Gamelan Debussy


I Made Arnawa


Sekaa Taruna Mekar




I Made Arnawa  2017




I Made Arnawa (b. 1960) was immersed in the sounds of gamelan from an early age. The neighborhood gong kebyar rehearsed nearby and he fondly recalls childhood evenings spent listening to the group from his bed before drifting into sleep. Eventually listening was not enough and one day he wandered into the group’s rehearsal space. He sat at one of the gamelan instruments and began playing passages from a piece the group had been working on just the night before. All of the adults looked on in amazement. He was only seven. Most beginners start learning to play gamelan by following the trajectories of their teacher’s mallet, a technique called meguru panggul (lit. teaching by mallet), but Arnawa proved he was capable of learning by ear from the start. By age nine he was playing with the adult group and joining them for performances at the Bali Beach Hotel, which no doubt only quickened the pace of his musical development.


Proud of his accomplishments and recognizing his potential, Arnawa’s family eventually encouraged him to attend the local arts high school (Konservatori Karawitan), but he already knew how to play gamelan and feared boredom. Interested in learning a new trade, he enrolled at a school for agriculture instead. Performances at the Bali Beach Hotel, however, continued. After completing a course of study in agriculture he was assigned a post in the Kintamani region of Bangli, but it wasn’t meant to be. After just three months overseeing agricultural affairs he resigned. It was too far, and Kintamani was too cold. He returned home and accepted a teaching position in Tabanan at Saraswati high school.


In 1984 a recording of students and faculty at Akademi Seni Tari Indonesia Denpasar (ASTI Denpasar) changed everything. In fact, Arnawa cites a piece on that recording, Adi Merdangga, which involved 250+ players, as the reason for abruptly ending his tenure teaching in Tabanan and enrolling at ASTI.  Upon arriving at the arts school much of the faculty, who knew Arnawa and were aware of both his abilities and disinterest in studying formally, were surprised. His skill didn’t go to waste nor did it go unrecognized. While preparing for final exams Arnawa was paired with Ketut Suteja of Tanjung Bungkak. The quality of their production, titled Cecimpadan (intersection), earned them the title Lulusan Terbaik, or best graduates, and they were both immediately brought onto the faculty. Arnawa’s tenure at ASTI Denpasar began with appointments in praktek karawitan (music practicum), but he was later assigned teaching assignments in composition, analysis, aesthetics, and ethnomusicology.


In 2000, while still on the faculty at ASTI Denpasar, Arnawa was given permission to pursue a Master’s degree (S2) at Institut Seni Indonesia Surakarta (ISI Surakarta). The program had just launched and he was part of the first class. There, Arnawa met the influential figures Pak Suka Hardjana, Slamet Abdul Syukur, and Dieter Mack, with whom he studied composition and developed lasting and rewarding relationships. At ISI Surakarta Arnawa began to free himself from traditional Balinese forms. To this day he credits the experience in Sukrakarta with being the one that first allowed him to “see Bali from the outside.” His final exam consisted of five works (Komposisi 1-5) mixing instruments from gong kebyar, bebonangan, angklung, and other gamelan. The entire production, called Wak Bajra (wak = sound; bajra = strong), was inspired by recent demonstrations that had contributed to Suharto’s fall in 1998.


In 2003 Arnawa returned to ASTI Denpasar, which by then had been renamed STSI Denpasar (Sekolah Tinggi Seni Indonesia), and was pressured to lead the karawitan (music) department. He was reluctant to accept the promotion but 35 of the 38 faculty members had selected him in a vote. Finding himself in a position of moderate influence, he decided to share concepts and experiences he had gained at ISI Surakarta with the hope that it would open student’s minds. One year later, in 2004, the entire graduating class created works classified kontemporer, despite the fact that he had not pushed any of them to do so, and this concerned some faculty.


Throughout his tenure at STSI Denpasar Arnawa was frequently involved in international projects and performances. In 2005 his group, Sekaa Gong Teruna Merkar, travelled to Berlin for the Festival Gamelan Kontemporer Indonesia and premiered Arnawa’s new work for gong kebyar Perbawa. The following year, in 2006, Arnawa held a six week residency at the Codarts Conservatorium in Rotterdam before travelling to the USA for a residency with Gamelan Sekar Jaya in California. And three years later, in 2009, he returned to California for a second residency. Shortly after returning from this trip he decided to resign from Institut Seni Indonesia Denpasar (formerly STSI). A recent wave of politics at the institution had become an unwanted dimension of his post and he decided to focus on his passion for music elsewhere. His frequent trips abroad, however, continued.


