Issues of pastiche and illusions of authenticity in gamelan-inspired composition

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This article reconsiders some of the issues surrounding new music for the Javanese gamelan, principally by western composers, and is largely based on personal experience of working with them, most notably the late Lou Harrison (probably the most distinguished such composer). After a brief historical summary, indicating different responses to the gamelan since Debussy, the paper focuses on some of the problems confronting the composer in recent times, which relate mainly to tuning differences when western instruments (or singers) are added, and to the appropriation of traditional Javanese structures. It argues that the relative ease of replicating at least the superficial aspects of these structures can betray inconsistencies and have limited value, unless the western composer's strongest suit - his or her own tradition - can be usefully brought to bear on the creative endeavour. Some of the contrasting ways this has happened are examined, from the concertos of Harrison, through two works (one western and one Javanese) which, unlike his, exploit instrumental tuning discrepancies, to finally my own Missa Gongso, which confronts them using a western choir. These various solutions also support the notion of a gamelan's unique identity, defined not only by its tuning but also by a kind of dialect stemming from its location.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-48
Number of pages17
JournalIndonesia and the Malay World
Issue number101
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007

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