Collections of themed recordings curated by John Noise Manis

GAMELAN BACH

I Putu Gede Sukaryana (Balot) and Sanggar Kembang Ceraki

 

Sanggar Kembang Ceraki - Gamelan Bach

 

I Putu Gede Sukaryana (b. 1987) or Balot as he is better known among his peers, is a musician and composer from the village of Beraban in Tabanan regency. Like most Balinese musicians with conservatory training his competence in gamelan music is broad. He is an active performer with proficiency in multiple gamelan repertoires as well as experience as a tablist. From large state-sponsored festivals and competitions to performances associated with the social obligations (ngayah) of his local village and temple communities across Bali, he is also versed in a wide range of performance settings. As a principal member of the established arts group (sanggar) Ceraken, he has both performed and composed new works that challenge the distinction between tradition (tradisi) and modern (moderen)—terms with distinct connotations in Bali. His versatility as a musician and interest in musics globally (specifically Indian Hindustani and Carnatic traditions and Western art music) forms a wide sonic palette from which he draws inspiration in his own creativity.

As a talented and aspiring artist on Bali, he navigates the disparate demands associated with being a full-time musician—a life he has chosen. At the age of 15, when many of his peers decided to attend the local vocational high school that would prepare them for jobs in the tourism industry, he made the bold choice to pursue his interest in gamelan at the more distant high school of the performing arts (SMKI) in Batubulan, Gianyar—a one hour commute from his home near Tanah Lot (hence the nickname Ba- Lot). Citing a desire to broaden his horizons, he made this decision in spite of his father’s suggestion to attend the local high school. Upon arriving at the conservatory, however, he faced an unexpected reality: most of the students enrolled at the school had far more experience with gamelan. He recalls initially feeling intimidated, but this soon waned. By the end of his two-year course of study he had proved himself a talented and capable musician and established considerable rapport with one of the school’s faculty members, the internationally renowned eccentric, musician, and composer I Madé Subandi.

Anyone fortunate enough to witness Subandi and Balot together will instantly recognize the bond that has developed between the two. Subandi is nothing short of a musical iconoclast within Balinese music. In an environment replete with politics, corruption, and self-importance, he goes against the herd in a manner that appears as effortless as it is effective—nobody within his orbit escapes unscathed. His effect on Balot has not been restricted to the musical, as Balot reflects most appreciatively on the impact Subandi has had on his attitude towards life and creativity more generally. In 2006, immediately after graduating from SMKI, Balot began to participate in Subandi’s Sanggar Ceraken. The group reflects Subandi’s personality and is thus a place that harbors technical skill and prolific creative output without the pretense that typically follows. Here creativity is light and refined, group solidarity is natural instead of forced, and process is as important and enjoyable as product. Ultimately, Subandi has created a unique space where established and aspiring artists are encouraged to explore new creative possibilities. At Ceraken Balot also had the opportunity to teach children’s gamelan groups (2006-2010) and garner experience working with foreigners, both as a teacher and collaborator. Many of Ceraken’s projects, including the earlier Gamelan Cage (2013) release on this series, involve artists from abroad, and without a doubt they have played a part in cultivating his unique approach to creativity.

Coinciding with his invitation to join Ceraken, Balot began working towards a higher degree in music at the Denpasar Institute for the Arts (ISI Denpasar). In 2008 he travelled to India with the school group and returned home with tabla, which have since become an important part of his musical life. Later that same year, and motivated by recent encounters with Indian classical music, he composed the piece Jugalbandi. Drawing inspiration from a concept in Indian classical music of the same name, which refers to dynamic interaction between performers, the piece includes gamelan selonding and semar pegulingan executing call and response passages. As the title also suggests, the piece is a tribute to Subandi (Jugal- bandi).

In 2009 Balot undertook his final examination (ujian) at ISI, which involved creating a new work to be evaluated by a panel of faculty judges. In the months leading up to the exam he developed a radical idea and consulted several established composers about his ambitions. This included Subandi and Balot’s advisor at ISI, I Madé Arnawa—who contributed Gamelan Stravinsky (2015) to this series. Both confessed that Balot would have to choose between good marks or remaining faithful to his ideas. Balot chose the latter. His new work, Ri.Tik (ritma =rhythm, ketik =type), which involved a typewriter, gamelan instruments, and his personal computer, was inspired by a TV program in which a journalist reported that the laptop his son recently brought home failed to inspire him to write to the same degree as the typewriter it replaced. Balot aimed to communicate through his composition that new technologies needn’t render earlier technologies obsolete, stating ‘we should respect the past…it doesn’t matter how modern a new technology will make you appear if it lacks a connection to your brain…don’t change just because everyone else is’. The piece wasn’t a critique of new technology per se, but instead a critique of those that looked down on others who fail to live up to their expectations of modernity. According to Balot, each person makes use of methods that correspond to their individual lived experiences and thus they should be free from such judgement.

