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Western Artists and Gamelan

class=MsoNormal>Lou Harrison

Lou Harrison (1917-2003) was a prominent modern American composer who incorporated elements of the music and instruments of non-Western cultures into his work. He is noted in this chapter because of his compositions that featured traditional Indonesian gamelan instruments as well as handmade instruments resembling Indonesian instruments, which he made out of materials such as tin cans. Many of Lou Harrison's works do not use the standard equal temperament tuning system, but are written in just intonation (a system of tuning and intonation in which all the intervals are derived from the natural, pure fifth and third). Harrison made extensive use of microtones (tones that are smaller than a half step, e.g., pitches that fall between two adjacent keys on a piano) in his compositions.

Lou Harrison's modern, avant-garde styles were influenced by his studies with the great Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951). His first introduction to non-Western sounds, instruments, and exotic music came from his teacher Henry Cowell (1897-1965), an innovator who embraced non-Western musical styles and instruments. Other inventive Western composers who used Indonesian instruments and techniques, especially the integration of metallophones, who influenced Harrison were Carl Orff (1895-1982), Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001), and one of the most individualistic American composers of all time, Harry Partch (1901-1974). Carl Orff's incorporation of the diatonic metallophones, Iannis Xenakis' PlÚ´ades integration of metallophones with microtonal tunings, and Harry Partch's innovative theoretical writings, instrumental building techniques, and the use of metallophones all influenced Harrison and many other exploring music artists of the 20th century.

However, Harrison's most important influence was K.P.H. Notoprojo (also known as Tjokrowasito or Wasitodipuro; 1909-2007). Notoprojo is respected performer, composer, and the winner of the 2004 Nugraha Bhakti Musik Award, given to a prominent exponent of Javanese gamelan music. Notoprojo is responsible for helping Lou Harrison pave the way for more complex explorations in non-Western compositional and aesthetic perspectives.

Evan Ziporyn and his Composition Kekembangan

A more current musician fusing Indonesian and Western music elements is the Chicago-born composer and performer Evan Ziporyn (b. 1959). His thorough studies in Indonesia, musical explorations, and blendings of Balinese gamelan techniques and instruments with Western ones have led to the creation of unique and innovative works.

Ziporyn studied in Indonesia and in 1988 became the musical coordinator of San Francisco's Gamelan Sekar Jaya. For many years, he has taught and composed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His extensive knowledge of Balinese gamelan instruments and techniques of the East as well as the avant-garde sonorities of the West have led him to create fascinating and invigorating new compositions such as Kekembangan. Kekembangan, which was completed in 1990, draws upon the Balinese composer I Nyoman Windha's composition Kembang Pencak. Windha was born in Bali, and he is one of the leading musicians and contemporary composers of Balinese gamelan music. Kembang Pencak was composed for gamelan, singers, and male dancers, which inspired Evan Ziporyn to adapt his own musical concepts with this work by substituting a saxophone quartet for Windha's singers. Ziporyn had the saxophone quartet use alternate fingerings to approximate the gamelan's intonation. With this unique blend, Ziporyn hoped to introduce Western listeners to Balinese melodic phrases in a more Western framework. In Kekembangan, Ziporyn explores the differences between Balinese and American musical systems while blurring the boundaries between the sound sources and musical styles of East and West.

Claude Debussy and his Piano Work Pagodes from Estampes

Before Lou Harrison and Evan Ziporyn, French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) studied Javanese and Balinese gamelan styles, which led him to create extremely unique works fusing Indonesian and Western elements.

Debussy's first exposure to Indonesian music came at the Paris Conservatoire in 1887, where the Dutch government sponsored a Javanese gamelan performance. Two years later, at the Paris Exhibition, Debussy heard indigenous skilled musicians playing a medium-size gamelan ensemble that consisted exclusively metallic percussion instruments. Debussy heard a larger gamelan orchestra with more instruments in 1900.

During this period, Debussy had been composing music that broke down the barriers of traditional counterpoint, functional harmonic language, dissonances, timbre, form, texture, rhythm, and meter. The exposure to Asian music, especially that of the Javanese gamelan orchestra, was an epiphany for Debussy that heightened his awareness that a change was needed in Western music. His new musical experience allowed him to slowly assimilate Indonesian concepts into his own distinctive style of composition.

Debussy composed several works that featured gamelan influences. His most notable works in this vein, which are written for the piano, are "Prelude" from Pour le Piano, and "L'Isle Joyeuse" and "Pagodes" from Estampes.

Some of Debussy's titles reflect the Indonesian influence. For example, "L'Isle Joyeuse" ("Joyous Island") clearly evokes the joy of being on a beautiful, exotic island. Also, though its title has many meanings, "Pagodes" implies temples, which are numerous in Indonesia. The most Indonesian feature of "Pagodes" is the use of the pentatonic scale throughout, and particularly the emphasis on four of the five notes of the scale, which is reminiscent of the use of the slendro scale in the gamelan orchestra.

Debussy's repetitive melodic and rhythmic patterns, evoking repeated cycles that conclude with a rallentando, are also reminiscent of gamelan music. The primary melody in the middle register at a moderately slow tempo is very similar to the chief mid-range melodies played by the metallophones in a Central Javanese gamelan orchestra. Also similar to gamelan music is the way Debussy develops and expands his principal melodic idea.

Above and below the moderately slow melody, Debussy creates several thick layers of textures that function as an accompaniment. This robust sonic texture includes non-functional harmonies and mildly dissonant harmonies, especially major-second dyads. The primary melody is also accompanied by periodic low bass tones resonating profusely, reminiscent of the gong ageng. Additionally, the chief melody is accompanied by other patterns above and below that feature fascinating counter-themes and very fast high trills blurred with overlapping pedal, creating a kaleidoscope of polyphonic timbre.

In addition to the sustained bass notes, the faster-moving figures in the upper register on the piano accompanying the middle register melody represent the relationship of the high, medium, and low gamelan instruments. The piece also shows how the intertwined patterns combine, just as the accompanying gamelan instruments work in concert with the main melody.

Furthermore, the piano articulations convey the sounds of the gamelan orchestra. For example, its plush and soft-pedaled staccatos, producing a portato (a type of performance halfway between legato and staccato) emphasized in octaves, fourths, and fifths, are deliberate imitations of the diverse timbral sonorities of the gamelan bells and gongs.

Debussy's complex and rich use of rhythms is another indication of the influence of gamelan music. He exploits hemiola rhythms, for example, setting a pattern of three articulations against a pattern of two, along with other complex rhythmic combinations that suggest the interplay among various gamelan instruments and their rhythmic intricacies.

The continuous repetition and overlapping of the pedal, blurring the harmonies and melodies at times, combined with abrupt changes in complex, colorful musical patterns creating a wall of sounds, beautifully capture the illusion of the full palette of the gamelan orchestra.

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(c)Coast Community College District, David W. Megill, and Donald D. Megill, 2005