Released in 1996, the appropriately titled Gamelan as a Second Language CD features six pieces written for Javanese gamelan by American composer David Demnitz. All of the pieces are played by Gamelan Son of Lion, a new music repertory ensemble formed in 1976 and based in downtown New York City. We’re talking some serious cross-cultural pollination here, folks, via minimalist process pieces combined with Afro-Cuban rhythms. In the first track, “Pick Your Notes,” GSOL tick-tocks out layers of austere, pinging, clanking Western rhythms that sound nothing like their Balinese or Javanese counterparts, augmented with truncated filigrees of a distorted electric guitar which veers sharply from melody to freely improvised noise clouds.
Inspired by the ongoing struggle between graffiti writers and the police in New York City, “Graffiti Removal,” like the opening track, reveals a veritable layer cake of complex Western rhythms. The “graffiti” is gradually erased as the players “systematically omit notes of their choosing until silence ensues.” Of course, it doesn’t take long for the graffiti or the music to resume. Inspired by the motion of a clock’s second hand, “Second Hand” sounds like an entrancing investigation of a microtonal scale. “Contrary Motion” is similar, but slower and more sparse, containing more chords and maybe fewer single notes.
Next up comes “Sixties.” You may think the title refers to the decade of the same name that has garnered way too much attention ever since it originally happened, but no, this title refers to a rhythmic cycle of 60 beats. So, take that, smug Baby Boomers! This piece picks up the pace established by the first two tracks, then gets all soft and slow and Twilight Zone-y. The CD draws to a close with “Pendulum,” which was inspired by a Faucoult pendulum, and evokes a very spare mood similar to “Second Hand.” Then there’s the CD booklet. That thing doesn’t mess around! It just dives straight into the bare bones liner notes / scores for all the pieces, and that’s pretty much it–and it comes all tied up with the spiffy graphic design of Michael Sumner. (No credit for art direction is given–I just know and admire his style.)
Label: GSOL Records Catalog Number: GSOL CD-2 Format: CD Packaging: Jewel case Tracks: 6 Total Time: 59:25 Country: United States Released: 1996 More: Gamelan Son of Lion
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