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Thursday, October 31, 2013


You may know that I'm obsessed with Balinese gamelan music! You may also know that I'm obsessed with octopuses! Well here is a painting combining these two interests:

The inspiration for this was the idea that the gamelan is made up of separate instruments/ parts whose aim is essentially to function as a single organism--absolute fluid unity is the goal. Naturally this made me think of the octopus, whose arms can all function independently of one another (more than half of an octopus's nerves are in the arms, and arm movement doesn't ultimately need to be controlled by the brain), but belong to a single organism. Plus I thought this picture would be hilarious.

Here are some excerpts from the book Balinese Gamelan Music, by Michael Tenzer (Tuttle Publishing, 2011) that talk about the goal of unity in Balinese music and society:

"When the members of a gamelan group get together to make music, they do not improvise, except within strict limits. They play music that has been fully composed and planned out in advance of rehearsals, learned by rote, and painstakingly practiced, coordinated and polished until the desire musical standard as been achieved. There is little if any room for the individual to express him or herself in gamelan performance; instead the ideal is the cultivation of absolute coordination and channeling of each member's artistic personality into a unified musical expression.
    People gather to play gamelan for the pleasure of working hard together ... to make something artistically satisfying and then enjoy the pride and sense of accomplishment of having done so... each individual's role in the life of the [gamelan] shapes the varied personalities in the community into a single, complex, functioning whole. The close coordination between the gamelan's melodic parts and the interlocking of the kotekan demand a close interaction between the players during rehearsal that is analogous to the larger structure of the society. The music requires a collective memory and a group instinct that is a natural outgrowth of the musicians' proximity to each other in daily life. Gotong royong, the practice of mutual help, comes first, and good music follows naturally."

Here is a video of an awesome performance by a youth gamelan gong kebyar group, in which you can see this group coordination very well (even their movements are carefully coordinated):

The octopus above is playing a partial gamelan angklung (a smaller ensemble), and the song Selisir, which you can see the Harley School community gamelan (Rochester, NY) playing below:

Sunday, October 6, 2013