Saturday, December 12, 2009

British Gamelan Trail

Yesterday I examined a SOAS PhD thesis on Balinese gamelan theory by Kate Wakeling - who plays with the London gamelan Lila Cita, and has also studied Balinese dance for a number of years. A really well written piece of work, with much of substance, particularly in relation to new compositions and their theorization.

Kate's supervisor is Mark Hobart, a SOAS professor of media studies and a close colleague of mine. After the examination, I sat in on a meeting Mark held with my co-examiner Neil Sorrell, arts producer Hi Ching and Balinese dancer Ni Made Pujawati (Mark's wife). Hi Ching, Ni Made and Aris Daryono (a Javanese musician who plays with the Southbank Gamelan Players) are developing a project for heritage funding called the British Gamelan Trail. If the bid is successful, this will take Aris and Puja around the country (with a particular focus on the London area) talking to people about how gamelan has been embedded in communities. The idea is to develop a general history of gamelan in Britain, with a focus on 6 groups in particular. Documentation will be included in an exhbit on Balinese dance and storytelling planned for the Horniman Museum in 2011-2012.

At this meeting, Neil offered a synoptic overview of gamelan. Neil's own studies go back to 1971 - when he attended one of Bob Brown's summer sessions in Bali. He believes the first gamelan ensemble in residence was at Dartington in 1974- a set of instruments borrowed from Europe. The Durham Oriental Music Festival sparked the interest of the Indonesian embassy to purchase a set of instruments, which was played by the group to become known as the English Gamelan Orchestra (which later morphed into the Southbank Gamelan Plyaers). Neil was able to use the EGO's existence to convince York to purchase a set of instruments for £6000 in 1980. This was the first set of instruments purchased by a university. The Cambridge University gamelan, a gift from an Indonesian cabinet minister who had a child studying at Cambridge, followed a year or two later.

We also spoke about other ensembles - Cragg Vale, the Bow Gamelan and the like - which will likely fall outside the remit of the British Gamelan Trail project.

The project is a clever and fascinating one - hope it gets funded...

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