Gamelan Reflection

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.

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Buddhist Bells and Statues – Presentation

In Buddhism bells have many important meanings. They are often used as a call to prayer as they can be heard even at great distances. The ring of the bell can represent the heavenly enlightened voice of the Buddha teaching the dharma and can also be used as a call for protection and as a way to ward off evil spirits. It is for these reasons and the bells’ significance that the bells of the ancient world are priceless artifacts, especially because so few have survived. In western culture bells also hold significance, like the Liberty Bell or the Tzar Bell (pictured below), they often represent freedom and unity.


In the politics of war and peace bells also have many meanings. Because large bells use so much iron and bronze in times of war they are often melted down to make cannons and other military equipment, and vice versa for times of peace.


The Bell of Good Luck is the largest functional bell in existence at 127 tons, it was cast in 2000 and is at a Buddhist temple in Henan, China. The Tzar Bell, at nearly 216 ton was thought to be the largest bell ever cast, though it cracked and broke in 1737.


In the 1480’s the kingdom of Lower Burma was in its golden age and was being led by King Dhammazedi of Hanthawaddy. Legend says that the king ordered a census be taken of the citizens of his kingdom. But the census takers were corrupt and took this as an opportunity to tax the people and keep the money for themselves. When the king heard of this he was furious, but his advisors suggested that the coinage be used to cast a giant bell in honor of the Buddha. Thus the Great Bell of Dhammazedi was created and the king gave it as a gift to the Shwedagon Pagoda, a Buddhist temple in modern day Yangon. As a result the bell was said to contain large amounts of gold and silver, as well as the majority iron and bronze used at the time.


By the early 1600’s the kingdom of lower Burma was in decline and Upper Burma had Portuguese colonialists, one of whom was Filipe de Brito. Brito was an “adventurer” under the protection of a Portuguese garrison whose trading post had gathered power over the surrounding region, including Yangon. In 1608 de Brito took to the pagoda and stole the bell hoping to take it back to his post and melt it down for ship cannons. He rolled it down the hill and had it hauled by elephant to the river where it was put on a special built raft and tied to his boat.


In a twist of fate the bell broke through the raft and sank to the bottom, taking de Brito’s boat with it. It has remained at the bottom of the river ever since. Many team are now using modern day scientific techniques to try and locate the sunken bell which by now should be buried under 25 feet of mud. Extraction would take a full oil rig platform, a crane and a purpose built railway in order to get it back to the pagoda. It is said that if the bell were to be returned to the temple Myanmar would gain luck and would become prosperous.


Inside the pagoda


On another note, many of the world’s largest statues today are of the Buddha.


Spring Temple Buddha


Spring Temple Buddha, Statue of Liberty, The Motherland Calls, Christ the Redeemer, Michelangelo’s David


The Dharmacakra in the hand of the Spring Temple Buddha





Posted in Douglas Kaiser dtk42 | 1 Comment

Reflection on Gamelan

The musical style of Javanese Gamelan is very foreign to Western listeners and I am no exception. I was raised on classic rock and blues, and I played jazz on the saxophone for a few short years in highschool. These experiences color my perspective on music and what music means. Most of the resistance to Gamelan being considered music, at least for myself, comes from positive memories of musical experiences and an unexplained defense of the sanctity of the word music, rather than a subjective scientific definition. I say defense of sanctity for lack of a better phrase; this feeling is a common occurrence as it describes the need for preservation for the sake of nostalgia with little logical backing, but I digress.

The collaborative nature of our compositions injected a fun element to the Gamelan experience. Working with people and hearing their ideas in a creative manner was a very different experience than working in groups on technical projects as I have only done before. There was more risk taking and less judgment, especially because we could test out ideas easily and see what they would sound like. But, like all music, it was to be experienced by the class as a whole, which means preforming it, which is always terrifying. Even for something like Gamelan where we had but one rehearsal and two practice sessions and zero prior experience, it still felt as though we were expressing something. Perhaps that is part of the nature of Gamelan, each composition was created specifically for that performance and the non-linear nature seemed to better lend itself to expressing emotion than classic linear story-telling music with discernible lyrics.