In 2010 Arnawa and his group were invited back to Europe for the Festival Salzburg Binnale in Austria. Arnawa brought two compositions: Mayatupatus (ma = 5, ya = 9, tu = 7, pa = 4, tus = 8; total = 33), which had been premiered at the 2008 Pesta Kesenian Bali, and Perbawa. The following year, in 2011, friend and composer Wayne Vitale invited Arnawa and his group to participate in the event Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance, which took place at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, California. The group performed Arnawa’s new lelembatan (tabuh empat) Catur Rebah. Later that same year Arnawa participated in the Art Summit in Jakarta, performing two new works, Sinom and Tenten, which combined his selonding and Pendro ensembles.


In 2011 Arnawa also began a series of collaborations with Giovanni Sciarrino,  the first of which was an interpretation of Terry Riley’s In C, appropriately renamed In Deng and released on the album Returning Minimalism – Teruna Mekar and Cudamani (Vital Records 2011)—the Returning Minimalism series includes two other releases: Returning Minimalism - In Nem (Gamelan of Central Java) and Returning Minimalism - Gamelan Semara Ratih of Bali, both reissued on Yantra (2014 and 2018 respectively).


In 2014, Sciarrino and Arnawa teamed up again for reworks of Igor Stravinsky (Gamelan Stravinsky), later released on Yantra (digital) in 2015. And in 2016 Sciarrino reached out to Arnawa about the present project, which was completed in September of the following year.


More recently, in 2017 Arnawa held a three month residency at Villa Waldberta in Munich, Germany. During the residency he was involved in preparations for the Festival Gamelan München that took place in the spring of 2018. Arnawa returned for the festival and premiered two new works, Kartika, composed for several gong kebyar instruments, and Margasirah, for a complete gong kebyar and carillon bells.


Selection of Arnawa’s Work



1988   Kreasi Baru Giri Lalita, Iringan Tari Putri Angangsuh, Lelambatan Lakshmining Prabata, Sandya (gong kebyar)

1989 Cecimpadan (gong kebyar)

2002   Wak Bajra: Komposisi 1-5 (gong kebyar, bebonangan, angklung, other gamelan)

2005 Perbawa (gong kebyar)

2008 Mayatupatus (gong kebyar)

2010 Sinom (selonding and Pendro)

2010 Tenten (selonding and Pendro)

2011   Kerangkering (vocal),

            In Deng (reong, trompong, gangsa, suling, jublag, jegogan, gong, kempur, and kenong)

2011 Leleambatan Catur Rebah (gong kebyar)

2013 Kebo lan Dung (gong kebyar)

2014 Rerejangan Parisusun (gong kebyar)

2015  Gamelan Stravinsky

2018   Kartika (gong kebyar),   Margasirah (gong kebyar and carillon bells)

Claude Debussy 1908


The century of aeroplanes deserves its own music. As there are no precedents, I must create anew.

I am more and more convinced that music, by its very nature, is something that cannot be poured into a tight and traditional form. It is made up of colors and rhythms.

I love music passionately. And because l love it, I try to free it from barren traditions that stifle it. It is a free art gushing forth — an open-air art, boundless as the elements, the wind, the sky, the sea. It must never be shut in and become an academic art.

-  Claude Debussy



Claude Debussy  (1862—1918) was one of the most influential composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though he initially rejected the term Impressionism, his legacy is associated with bold musical contributions that would eventually lead to its arrival. This includes the blurring of tonality, novel chord combinations, unconventional scales and modes, and an emphasis on color and mood. He was a private man and rarely spoke about personal matters, but some details about his early life have come to light.

Debussy was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France and raised by a family often described as ‘ordinary’ and of modest means. They were not bearers of a hereditary musical legacy either. In this respect his childhood sets him apart from many great composers in the Western canon who were reared in environs more consistent with future proclivities. Debussy began to show signs of being drawn to the unconventional early. He also displayed preferences for things associated with more ‘refined tastes’. These were sensibilities likely not shared by many around him, but would later develop into the fondness for luxury associated with his adult years.

Within the quite ‘ordinary’ milieu associate with his childhood Debussy must have exhibited a profound capacity for music, because at the tender age of ten he was admitted to the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris, where he studied piano, organ, solfège, harmony, and composition. Debussy would spend eleven years there and in that time enjoy a number of successes and failings. Paris was the center of new movements in arts, culture, and ideas, and these came to bear on Debussy’s musical ambitions. However, within the confines of the Conservatoire his methods were not always encouraged. Near the end of his course of study at least one faculty member expressed disapproval for his tendency to break from prevailing conventions. Despite the criticism, shortly later he went on to win France’s most prestigious award in music, the Prix de Rome, which included a residency at Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome. In Rome the young iconoclast found the environment restrictive and his eagerness to go his own way only grew stronger.

