November 25, 2007
Here’s a nice treat for the week: original Balinese gamelan music recorded by the Odeon company on their very first trip to Bali in 1928. In fact, the very first Balinese recording session, ever. These records were historic in many ways – they influenced numerous composers of the time, such as Colin McPhee and Benjamin Britten. In turn, further Balinese recordings influenced minimalists and avant-garde composers such as Harry Partch.
Also, during the 1930s, a few examples from these sessions made their way to a famous 78rpm box set called “Music of the Orient.” This box set – kind of a Secret Museum of Mankind of its day – seemed to have a long shelf life. It was originally produced by Odeon, then reproduced by Parlophone and also by Decca in the United States. Every once in a while, you’ll still see a copy, or at least a few errant examples from the set. Today’s recording, however, was not included in that set, and hasn’t been released since 1928 as far as I can tell.
Gendér Wayang is a type of gamelan music that usually accompanies ritual shadow plays (wayang kulit), both in the day and at night. McPhee called it “perhaps the highest, and certainly the most sensitive form of musical expression existing in Bali.” It is played by a quartet (or sometimes a duo) of musicians playing four separate gendér, the Balinese bronze metallophones with bamboo resonators. The players strike the gendér with their mallets while simultaneously dampening the notes with the heels of their hands. This piece, the Pemungkah, is an overture to a shadow play.
For more of these sessions, check out The Roots of Gamelan CD.
Much information was gathered from Nick Gray’s article “”Sulendra”: An Example of Petegak in the Balinese Gendér Wayang Repertory,” British Journal of Ethnomusicology 1, 1992.
ALSO: Please check out friend of the site and fellow fanatic 78rpm collector Ian Nagoski’s fantastic Black Mirror CD, just released by the fine people at Dust-to-Digital. His choices are excellent and intriguing, and it’s a true labor of love. What else could be better?
Issue Number: A204764
Matrix Number: Jab 555