After graduating from ISI, Balot worked closely with the gamelan group in his local banjar (hamlet) and was invited to compose several pieces for groups participating in competitions. Free from the time constraints that accompany higher education, he also began to spend a bulk of his time performing as a professional musician. In 2012 he worked with Ceraken on the Gamelan Cage project under the artistic direction of Andrew C. McGraw, and in 2013, the Gamelan Stravinsky project directed by Balot’s former adviser, I Madé Arnawa. Shortly after the Gamelan Stravinsky project came to an end, Arnawa invited Balot to participate in a composition project funded by the Kelola Foundation. The criteria for the compositions, as outlined by Arnawa, required that composers create pieces appropriate for performances associated with religious observance (a bulk of the performance opportunities for gamelan music on Bali). Drawing inspiration from a private manuscript on composition written by Arnawa, which included ideas for creating compositions using images, Balot realized an experimental piece of music generated from the Balinese Onkara (symbol for OM). The piece, titled Genta Hrdaya, was performed on a gamelan selonding and is featured on Yantra Productions’ Gamelan Taruna Mekar (2015).

In 2013 Balot composed Anomali, an exploration (explorasi) for reong (a series of small horizontally suspended gongs played by several musicians). The piece was inspired by the internationally renowned Indonesian composer Slamet Abdul Sjukur (1935—2015), whose ideas have circulated widely among young Balinese composers for some time but have only recently been incorporated into the local conservatory’s curriculum. Balot was particularly inspired by Sjukur’s minimax ideas, which stress that the limitations within which a composer works are not to be interpreted as obstacles to a composition’s success but challenges to be overcome. The goal is to achieve maximal results from a limited material reality. In an era when performances at the state-sponsored festivals grow larger every year, requiring ever more personnel (musicians, dancers, and other production staff)—best represented by the emergence of the performance genre gamelan colossal (requiring >50 performers)—Balot, like many of his peers, finds greater satisfaction working with smaller groups, which is an approach compatible with Sjukur’s minimax ideas. For Anomali, Balot worked with three musicians and created a unique and rich texture generated from predetermined rhythmic patterns executed on a circular formation of small gongs. Part way through the piece, and without interrupting the texture, the musicians begin to circumambulate the formation of gongs such that the pitches available to each player shift as they move around the circle. The piece is intricate and engaging, and because of its minimal performance requirements—few musicians and easily transportable instruments—it has enjoyed repeated performances. Among these were presentations at GEOKS in 2013, the Bali Arts Festival (Pesta Kesenian Bali) in 2014 and 2015, and multiples performances in Vancouver, Canada between 2017 and 2018.

In September 2016 Balot co-founded the Insitu Recordings project, a record label/collective that explores new ways to engage with gamelan music through recording and distribution. From September 2017 to April 2018 he was a visiting artist at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada. During his eight-month-stay he taught a course in Balinese gamelan at the university and worked with several community groups, including Gamelan Gita Asmara and Gamelan Bike-Bike. He also completed two new compositions, Kala Raung for Gamelan Gita Asmara, and Semaremaja for Gamelan Bike-Bike.

 

 

Sanggar Kembang Ceraki - Gamelan Bach

 

 

About Sanggar Kembang Ceraki

Balot formed Sanggar Kembang Ceraki at his home in Tabanan regency in 2008. The name of the group, meaning ‘flower of Ceraken’, signifies Balot’s desire to honor Ceraken, which fostered an approach to creativity that he associates with most cultivating his musicality. Kembang Ceraki performs on a selonding—modeled after selonding in Tenganan village and constructed by the late I Nyoman Parta Gunawan—and the gamelan semar pegulingan heard on this record as well as Gamelan Scarlatti (2017).