After returning to Paris Debussy encountered the sounds of gamelan in a musical meeting that has been the subject of considerable reflection and analysis. The encounter took place in 1889, at the Paris Exposition Universelle, and in the shadow of the recently-completed Eiffel Tower. The gamelan was Javanese, but some have speculated that Debussy heard a Balinese gamelan later at the Paris Exposition of 1900. These unfamiliar sonorities have often been regarded as lasting sources of inspiration permeating his later work, revealed in such things as ambiguous tonality, use of pentatonic scales, and exploiting the percussive nature of piano hammers. However, those with a more sensitive perspective on the encounter have pointed out that the experience was likely more than simply transformative: “If in one respect the gamelan was a discovery and inspiration, in another it was a confirmation of his own musical imagination (Roberts 1986: 161).”

Debussy’s enthusiasm for gamelan music is, and was, well-known.  Not only did he mention it in personal letters, he also announced it openly in at least one publication, revealing a ‘romantic exoticism’ that was as much his own as it was characteristic of the time. This is perhaps best exemplified in a passage from his article Taste, published in 1913, and within the seven-year period during which he completed all of the selected works on this album:


There were, and there still are, despite the evils of civilization, some delightful native peoples for whom music is as natural as breathing. Their conservatoire is the eternal rhythm of the sea, the wind among the leaves and the thousand sounds of nature which they understand without consulting an arbitrary treatise. Their traditions reside in old songs, combined with dances, built up throughout the centuries. Yet Javanese music is based on a type of counterpoint by comparison with which that of Palestrina is child's play. And if we listen without European prejudice to the charm of their percussion we must confess that our percussion is like primitive noises at a country fair.





Works selected for this album




Children's Corner  (1908)


Golliwogg's Cakewalk

The Snow is Dancing


Préludes  [Book 1]  (1909–10)



Des Pas sur la Neige


Préludes  [Book 2]  (1911–13)


Général Lavine - Eccentric


Six Epigraphes Antiques   (1914)


Pour Invoquer Pan, Dieu du Vent d'Eté

Pour Remercier la Pluie au Matin

Pour que la Nuit soit Propice


En Blanc et Noir  (1915)


Scherzando - à mon Ami Igor Stravinsky



Giovanni Sciarrino (A.K.A John Noise Manis) is no stranger to gamelan music or sparking cross-stylistic and cross-cultural creativity. He believes cross-cultural musical development is most successful when ‘classic masterpieces’ serve as the seeds to creativity, rather than the ‘solitary auto-inspiring self-gratifying state of the composer’. To the purists he says ‘a valid re-creation of a classic work should be considered an addition rather than a substitution’. He is the curator and producer of an extensive collection of Indonesian music all released on his non-profit Yantra label. The collection includes recordings of many projects of his own design and all are illustrated at:




The Creative Process


Debussy à  Sciarrino à  Arnawa à  Musicians


Sciarrino initiated Gamelan Debussy by producing preliminary arrangements of 12 piecesusing the pitches of I Made Arnawa’s selonding and pendro gamelan, as well as Sekaa Gong Teruna Mekar’s gong kebyar. These were rendered as audio files from MIDI arrangements. The virtual instruments were tuned to match ‘Center Weighted Tunings’ (CWT) of the respective gamelan used in each arrangement. CWT were established using a series of calculations that included averaging note-pairs, determining CWA for each note-pair across multiple octaves (CWA  are not always consistent across octaves), and averaging deviations from the CWA while weighing central octaves more heavily. The chart Gong Kebyar Tuningreveals the complications involved in achieving a CWA of a gamelan that would be consistent across octaves. Starting in the lowest register, each octave gets progressively sharper as we move up the pitch gamut, such that the highest octave begins nearly a full half-step sharper than the lowest. The CWT used by Sciarrino to prepare preliminary arrangements for each gamelan are presented in the following table.



Center-Weighted Tunings











D -21

C -30

B -11


D# +31

C# - 2

C# -2


F +17

D# -49

E -18


G -7

F# +43

F +3


G# +43

G# -42



A# +23




C +29




Due to complications posed by realizing 12-tone music on five and seven-tone instruments Sciarrino developed a number of strategies for handling pitches not accessible to the gamelan employed in each arrangement. This included using instruments from multiple ensembles to create a ‘super scale’, combining instruments from Pendro and gong kebyar specifically (TRACK 7 and TRACK 8), and/or revising the original score so that only notes in the CWT were used. In the case of the latter, Sciarrino dealt with each note individually, often testing several alternatives before settling on the one he believed was most 'musical' in the combined context:  Debussy and Balinese gamelan.