Our group's initial design

Our group’s initial design

For our composition our group didn’t start with any real idea or plan; we each sat at an instrument and began playing things in a similar way to how we had heard in class and in the recording. As each member began to add their playing into the mix the composition slowly took shape. The music began to slowly evolve during play as each person adapted their playing to better fit with the rest of the group. After playing this way for a while we took a break and went to the whiteboard as we wanted to write down some ideas in the same fashion as what we saw in class. We began with three loops which were meant to be played sequentially and each was assigned a different meaning (and whimsically assigned a name of a Javanese city). But as we progressed we found that the composition did not like to be led by the reigns, but rather it developed on its own. Meaning that the end product was formed far more organically than we had initially designed, to be sure, the end product looked nothing like the design we had on the whiteboard.

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  1. How has your firsthand experience with oppression colored the subjects of your art?
  2. Do you consider a purely aesthetic endeavor art?
  3. Can an artist lose viewership when art becomes a message? Do you fear this?
  4. Do you believe that struggles and trails forge artistry? Did you experience this in Chile?
  5. Can an independent artist coexist with large industrial culture machines like Hollywood, television networks, or publishing companies?

This is very late, but I would still like to see how she may respond to these, especially #4

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I don’t have a lot of previous musical experience, so I was originally intimidated by the project.  The instruments look like they belong in an anthropological or historical museum, and indeed they are on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I’ve spent the majority of my academic life studying and analyzing objects behind the glass of museum cases, never touching or handling anything. If we do handle the objects, art handling certification and cotton conservation gloves are required. It was a bit of a shock to be asked to play the instruments so loudly and strongly.  I felt like I was disrespecting the instruments or risking their preservation. I eventually got over my trepidation, but the art historian and museum employee in me can’t help but feel a little guilty.

I’ve never worked on a collaborative art project before this assignment.  Painting is a solo endeavor. Occasionally, instructors or other artists weigh in, but holding the brush and designing the project is ultimately the individual painter’s task.  The composition, on the other hand, was very much a group effort.  One of us would come up with an idea or suggestion, and the rest of the group would figure out how to make it work as a part of the composition.  We all had to communicate and work together on the project.  It was difficult to start planning out what sounds we wanted to combine, but since we were all starting with the same introduction to the instruments, figuring it out as a group was extremely helpful.

There was a lot of freedom to design the composition exactly as we wanted. One of the most challenging aspects of the assignment was figuring out how to combine the different sounds that our group created. After the in-class critique, we decided to incorporate rests into the piece. The silence allowed us to transition between different moments in the composition to create a sort of pattern of organized versus chaotic.  I think that the silence brought order to the simultaneous, loud playing.  We also incorporated the cyclical notes from the traditional gamelan music into our composition. Changes in tempo and volume brought shape and definition to the repeated melodies.

It was sometimes difficult to actually listen and hear the composition while I was a part of it.  I was counting the beats and preparing to hit the next note at the appropriate time.  It was a challenge to simultaneously consider the act of playing the instruments and the sounds we were producing. Going through the in-class critique and hearing the opinions of the rest of the class brought outside input and recommendations that we might not have otherwise considered.  I think that critiques, in all forms of work and art, are incredibly helpful and rewarding.

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Encounter with Gamelan

First of all, I’d like to write a little about how my group created our composition. The four of us each chose an instrument we wanted to play and we sat down. I simply started playing with a simple four-note pattern repetitively and everyone joined in.

Music is mainly constructed by two blocks: rhythm and melody. Gamelan (or Chris’s teaching) emphasizes the freedom given to the players. In a sense, for us beginners, we could forget about techniques and the idea of “playing an instrument is difficult”. All the instruments were tuned to be in the same pentatonic scale. We could almost forget about what pitches we are playing, which made the whole process simpler. Rhythm is somewhat innate within ourselves and more universal in a sense. Finding the a 4/4 pulse isn’t difficult. To conclude, I realized that encountering with Gamelan isn’t frustrating.