 

 

Sanggar Kembang Ceraki - Gamelan Bach

 

 

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685—1750) is one of the most renowned composers of all time. His works, which are primarily associated with the Baroque period of Western art music, are among the most widely studied in the Western canon and are performed regularly throughout the world. Although his celebrity extends across the globe today, he led a relatively pious and provincial life in the area surrounding Eisenach, present-day Germany, where he was born in 1685. Religion played an important role in the development of his musicality and provided much of the impetus for him to create. Surviving annotations in his own hand reveal a strong desire to connect with the transcendent by serving God through music. This is reflected in the sacred and devotional nature of many of his works. Unlike many of his contemporaries, including George Frideric Handel, who achieved international recognition within his own lifetime and travelled widely, enjoying broad cultural experiences, Bach’s life and work was restricted almost entirely to an area just 90 miles square. Although he did not live to see his works celebrated outside the German speaking world, today his musical legacy exhibits a remarkable degree of appeal that appears to only increase with spatial and temporal distance. Historically speaking, his music has been described as a “multifaceted mirror of Western civilization (Erickson 2009: 33).” Bach was aware of the historical currents that guided his work. He felt connected to earlier Western thought and situated within medieval, liturgical, and musical legacies. Tapping into these movements, he also pushed them forward. We might say that his creative output captured what came before and did it with wide enough aesthetic appeal to carry it across the globe and into the present.

 

The Art of the Fugue is a collection of 15 fugues and 4 canons composed in the last decade of Bach’s life and published posthumously. Although it has been subjected to a great deal of scholarly scrutiny since first being published in 1751, consensus surrounding many aspects of its production has never been achieved. Its exact purpose, for example, is uncertain, and the jury is still out on whether all of the fugues and canons were completed before Bach’s death. Some specialists suggest the fugues and canons were intellectual exercises with didactic aims, while others argue they were intended to be performed on keyboard instruments. Regardless of the intentions that guided their construction, most share the sentiment that they are among the greatest examples of contrapuntal artistry ever produced. Raymond Erickson perhaps best characterizes their magnificence when he says:

The Art of the Fuguea universe unto itself of the contrapuntist’s art, perhaps somewhat abstract and didactic, yet awesome in the inexorable and systematic way the master reveals his total technical command of imitative counterpoint (2009: 51).”

All of the included fugues and canons are based on the following subject or some variation of it:
Sanggar Kembang Ceraki - Gamelan Bach
This subject is representative of ‘free’ composition—making use of original, freely invented, thematic material—as opposed to ‘bound’ composition, which draws from pre-existing melodies. Fully realized, each fugue consists of four voices written on separate staves. Canons consist of only two voices.

Giovanni Sciarrino (A.K.A John Noise Manis) is no stranger to gamelan music or sparking cross-stylistic and cross-cultural creativity. He believes cross-cultural musical development is most successful when ‘classic masterpieces’ serve as the seeds to creativity, rather than the ‘solitary auto-inspiring self-gratifying state of the composer’. To the purists he says ‘a valid re-creation of a classic work should be considered an addition rather than a substitution’.

Sciarrino began the project by producing preliminary arrangements of seven fugues and two canons from The Art of the Fugue using a ‘Closest Western Approximation’ (CWA) of Balot’s seven-tone gamelan semar pegulingan. Due to complications posed by realizing 12-tone music on seven-tone instruments this required creative solutions when pitches in the original score were outside the CWA. Sciarrino developed a number of strategies for handling these pitches and dealt with each individually, often testing several alternatives before settling on the alteration he believed was most faithful to Bach’s intentions. He also made bold creative decisions when arranging each of the four voices from the original score, often having a single voice switch instruments within a composition.

 

Closest Western Approximation (CWA)
C# D E F# G# A B
A Major / F# minor

 

Before the project began Balot decided he wanted to share the creative role with other members of Sanggar Kembang Ceraki. After receiving recordings of Sciarrino’s preliminary arrangements he distributed them to his group. Each member listened to them independently before they held a meeting to discuss how to approach the project as well as who would lead the realization of each piece. Together they decided Balot would arrange five of the nine pieces and four other members of the group would arrange one each. They also decided that Balot would realize his arrangements first so other arrangers could witness his approach.

