New World Rec. Evan Ziporyn & Gamelan Galak Tika (US,2000)****'
After studying Western composition at Yale University, having hung with jazz scene for a while, Evan Ziporyn continued searching for a world where he would feel comfortable in, to have a wide enough world of expressions. Coincidence led him to the gamelan ensemble in North California, Sekar Jaya, for which he became a member from 1988 and started to learn everything from Balinese music, until he was able to teach and perform well. After a process of understanding, he felt that the gamelan music would not be understood fully and directly by an American public within this ensemble, so he developed ideas how to make this bridge possible. After leaving Sekar Jaya, he established his own ensemble called the Galak Tika Ensemble (the name is Balinese for “passionate and wild”, a great name when it also becomes associated with the American SF-series of Star Trek and its spaceship “Battlestar Gallactica”). With this new group he records his compositions. First he collaborated with Balinese composer I Nyoman Windha (with two compositions, of which one is on next listed album).
Evan Ziporyn succeeds well to make this bridge. His whole range of previous cooperations, with the worlds he was in, clearly helped him to form his ideas and approach, which now nicely holds the middle between a heritage of Balinese traditional music, classical contemporary music and thoughtful avant-garde experimental new music on the edge of rock. There are small elements of subtle contra-attacking themes and dissonances, which become part of a more total harmonious composition, with attention to communicative overtones, played in a jazz-like improvisation with gamelan, a tonal instrument that remains most often a fundament, but not always. Some of the dialoguing themes are processed samplers which Mark Perlman brilliantly describes -(it “eats up the whole gamelan and spits it out again”,) it changing pitch and interacting like another instrument. Also similar instruments like gamelan are combined.
The group Galak Tika also performed with groups like Kronos Quartet, Bang On A Can, Wu Man, and so on..
Evan Ziporyn also is a bass clarinettist and composer for Bang On A Can All-Stars (reviews of Bang On A Can related releases on next & next page). He worked with Glenn Branca, Nick Didkovsky (some album is reviewed on next page), Arnold Dreyblatt, Brian Eno, Louis Andriessen, Henry Threadgill, Hermeto Pasoal, and Ralph Shapey, and is a soloist with Steve Reich. He also is a conductor for Ensemble Modern. He also recorded with many artists (ranging from Paul Simon to Tony Scott).
New Albion Rec. Evan Ziporyn : Typical Music (US,2005)***°'
I was especially interested to hear Evan Ziporyn’s piece of gamelan performed by Galak Tika together with a full orchestra. Evan for me had already proved he was capable of fusing very different worlds of ideas, like the essence of music on Indonesian gamelan well with other styles and instruments. This piece is the last track on the CD, an over 14 minute track. Before that are two series of compositions: piano music, and music performed by the Arden Trio. I thought at first that orchestrated tracks like the last one should make a full CD perhaps too expensive to make, but then it would also be impressively ambitious. Instead I think the combination of compositions might reveal more of Evan’s compositional skills, which it did. Especially some of the piano pieces reveal almost mathematical ideas mixed with different crossovers of ideas and sound exploration reduced into separate compositions, brilliantly performed by Sarah Cahill.
The first piano piece sounds for a large part like a rather contemporary version of a Middle Eastern theme on piano, a bit comparable to the last century’s Gurdjiev/De Hartman’s pieces, with a few romantic shifts. The second piece sounds like it is being built around with one prepared note and an improvisation around it, freeing itself on the rhythmical pulse of the note. This evolves to a jazzy-swinging melody mixed with a filmic theme, that when freed into its own melody in the end is able to leave this one note behind. Brilliant. The third piece could have been composed on guitar first, as one emphasized note on a string, and a chord slow strum of echoing strings with some playing around it (all played from inside the piano?). This piece builds up nicely with some variations around this theme, like meditative mathematics mixed with an experiment inspired from a musical ear to sounds. The last, longest piano piece is a rhythmically-clustered structural minimalism, dancing forward with pleasure. This is followed into orchestrated chamber-pieces led by piano ideas of which the arrangements of the chamber orchestra relate at first mostly to the piano composed melodies.