I still cannot honestly say that I enjoy Gamelan music, or even playing it. However, there’s something I noticed that is very valuable. By taking away the frustration and high demanding technique issues, players really listen more. For a lot of musicians, they focus so much on what they are playing, what they are going to play and wether if they are doing the “right thing”, that they forget that music is music. Music is an expression, not just some notes on pieces of paper.

Therefore, listening is very important. Musicians must listen to what they are playing, in order to feel what the audience is feeling, or to just enjoy the music at the very least. On the other hand, listening is extremely important (more important than anything else in my opinion) while working with other musicians. While we, the beginners, were playing gamelan, we weren’t so concerned with the pitches and wether if we are “doing a good job”. We listened more, to each other or just the music as a whole. That, I think, is what I can take away the most.

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Created a musical piece seemed extremely different from what I do on a day to day basis at first. We sat around, trying different instruments and see what sounds were appealing to our ears. We tried different mallets, different instruments and different beats. While composing, this felt like a completely new realm, but looking back on it, this type of creativity is not that different from engineering. When we design things such as motors, we have to take all the pieces and see what fits together in the correct way, just like instruments in a musical piece.


Continuing with the engine design analogy, both of these projects require constant communication with team members, whether it is about sizing and material or which instrument and the decibel level. Most projects in the real world require groups to communicate, compromise and reevaluate. These are all things my group did as it composed the Gamelan piece.


We found the instruments to be very different from what we were used to. My other group members, Dan, Doug, and Leslie all had some instrumental experience. I was the only one that had not played an instrument, and yet I always felt myself fall back on the 4 beat melody structure. Maybe because it has been ingrained in me by pop radio for so long, but anything else didn’t sound quite right. We tried some chaotic things, and they just didn’t sound appealing. Maybe we didn’t know the full potential of the instruments, but we found using basic melody’s to build a more complex one the most efficient way to make something interesting.


Trying out the Gamelan instruments was a fun experience. It opened my eyes to the fact that there are other instruments out there besides the basic guitar and piano. Not having any prior experience with these instruments allowed people not to have any predispositions towards any one type of pattern or melody. I was completely unaware of non-western music, but now maybe I’ll try exploring more of it.

Posted in Greg Glance gjg59 | 1 Comment

Gamelan Reflection

Composing my own piece with my group was very different from what I am used to doing in my major-related classes. Being an engineer, everything (in class, obviously not in the field) is highly defined and also has an objectively defined wrong and right answer. So composing a piece with no highly defined criteria (other than the length of the piece) was different. This doesn’t necessarily mean it was hard, I really enjoyed it! But it was initially difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that there were no highly defined objectives. Further, the fact that we had very little experience with the instruments and the structure of gamelan. However, composing was more similar to a number of projects my major had in the spring, where as groups, we (mechanical engineers) had to use our creative processes to invent a unique product. In addition, we also had a beam design project where we had certain constraints, but were to select beams based on our judgments/optimizations of size, cost, material, etc. Those projects were fun but also difficult at first because, similar to my initial reaction to the gamelan composition, it was difficult to convert my mindset from the usual right/wrong assignments I was used to to the more open-ended structure.

Our group, as could probably be heard from the variations during our different times playing, never had a concrete piece that could be played the same way twice. Instead, we had a general structure and followed each other of when to begin transitioning, speeding up, slowing down and even the general beat. I think that was my favorite and most enjoyable part of playing, I would call it “vibing” (off of each other). I really enjoyed this because it felt like a jam session, which implies creativity and requires some type of connection with the other group members and the music.

As for the creative process, I learned that it is actually not that difficult if you are “inspired”. For our group, I think our “inspiration” was our overall chemistry and our high enthusiasm for wanting to explore sounds. Also, the fact that during rehearsal I don’t think anyone bottled any ideas, we had plenty to pick from and combine. I do think that the creative process would have been more difficult if we were not comfortable with each other and did not enjoy what we were doing. I cannot speak for my whole group, but I personally enjoyed this project.

