various artists,
Gamelan of Central Java VIII: Court Music Treasures
(Felmay, 2007)

various artists,
Gamelan of Central Java IX: Songs of Wisdom & Love
(Felmay, 2007)

Gamelan is an ancient music of Java, Indonesia, that is still performed today. A gamelan orchestra consists of a number of unique instruments that are mostly metallic percussion. The ones on this CD are manned by faculty members of STSI Conservatory (Institute of the Arts) of Surakarta. With Oriental tuning and polyrhythms, this music is like a gathering of gongs and xylophones from a different world. Both CDs also feature occasional flutes and violin-type instruments.

These CDs are unique for including vocals, not often heard in gamelan. Two of the five tracks on Court Music Treasures have singing, while Songs of Wisdom & Love is all vocal.

The first three tracks on Court Music Treasures are each about 14 minutes long (I do not include their names, as they are quite lengthy). The first and third are wonderfully complex, with a number of gongs chiming behind both solo singers and a chorus. The second is a meditative piece that also has a complex structure.

The last two tracks of about seven minutes each use archaic ensembles and instruments, and are simpler. The instruments are more percussive and less delicate.

Songs of Wisdom & Love has 14 tracks, which range from just over a minute to nearly eight minutes, except the last of more than 14 minutes. Many of the shorter tracks feature singers either unaccompanied or backed by just a few instruments. The longer ones have solo singers with a gamelan orchestra and in one case, include a male chorus.

The CD booklet translates the beautiful poetry. An example: "Entrancingly beautiful is the shining of the moon / Adorning the splendor of the queen's palace. ... Curtains are decorated as flower arrangements / That is the abode of Bhanuwati / Where she makes love to Duryudana."

Other songs are less esoteric: "I have a chicken without a tail / Every day I feed her corn / Cackle cock cock cackle." Many of the songs on this disc are more folk-oriented, although the longer ones sound similar to the vocal tracks on the Court Music disc.

The singing might make these discs more accessible to new listeners of gamelan. The booklets for both CDs explain each track, although the details will not mean very much to the average listener. However, whether you are familar with gamelan or not, there is no denying the beauty of these fine recordings.

review by
Dave Howell

29 March 2008

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

Click on a cover image to make a selection.

what's new