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Music for Javanese Gamelan

I first took classes in Javanese gamelan music in 1979, in Ann Arbor, MI, under the tutelage of Prof. Judith Becker, on the Univeristy of Michigan Gamelan Ensemble's set of instruments, Kyai Telaga Madu. I was at that time an undergraduate student majoring in music composition at the University. That began a long sojourn in gamelan musical studies, performance, teaching, and ethnomusicology, which culminated later in a Fulbright Grant to study gamelan music in Surakarta (Solo), as a composer rather than an ethnomusicology researcher, in 1985-1986; and, later, graduate studies and a teaching assistantship with the Javanese Gamelan Ensemble at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, under Prof. R. Anderson Sutton.

Since I am primarily a composer and experimental musician, it was inevitable tha I would eventually begin to approach the gamelan instruments in a compostional and experimental manner. All the music on this webpage is a product of those musical explorations, ranging from gendhing composed in a more-or-less traditional style, to adventurous experimental music using the gamelan instruments as pure sound-sources, not wedded to the traditional music theory or techniques of playing.

As an extra bonus, and to set the sonic stage, here's a soundscape from Java:

During a visit to the Banyumas region of western Java, I was able to go out into the ricefields one night and record the frogs, insects and other night sounds. The interlocking sounds of croaking frogs were, in Javanese and Balinese mythology, the origin and inspiration for gamelan music, with its layered cyclic melodies. Kodok ngorek means "croaking frogs," and is also the title for a piece in the traditional Javanese gamelan repertoire; it also refers to a way of playing gamelan wherein two players play interlocking parts to create an additive melody, a direct evocation of the mythological origin of the music itself. Here is an excerpt of frogs in the rice paddy fields in the early morning hours, Purwokerto, Banyumas, Central java, Indonesia, early 1986:

Kodok ngorek

Please note: All of the recordings on this webpage were originally made on analog tape equipment. Even under the best recording conditions possible, and with moise removal undertaken during the process of digitizing these recordings, some small defects will still be apparent to the careful listener. Please accept out apologies for these imperfections.

Gamelan was and remains a strong influence on my music, as composer, performer, and sound designer. Some of the music-theoretical concepts of Central Javanese, Banyumas, and Sundanese gamelan styles have become so ingrained that I can hear them emerge even when I play jazz, or, more relevantly, when I compose for Chapman Stick, which is now my princiapl instrument.

I remain profoundly grateful to Dr. Judith Becker, director of the Javanese Gamelan Ensemble at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, at that time, for her support and trust. I am also grateful to Dr. R. Anderson Sutton, director of the Javanese Gamelan Ensemble at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, for his support. Also, the Gamelan Composers' Group at UW-Madison was of tremendous support and encouragement during the brief period of its existence. There was a strong interest in new music for gamelan, and individually and collectively we created pieces in a wide range styles, and using a wide range of techniques and conceptual procedures.

Featured on this webpage are numerous recordings of these various new musics for gamelan, recorded in Ann Arbor, Surakarta, and Madison. For the most part I recorded these myself, using a high-end Audio-Technica microphone and a Marantz 420 high-end field cassette recorder; I used this recording setup for over a decade, until digital recording supplanted it.

I have numerous cassette and reel master tapes which I intend to digitize and share on this website and podcast, from my extensive back catalog of performances, improvisations, and compositions.

Please note: These recordings are all originally analog recordings. I have cleaned them up in the process of digitizing them, but some audio flaws remain unavoidably present.

Composed Gendhing-gendhing by Arthur Durkee

In 1985 to 1986, I spent a year living and studying in Surakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, as a Fulbright Student grantee. I worked closely with gamelan musicians for many months, learning and recording, and towards the end of my stay was able to set up a recording session for three pieces for gamelan I had composed previously. Autumnsong had been written in Ann Arbor, prior to visiting Indonesia, and the other two pieces were written during my stay in Solo.

Each piece is experimental in a different way. Autumnsong was inspired by Indian classical music, and uses a twisting balungan melody in pelog, in almost Western song-form. Ladragn Gerongan is a more typical balungan, but the piece was written to explore the possibility of multiple layers of simultaneous (polyphonic) gerongan. NightWaters is a purely instrumental piece in a purely melodic style, which I have come to recognize is an approach typical of my more recent compositional style. (An early example of a mature style? Not for me to judge.)

The three pieces below were recorded in the evening, just before and after sunset, by faculty and student friends at STSI Surakarta, Central Java, 19 September 1986. On NightWaters, you can hear the night sounds of the region in the background.


Ladrang Gerongan



New Music for Javanese Gamelan Instruments

SH/AD (Arthur Durkee & Stuart Hinds)

Music for Javanese Gamelan Instruments

Gangsa (1983 concert version)

Current & Modern Consort concert series—premiere
Pendleton Room, Michigan Union, Ann Arbor
6 November 1983

Arthur Durkee, Stuart Hinds, gamelan instruments

Gangsa: gong/kempul improvisation

Burton Memorial Tower, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
summer 1984

Two solo structured improvisations for pelog and slendro instruments, played individually and together. Both pieces use traditional and extended playing techniques, and involve slow and sustained changes over time.

Recorded at UW-Madison, WI, October 18, 1989

AD: gender improv
Madison, WI
October 18, 1989

AD kempul shapes

Gamelan Composers' Group, Madison, WI

For about two years, several members of the Javanese Gamelan Ensemble at UW-Madison were interested in writing and performing new music for Javanese gamelan. Both supported and encouraged by the ensemble's directors, this sub-group met for extra rehearsals on a regular basis, and write and performed several new works ranging in style from fairly traditional to process-based aleatoric compositons. Many new works were eventually featured in public performance at two gamelan concerts at UW-Madison, as part of the regular performance series. In addition, we organized two recording sessions at the gamelan's home rehearsal room in the Humanities Building, to give everyone as clean a recording of their piece as was possible.

October Light


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