During early rehearsals of Balot’s first arrangement (Contrapunctus XIV, track 9), the group faced unexpected obstacles. Balot had attempted to approach the material in the same manner he used to tackle Gamelan Scarlatti (2017), but this proved to be extremely inefficient. Bach’s lengthy contrapuntal lines were extraordinarily difficult to memorize. Subtle and frequent variations within voices challenged the group’s ability to remain coordinated. Though Balot preferred working without notation, it soon became apparent that notation would be necessary to complete the project in a reasonable amount of time. Partway through rehearsals of the first composition Balot acquiesced. Using only the recordings sent from Italy Balot worked through each piece alone, carefully notating each line in a form of Balinese notation. This strategy required that he approach the creative process in advance, severely limiting his ability to develop the material on the fly—the creative process he is most accustomed to and prefers. Despite this limitation, Balot occasionally reshaped melodic lines to make them ‘closer to what feels natural in Balinese gamelan’.

A similar process was utilized by nearly all of the arrangers. Yan Priya Kumara Janardhana (Janu), however, decided to consult the original score (Contrapunctus I, track 1). He arranged the piece for a set of instruments that included Balot’s seven-tone semar pegulingan, a selonding ensemble, and two suling (flutes). This allowed him access to pitches outside the restricted seven-tone pitch gamut of the semar pegulingan. In addition to re-achieving all of the pitches in the original score, Janu added jegogan (bass) tones and passages of Balinese kotekan (interlocking melodies).

In some cases recordings of the rehearsal process were sent to Sciarrino in Italy for feedback. Tuning issues in the suling and rebab voices, which proved challenging for the musicians to play in a manner that satisfied the rigorous tuning conventions of a Western classical ear, were frequent concerns.

 

The Gamelan

The gamelan instruments heard on this recording are drawn from Sanggar Kembang Ceraki’s seven-tone gamelan semar pegulingan—completed in 2015 and augmented with new iron instruments in 2016. These instruments are host to unusual carvings of human faces, each displaying a different emotion, and a unique tuning. When ordering the bronze keys Balot told the pandé (metal-smith) that he wanted a tuning similar to the five-tone pelegongan of Banjar Binoh Kaja, in the village of Ubung Kaja, North Denpasar, but that he also had intentions of collaborating with Western musicians. Thus, the five-tone selesir mode (keys 123-56 on Balot’s semar pegulingan) is loosely based on the Binoh pelegongan (also tuned to selisir), while the two remaining pitches (4 and 7) were added by the pandé according to his taste and Balot’s plans for the instruments. The pelegongan in Binoh is lower than most semar pegulingan, and as a result Balot’s semar pegulingan is also lower. An influence of Western tuning is also apparent. The highest octave is very near to a Western diatonic scale. In fact, when Sciarrino measured the tuning of the gamelan in order to establish the ‘Closest Western Approximation’ (CWA), he was struck by how similar the tuning was to A Major / F# minor.

In 2016, just as the Gamelan Bach project was getting underway, Sciarrino offered to pay for three new iron instruments to augment Balot’s semar pegulingan. Balot was eager to add new instruments that would allow additional experimentation and enthusiastically agreed. Taking inspiration from selonding ensembles three new instruments beginning on different notes of the seven-tone scale utilized by Balot’s semar pegulingan were conceived. These new instruments expand Balot’s semar pegulingan by six pitches and will allow him to use interlocking techniques from selonding in future compositions.

 

Iron Instruments:

 

 

highest pitch on semar pegulingan

 
 

scale degrees

3

4

5

6

7

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

1

2

3

4

5

6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

iron gangsa 1

3

4

5

6

7

1

2

3

4

5

iron gangsa 2

2

3

4

5

6

7

1

2

3

4

iron gangsa 3

4

5

6

7

1

2

3

4

5

6

These new iron instruments can be heard on Canone II (track 8), Contrapunctus V (track 3), Contrapunctus IX (track 4), Contrapunctus X (track 5), Contrapunctus XI (track 6), and Contrapunctus XIV (track 9).

 

