I first found out about Gamelan through the course and by the knowledgable and talented Chris Miller. Learning some of the history of the music, I was a little uncomfortable at first to play because I didn’t want to let my amateur abilities appear to disrespect that long, rich history of the music. It was instructed to experiment with the instruments referencing John Cage and his Prepared Piano, which allowed for more ease in playing.
Our group began practicing outside of class by choosing an instrument we would like to play and quickly discussed the significance of those instruments being important, because of a need to add complexity or dynamism with the low number of group members we had. The composition was constructed through little discussion, but instead through playing and talking through our instruments in a sense. The experimentation process was open ended and once we had played for a while, we were able to quickly discuss the structure of the composition. It begins with a gong hit into a slow, melodic piece then by using a different gong sound, we went into a more sporadic, experimental part and then a final act by the stroke of yet a different gong. The experience of playing while being filmed was a first for me. I think our piece ended up being quite interesting, especially with the added whistling of a fellow group member.
It was suggested by Chris before the final stage that we add a part (the middle part) that had portions with a lot of silence. The gong stopped and there was some beating of the drum in an unusual way as well as some sporadic hits on the wooden parts of the instrument. I was surprised that this was allowed since I was afraid of damaging the instruments however they proved to be well built. The struggle for me was to maintain a sense of balance in composition with keeping in time and having a fair amount of abstract experimentation.
The experimentation was the most fun part for me because it allowed yourself to forget about the failure of a perfectly -timed piece and create abstract sounds. I enjoyed the experience and the next time I come across a piece of Gamelan, I will have much more knowledge and a deeper respect for the historical complexity surrounding the genre.