As unlikely as this seems, this project, in structure, seems similar to what will be demanded of me as an engineer in the field. It would require high creativity without having many defined objectives. Working will require that I know what to do in general, but the end-product will mostly be due to my own creativity and judgement. Further, as an engineer I must be able to work very well in groups, because as shown to me in this project, excellent group chemistry assists with creativity.

Posted in Lesli Munyao lwm54 | 1 Comment

Gamelan: A new trip.

In fact, I just have learned and knew some western musical instruments, such like piano, violin, and so on. But as an asian, I wasn’t familiar with the instruments of Asian countries. I just knew some like Erhu, Zheng and Lute. I had no idea of how to play them. When the first time we began to learn the instruments of Indonesia, I was shocked because it seemed difficult to use them for create a piece of rhythm. However, soon after that, we just finished a piece of “Monggang”, which made me believe the magic of the instruments.

When we were told to provide a composition by groups, I found that there were only four people in our group. So I decided to beat drums and whistle in our performance, which I thought would enrich our rhythm. I really like the melody which Rain told us to play: 2, 3, 2, 5. Actually it was a simple and easy tune, but it was the basic part throughout our performance. So, we came up with five parts as our structure: normal, DIY, faster, crazy, and slower. We just use Charles’ sign as start and change, I think maybe because the instrument what he played would provide us several seconds to react. We hadn’t discussed it. And when we experimented on July 22, I just decided to whistle at the beginning and at the end temporarily.

I have to say, maybe Chloe and Rain were sure about what melody they will play, but I had no idea of drums. I just remembered some pieces of the performance with drums which I had seen on TV before. I tried to beat them more active, not only beat but also perform. But I really didn’t know how to beat them like a show. In fact I reminded myself to beat a piece of the melody in my mind, but once I was performing by groups, I forgot the melody. Besides, I like Rock in some ways, and I wanted to beat like Rock, but I didn’t know how to do. What a pity.

Finally, I’d like to say that “Gamelan” brought me a strange feeling of different kind of music. And it was really a new trip for me to make sense of Indonesia traditional instruments. I found it was mysterious and interesting during the entire composition process. And I’m willing to explore more in art, especially in music area.



Posted in Xiang Wang xw385 | 1 Comment

Reflections on Gamelan Composition

Composing a piece of Gamelan was an exciting experience, and the final piece my group presented brought me a great sense of achievement.  After this group composition of Gamelan, I discovered more attractions of Gamelan and can feel the beauty of its music better.

Gamelan is totally a new thing to me. It impressed me a lot that on the first class, all of us were playing different sections of Gamelan with different tempo, and somehow when all the sounds we made combined together, it became a beautiful piece of music.  This was the first time I was amazed by Gamelan.

The process of composing Gamelan was interesting. Since we did not know about what is the standard of a good piece, we were totally free to add any ideas on the composition. The first thing we did when composing the Gamelan piece was to pick the sections of Gamelan we want to play.  The important principle of this step was to consider how well the sections could cooperate with each other.  It felt so good that I can try playing any instrument I want. My curiosity was completely satisfied during this part.

After that, the composition started for real. At the beginning, we had no idea so we decided to let each of us played his or her part for anything that goes in his or her mind at the same time to see what can happen. To our surprise, it turned out to be a not bad, harmonious rhythm.  Then we tried to improve it. We had different ideas came one after another, and we tried them and decided whether to leave in the composition or not.  Finally the piece came out that it had two main sections of different melodies, with a slow beginning and a fast middle part. After a “crazy part”, it returned to the peaceful first section. We are glad that we took Chris’s suggestion of adding a silence and a solo part in our composition.  We can present a better work if we had more chances to practice it, but we did do a good teamwork in our performance.

I appreciate it a lot for giving me an opportunity to have an experience with Gamelan, and even make a composition of it.  I am so lucky to have chosen this course, and I had a great time with it.

Posted in Cloe Shi Chen sc2652 | 1 Comment