After listening to the twelve preliminary arrangements produced by Sciarrino in Italy, Arnawa was asked to select nine and undertake a second arrangement process, recreating them onto gamelan instruments. The procedure that followed was the same for all of the arrangements except those that Sciarrino had arranged using a ’super scale’ drawn from a selection of instruments from more than one ensemble, which required a different approach. Arnawa’s rehearsals consisted of repeated listenings of preliminary arrangements with the musicians and instruments at hand. The group moved through each piece phrase by phrase, working together to find the correct notes, often laughing hysterically at mistakes and successes along the way. Arnawa tackled arrangements for pieces that made use of more than one ensemble using one of two strategies. The first involved re-configuring them for a single ensemble by notating scores at home and later teaching them to a full gong kebyar (TRACK 2, TRACK 3, and TRACK 9). The second involved a combination of scoring in advance and working through the material together as a group (TRACK 7 and TRACK 8).


The entire project moved forward in phases, granting the group necessary breaks for other obligations, and reducing the overall workload at any given time. Two to three pieces were prepared and then recorded before the Arnawa moved onto other arrangements. This alleviated the need for musicians to maintain all of the arrangements until they were ready to be recorded in a single session at a later date.



The Gamelan


Gamelan Pendro

Instruments: Jublag, Gangsa Pemade, Gangsa       Kantilan,             Curing, Reong

Gamelan Pendro was created by I Made Arnawa in 2005. As the name suggests, it is based on ‘pelog’ (Pe-) and ‘selendro’ (-ndro) tunings. Arnawa arrived at the unique tuning by combing two tones from an angklung with two tones from a gong kebyar. His goal was to facilitate greater interaction between the tunings than combing instruments taken from each ensemble would have allowed—a technique typical of new works for Balinese gamelan today.



Instruments: Gong, Penyugal, Nyong-Nyong Ageng, Nyong-Nyong Alit, Reong, Suling

Selonding is a seven-tone iron ensemble. The key order of each instrument in the set used on this recording follows the common Desa Tenganan model. The set is unique because it also includes a seven-tone iron reong.


Gong Kebyar

Instruments: Jegogan, Jublag, Penyecah, Gangsa Pemade, Gangsa Kantilan, Reong, Ceng-Ceng, Kempli, Suling, Gongs, Kendang

Gong Kebyar is a five-tone bronze ensemble. The set heard on this recording belongs to Sekaa Gong Taruna Mekar of Desa Tunjuk, Tabanan.



A Note on Gamelan Tuning


Standardized tuning is non-existent in Balinese gamelan. From one gamelanto the next variation is inevitable and celebrated. This, however, is not to say that anything goes. Tuning concepts and tuning systems, though varied across ensembles and locales, are as resolute as they are widespread, and the tuning of a gamelan is a serious endeavor undertaken by specialists. Second, keyed instruments are tuned in pairs in order to produce a phenomenon called ombak (beating produced by subtle differences in pitch between paired instruments). The lower of the pair is called pengumbang (ngumbang), the higher, pengisep (ngisep), and the rate of beating controlled by the distance between the two (e.g. a distance of 8 Hz results in beating of 8 cycles per second). In order for the entire gamelan to pulsate at the same rate the distance between ngumbang and ngisep is maintained across the entire pitch gamut, which complicates the tuning process significantly because octaves must be stretched and compressed. Consider the following anecdote: a desired ombak of eight beats per second requires that ngumbang and ngisep are 8 Hz apart. Thus, if a pitch in ngumbang is 200 Hz then ngisep must be 208 Hz for them to pulsate at a rate of eight cycles per second when sounded together. Things get tricky, however, when tuning the same note pair an octave higher. Theoretically, we would simply double the frequencies of both ngumbang and ngisep to get their corresponding octave equivalences. However, when we double 200 we arrive at 400 and when we double 208, 416. The difference between the ngumbang (400 Hz) and ngisep (416 Hz) has doubled and thus the rate of pulsations per second is now sixteen instead of eight. To compensate for this a gamelantuner (tukang laras) compresses or stretches the octave (altering either both ngumbang and ngisep or just one of the two) to allow the pair to remain 8 Hz apart.