Track Notes
 

1. Contrapunctus I – arranged by Yan Priya

Kumara Janrdhana

Gender rambat + I Putu Gede Sukaryana

nyongnyong ageng

Gender rambat + I Putu Arya Deva Suryanegara

nyongnyong alit

Jublag + penem + I Gede Putu Resky Gita Adhi petuduh Pratista

Jublag + penem + I Komang Pasek Wijaya

petuduh

Jegog I Gede Putu Gita Kumara Putra

Jegog I Putu Purwwangsa Nagara

Kantil I Putu Suta Muliartawan

Kantil Ida Bagus Hery Yoga Permadi

Suling I Wayan Situbanda

Suling I Wayan Ari Widyantara
 

2. Contrapunctus III – arranged by I Putu Gede Sukaryana

Gangsa Yan Priya Kumara Janardhana

Kantil I Wayan Situbanda

Jublag I Wayan Ari Widyantara

Jegog I Putu Arya Deva Suryanegara
 

3. Contrapunctus V – arranged by I Wayan Ari Widyantara

Iron gangsa 1 I Wayan Situbanda

Iron gangsa 2 I Putu Wahyu Andika

Kantil I Gede Putu Resky Gita Adhi Pratista

Gender Rambat I Komang Winantara

Jegog I Komang Pasek Wijaya

Jegog I Wayan Gede Surya Adi Putra
 

4. Contrapunctus IX – arranged by I Wayan Situbanda

Gender Rambat I Putu Wahyu Andika

Kantil I Wayan Gede Surya Adi Putra

Iron gangsa 1 I Komang Winantara

Iron gangsa 3 I Wayan Ari Widyantara

Jegog I Gede Putu Resky Gita Adhi Pratista

Jegog I Komang Pasek Wijaya
 

5. Contrapunctus X – arranged by I Putu Gede Sukaryana

Suling I Wayan Situbanda

Suling Yan Priya Kumara Janardhana

Iron gangsa 1 I Wayan Ari Widyantara

Iron gangsa 2 I Gede Putu Resky Gita Adhi Pratista

Gangsa I Putu Arya Deva Suryanegara

Kantil I Komang Pasek Wijaya
 

6. Contrapunctus XI – arranged by I Putu Gede Sukaryana

Suling + gangsa I Wayan Situbanda

Suling + iron gangsa 2 I Wayan Ari Widyantara

Suling + iron gangsa 3 I Putu Arya Deva Suryanegara

Rebab Yan Priya Kumara Janardhana

Iron gangsa 1 I Kadek Priadi Sentosa

Jegog I Gede Putu Resky Gita Adhi Pratista

Jegog I Komang Pasek Wijaya

Gong I Putu Gede Sukaryana
 

7. Canone I – arranged by I Putu Gede Sukaryana

Gangsa + jublag Yan Priya Kumara Janardhana

Gangsa + kantil I Wayan Ari Widyantara

Suling I Wayan Situbanda

Suling I Putu Arya Deva Suryanegara

Tabla I Putu Gede Sukaryana
 

8. Canone II – arranged by I Putu Arya Deva Suryanegara

Gender rambat I Putu Gede Sukaryana

Iron gangsa 3 Yan Priya Kumara Janrdhana

Jublag I Gede Putu Gita Kumara Putra

Jublag I Putu Purwwangsa Nagara

Reyong I Putu Suta Muliartawan

Reyong Ida Bagus Hery Yoga Permadi

Kajar I Putu Arya Deva Suryanegara
 

9. Contrapunctus XIV – arranged by I Putu Gede Sukaryana

Iron gangsa 3 + cymbal I Wayan Situbanda

Iron gangsa 1 I Wayan Ari Widyantara

Gangsa Yan Priya Kumara Janardhana

Jublag I Putu Arya Deva Suryanegara

Jegog I Gede Putu Resky Gita Adhi Pratista

Jegog I Komang Pasek Wijaya

 

References

Personal communication with Giovanni Sciarrino (A.K.A John Noise Manis) September 2015 – April 2016

Personal communication with I Putu Gede Sukaryana (Balot) September 2015 – April 2018

Erickson, Raymond. “Introduction: The Legacies of J.S. Bach,” In The Worlds of Johann Sebastian Bach, ed. Raymond Erickson, 1-64. New York: Amadeus Press, 2009.

Milka, Anatoly, Rethinking J.S. Bach’s The Art of the Fugue. Trans. from Russian by Marina Ritzarev. Ed. Esti Sheinberg. New York: Routledge. 2017.

Tenzer, Michael. Gamelan Gong Kebyar: The Art of Twentieth Century Balinese-Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2000.

 

Credits

Recorded by I Putu Gede Sukaryana (Balot) and Jonathan Adams in Desa Beraban, Banjar Batugaing Kaja, Tabanan during four sessions.

Mixed and mastered in Italy by Giovanni Sciarrino (A.K.A. John Noise Manis)

Concept and preliminary arrangements – Giovanni Sciarrino (A.K.A John Noise Manis)

Liner notes, liaison, photography, additional mixing, video production – Jonathan Adams