrapuntal conjunction of parts.  To the point where it sounded so good i could not bear to have them stop, even when taking up somuch rehearsal time.  When they stopped, after 50minutes, i could only say “Vale mi viaje en Espana.”  The performance in public lasted not quite so long.

This, the rhythm-scale increments, is clearly heard, albeit in a very different application,  in the Collaboration with Tom Johnson, here played magnificently by Stephen Whittington in Australia, with me.  The increments move out from the center; and the duo-pianists, free to improvise the connections and relations, may make all the possible combinations.  Here as well there is a parallel interval-stretch.

(Mr. Noise Manis’ fragmentary editing makes a delightful effect.)

A more curious manifestation is in gamelan COMING & GOING, played with my favorite student, Evan Schwartzman. The increment-link, high-to-low, is maintained on the chromatic scale of the piano keyboard, giving durations from 1 to 88.  However they are realized in both directions at the same time. And counted out loud.  The rigid structure thus imposes a rather long enduring playing time…..which one either “goes with” or not.

Note that all affective additions are made superfluous.  It remains strong and in dynamic precision throughout.  Even without the explanation the underlying rationale makes itself manifest in a few seconds. Some counts may be blurred but the sense is always obvious.     Starting from the opening “1” and “88” shouted out, the editor here lets the original 36 minutes and 12 seconds run to just 6 minutes. Enough!

gamelan =  (no appropriate pronounceable word was found)  belongs in this world.  Here the increments go backwards to one from high to low together; and then out again.  Dynamic levels coördinated too.

Other pieces treat structure with a bit more fantasy:
gamelan ANTIPODE expresses just that.  The Antipodes!  a recall of Ives’ song asking “Is Nature nothing but eternal cosmic cycles around the perennial antipodes?”      Only the 2 extreme notes may be played-with—a real reduction to essentials, but no reduction of the essences; and with them the extreme dynamics and durations.  Yet these choice combinations of the substantial factors remains to the elements chosen by each performer for a given performance:  thus “minimalistic” while preserving “indeterminacy”, that ultimate space where freedom and necessity concur.

gamelan MAYA  deploys a scale of expressions, liberating the performer to freely feel the effects—-of which Malcolm Goldstein is surely capable. Improvisation here is joined to a structuring  which mirrors, and fosters, that eternal conjuction of self-expression and cosmic-intelligence.  A shame however that the original Maya, pop singer for whom conceived, is not to be heard.

BIRDCOUNT  resounds on the copper chimes, industrial salvage, given to me by the sculptor and long-time collaborator Michel Vogel, while ITALY REVISITED prepares a piano to evoke the memory of bell-ringings heard often in Italy, and takes a cue from their phasing.

The Gold Stone is meant to sound like Malcolm Goldstein (shameless pun on his name)  in his most uninhibited improvisatory moments; yet the presence of a hidden, well-nigh non-inferable rationalizing (he has to count while pretending not-to)  makes his playing indeed subtly different. That Anton Lukoszevieze succeeds as well, in his way, shows that more than one stone may be golden.

gamelan HUMORESQUE is just funny.

 

Complete performances of Philip Corner’s gamelan works, including a special version of gamelan II for bonangan with the number-counts chanted, can be had on the previous, companion edition on the Yantra label, A Corner of Gamelan.

January, 2015

 

Track 1 – promenade 1:11
1978

Track 2 – first picture 2:26
1984

Track 3 – promenade 0:57
1986

Track 4 – second picture 5:12
2002

Track 5 – promenade 0:33
1978

Track 6 – third picture 6:05
1985

Track 7 – fourth picture 3:08
1984

Track 8 – promenade 0:43
1986

Track 9 – fifth picture 2:05
1996

Track 10 – sixth picture 4:53
1981

Track 11 – promenade 1:14
1978

Track 12 – seventh picture 3:19
1981

Track 13 – eighth picture 2:20
1981

Track 14 – ninth picture 4:48
2005

Track 15 – tenth picture 6:44
1981

Track 16 – eleventh picture 6:21
1989

Album concept, editing, and mastering:  John Noise Manis

 

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