The phenomenon is clear in the Gong Kebyar Tuning chart. Although ngumbang and ngisep appear to merge closer together as the pitch rises, this is merely an artifact of the logarithmic nature of our hearing (represented by the logarithmic Y axis in the chart). When the frequency of a given note is doubled we perceive the new frequency as the same note only an octave higher. This means that the number of Hz in each successive octave also doubles (e.g. A4 440 Hz à A5 880 Hz = 440 Hz; A5 880 Hz à A6 1760 Hz = 880 Hz). This also means that because the difference in pitch between paired notes in a Balinese gamelan remains constant throughout the entire pitch gamut (~8 Hz in this gamelan) the distance we perceive between them narrows as we move up the frequency spectrum. If we measure the difference in pitch between note pairs using cents, which unlike Hz remains constant across octaves (1200 cents per octave), this is all the more obvious. For example, if we take the lowest note pair this gamelan and compare it to the CWA using cents we arrive at A#2 + 38 cents and B2 +48 in the ngumbang and ngisep respectively. The gap between them is 110 cents (greater than a semi-tone) but when we compare the gap between this note pair in subsequent octaves it narrows (49 cents, then 28 cents, and finally 12 cents in the highest octave) [B3 + 35 cents /C4 - 16 cents; C5 - 42 cents / C5 - 14 cents; C6 - 30 cents / C6 - 18 cents] despite the fact that the difference between them in Hz remains the same (~8 Hz).


Gong Kebyar Tuning Charts


Sekaa Taruna Mekar


I Made Arnawa

I Wayan Ardika

I Nyoman Arsana

I Made Eka Arta

I Gede Made Dwipayana

I Wayan Kertayasa

I Made Martana

I Wayan Mudiara

I Nyoman Muliadi

I Putu Artana Perbawa

I Made Dita Nava Prajanata

I Wayan Salin

I Ketut Suarta

I Nengah Sudartana

I Made Sukarta Wijaya

I Ketut Sumandra

I Nyoman Sumawi

I Nyoman Suriadi

I Wayan Sutika

I Putu Adi Sucipta

I Nyoman Widnyana

I Wayan Wijaya

I Nyoman Winata

I Nyoman Wirka

I Komang Juliartha

I Nyoman Egi Agastia

I Putu Ari Saputra

I Made Satria

Kadek Agus Pusaka Adiputra



T R A C K   L I S T



1. Pour Invoquer Pan, Dieu du Vent d'Eté

[Six Epigraphes Antiques]    Selonding, suling, gong


2. Pour Remercier la Pluie au Matin

[Six Epigraphes Antiques]   Gong Kebyar


3. Voiles   [Préludes Book 1] Gong Kebyar


4. Des Pas sur la Neige   [Préludes Book 1]

           Selonding, suling, gong


5. Général Lavine - Eccentric   [Préludes Book 2]   Selonding, kempli


6. Golliwogg's  Cakewalk   [Children's Corner]

Selonding, gong


7. Pour que la Nuit soit Propice   [Six Epigraphes Antiques]  Gong Kebyar / Pendro


8. The Snow is Dancing   [Children's Corner]

Gong Kebyar / Pendro


9. Scherzando - à mon Ami Igor Stravinsky *

[En Blanc et Noir]   Gong Kebyar

* Includes guest musician Zachary Hazen








Jensen, Eric Frederick. Master Musician Series: Debussy. Oxford University Press. 2014.

Mueller, Richard. “Javanese Influence on Debussy’s Fantasie and Beyond.” 19th-Century Music, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 157-186.

Roberts, Paul. Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy. Portland: Amadeus Press. 1996.

Shapiro, Nat. An Encyclopedia of quotations about music. New York: Da Capo Press. 1977.

Tenzer, Michael. Gamelan Gong Kebyar: The Art of Twentieth Century Balinese-Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2000.

Personal communication with Giovanni Sciarrino (A.K.A John Noise Manis) September 2015 – April 2016

Personal communication with I Made Arnawa August 2016 – August 2018










Recorded by Jonathan Adams with assistance from I Putu Gede Sukaryana, Yan Priya Kumara Janrdhana, and I Putu Arya Deva Suryanegara in Pura Dalem Munduk Sangkur, Desa Tunjuk, Kabupaten Tabanan during four sessions


Mixed in Italy by Giovanni Sciarrino (A.K.A John Noise Manis)


Artistic direction and preliminary arrangements - Giovanni Sciarrino (A.K.A John Noise Manis)


Liner notes, liaison, photography, additional mixing, video production - Jonathan Adams