My favourite piece (although some piano pieces surprised me, and might win my enthusiasm after more listens) this still is the gamelan/orchestra track, “Ngaben”, which builds up with gamelan in an Indonesian scale, while an orchestrated tension (by strings and trumpet) builds up from underneath it. This unfolds further with certain contra-tensions, moving also its rhythmic space and more direct rhythmic tension, with higher pitched string led waves of harmonies, as well as bass lines of waves of orchestrations, until a violent break which was led by gamelan, creating a vibrating bombastic chaos that breaks the contra-tensions apart, and more filmic harmonies-driven orchestration unfolds, this time led by the orchestra, as the new lead voice (now when it’s tempered), with additional singing bowl-alike gamelan pitches, until this dies out moodily.
Airplane Ears Music Gamelan Galak Tika :
Bronze Age Space Age (US/JP/HK,2006-2009)****
-featuring Ensemble Robot & Camerata Gamelanica-
Gamelan Galak Tika Ensemble was founded and led by composer Evan Ziporyn from whom I have reviewed a few releases before. The gamelan-based ensemble is dedicated to commissioning and performing new works by Balinese and American composers, especially mixed ensembles of gamelan with Western instruments, besides they also perform traditional Balinese music with dancers.
One of the composers the band worked with was Christine Southworth who recorded the first piece on this album in cooperation with some additional soloists and also a series of musical robots. She herself is the co-founder and Director of Ensemble Robot, an ensemble that works with robots and automated music. For this track were used the robots that are called the Bot(i)Cello, Blobot, Whirlybot and the Heliphon (pictures attached). The additional soloists played violin, electric bass and electric guitar.
For this piece, Christine Southworth investigated the sounds, metallic timbre and rhythms of the gamelan and compared it to certain musical ideas from ‘metal’ genre of music, while investigating their approach from the early hard rock days until the nineties. In that way she found the idea of an expansion to the gamelan foundation that was able to harmonize and to fuse different worlds together. I do not recognize too much from the metal genre itself, but there is some electric guitar added which melts perfectly as a new addition. Further more is added some, at times off-key violin and also certain strange descending and ascending balance-seeking notes of improvisations (performed by or on the robots?), with results that tend to take a different key compared to the pentatonic scale of the gamelan, still meeting each other very well every time again after a moment of altered confusion that only was there to bewilder us and renew our attention, tickle our curiosity, creating a moment that might indeed have widened possibilities or did it simply shortly confuse us, leaving in the end a question mark behind whether its tradition and patterns seems to have been changed in its essence already or not?....
On this album, not only an expansion of the usual way of playing the gamelan is shown with an enhancement of its sonic range that has been worked out, like on the first track, by adding new combinations, in some other tracks the way of playing itself has been changed as well.
“Rice-Combo” (by Po-Chun Wang) sounds a bit more like a studio project idea, with a carefully and subtly worked out a gamelan theme, while having mixed it with elements of white noise, whirly sounds, electronic sounds or a deformed gamelan element, with also a second main theme of spoken word samples taken from “good things to eat” (by Rufus), a text about vegetarian salad, weaving into the rest.
This smoothly glides into “Agak-Agak”, composed by Ramon Castillo. Also this piece is arranged with subtle electro-acoustic sounds with its own stereo-effects, some accordion, samples and rhythms. It thoroughly becomes a moody and more melodically theme piece with different instruments used for it and with a steady rhythm. This rhythm is not only driven by the gamelans but also by electric bass and electronic and electro-acoustic rhythmic sounds, adding an extra layer of texture that is working independently too. Also the accordion participates to this idea. The piece is alternated by more ambient modes. This track sounds in fact more like modern alternative music. Also radio-like voices are mixed in rhythmically with the rest of the sounds.
On the last track, “ssss” (by Midori Matsuo), the gamelan itself seems to be played in a different way compared to the Indonesian approach, as if being inspired anew, from a new starting point. The emphasis lies on different accents and spaces, something that is interesting to hear. In a way, throughout the track, the traditional approach and the new character combine themselves with oneanother.