NOTES by Andrew Clay McGraw

In an island awash in proficient composers, I Madé Arnawa stands out. Talented and well regarded as a composer in traditional and neo-traditional (kreasi baru) modes, he is equally attracted to and capable in the most experimental contexts. Modernism has had the unfortunate effect of encouraging a sense of compositional hierarchy amongst some Indonesian composers in which traditional composition is placed at the bottom—if it is viewed as composition at all—and creation in the “Western,” modernist or experimental style is vaunted to the pinnacle of expression, a pedestal onto which must graduate by transcending the lower forms. It is doubly unfortunate that this image of hierarchy has encouraged a sense of Schumpeterian individualism and self-containedness. I don’t mean to paint a picture of Indonesian modernist composition as a kind of Picasso-manqué—they as brilliant as any of their Western counterparts—but that both Western and Indonesian modernists have been lulled into a sense of aesthetic self-referentiality as if their works would be as great in the complete absence of reference, community and history. Arnawa evinces no sense of hierarchy between styles, even though his intense experimentalism outstripped those of his colleagues at the National Institute of the Arts, eventually making his continued presence there untenable. But neither is his practice possible to neatly isolate from the creativity of his village of Tunjuk, Tabanan and the exceptional musicians of Gamelan Taruna Mekar. Since his undergraduate compositions, the vast majority of his output has been inspired by, composed for and performed by his fellow villagers.

Against this image, John Noise Manis has posed the towering persona of Stravinsky, almost the caricature of the heroic, independent compositional mind. Stravinsky himself fostered such an image, as if he single-handedly brought entire worlds of music into being. But study after study has pointed to the ways in which his oeuvre represents a distributed creativity: “borrowed” Russian folk tunes, imitated jazz patterns, and so on. This is in no way to deny his imposing genius, but only to admit, finally, that expressions belong to a much wider community than the modernist notion of the composer, or the financial tool of copyright, has allowed us to think. Anthropology and tourism have encouraged an inverse image of the Balinese—so completely communitarian that the very notion of the individual is dissolved. Arnawa’s arrangements help us to hear both the individual genius of Balinese composers and the distributed nature of Western modernist expression. In none of the “arrangements” does Arnawa attempt to literally follow the composer’s detailed score, instead using recordings as inspirations for the starting point of new expressions.


1) Ebony. Arnawa replaces Stravinsky’s large ensemble of woodwinds of the Ebony Concerto with a smaller set of Balinese suling bamboo fipple flutes. The very “fluid” and improvisational Balinese approach to intonation on the suling curiously approaches Stravinsky’s highly determined, chromatic passages. The use of the traditional terompet double-reed shawm seems to parody Stravinsky’s muted trumpets adds a humorous flare while the incorporation of the Western drum is the one point of orchestral overlap between both ensembles. Arnawa evokes dense and dark textures out of non-chromatic instruments and musicians trained in an oral tradition and accustomed to playing only in pentatonic modes. Stravinsky’s cubist tango is transformed into a scene evoking the honking horns of Balinese cross-town traffic. Arnawa transforms Stravinsky’s contrasting woodwind textures through the striking juxtaposition of bronze and bamboo. The innovative imitations of extended jazz harmonies in Stravinsky’s composition become inspirations for experiments in counterpoint within Arnawa’s work.

2) The second track allows for an exciting “sneak peak” into the relationship between Arnawa’s work and excerpts of the Ebony Concerto, juxtaposing fragments from Taruna Mekar’s preparatory experiments and the passages that inspired them. Interestingly, several of these passaged were not included in the full version. The timbral, intonational and contrapuntal contrasts help us to see into Arnawa’s process.

3) Danse Russe from Pétrouchka. In this arrangement it is as if the original had been dropped on the floor, shattered and Arnawa had picked up only some of the fragments, sending Stravinsky’s original phrases and metrical forms through a metrical kaleidoscope. Arnawa arranges Stravinsky’s continuous motion passages into Balinese nyog cag interlocking patterns, evoking traditional mask dance (topeng) arrangements through a highly experimental lens.

4) Andante from Stravinsky’s Five Easy Pieces for Piano Four Hands. Here Arnawa divides the work between the lower register of the five-tone gamelan gong kebyar, its paired tuning humming resonantly, and the classical guitar, performed by Simone Mor. Stravinsky’s work serves as a starting point for more densely textured rhythmic developed in this arrangement on the guitar, evoking flamenco elaboration patterns.

5) Polka from Stravinsky’s Three Easy Pieces for Piano Four Hands. Although Arnawa could have easily combined differently tuned gamelan to imitate Stravinsky’s humorous use of dissonance, he instead presents a very even, staid interpretation of the main theme restricted to five tones. Arnawa devotes his exploration and humor to the temporal, rather than melodic dimension. He provides a second iteration of the theme—absent in the original—in which we hear a more active and exciting version, here in double time, with quadruple time on the guitar! From Stravinsky’s offbeat, almost inebriated work, Arnawa has given us something altogether different: controlled, precise and sober.

6) Dumbarton, the first theme of the first movement of Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks. Arnawa arranges a similar theme on the gamelan, creating beautifully overlapping counterpoint between the higher and lower gangsa metallophone. Although he could have explored contrasting modes on seven-tone ensembles such as the gamelan slonding or semara dana, Arnawa rests in a single tonal space whereas Stravinsky shifts between distantly related areas. Arnawa’s slower approach brings out the rhythmic syncopations of the contrapuntal lines.

7) Improvisation on a Theme from Pétrouchka. Here Arnawa and Gamelan Taruna Mekar improvise with Mr. Mor on the first theme from the Danse Russe, exploring the contrasts, serendipitous relations and clashes between various Balinese tuning systems (using the Balinese suling flute to achieve further variation) and the equally tempered guitar, imitating the pélog tuning system. The interplay between the reyong gong chimes, beat-keeping kajar and guitar sustains the improvisation through various moods prior to the return of the theme in a more contrapuntal arrangement.

8) Ligeti’s Continuum is famously virtuosic and difficult; it sweeps through the entire chromatic range through a series of complex overlapping polyrhythms that must be perfectly aligned. It may be somewhat embarrassing to a modernist that Arnawa achieves a similar effect with a limited scale and rhythmic phasing. However, the same level of virtuosity is on display by Ligeti’s solo harpsichordist—who must coordinate complex polyrhythms between the two hands—and Arnawa’s ensemble coordinating very fast interlocking patterns and phasing between different performers.

9) Selbstportrait mit Reich und Riley. Ligeti’s fluttering, intermittent insect pattern is replaced in Arnawa’s work by the dense perpetual motion of overlapping interlocking patterns of different lengths. Ligeti only eventually catches up to Arnawa’s texture. Dynamic intensity which is structured through thematic augmentation and diminution by Ligeti is achieved through sheer loudness in the Tunas Mekar performance, which recalls a Reichian sense of phasing. More interested in the effect of phasing and overlapping ostinati, Arnawa has simply ignored Ligeti’s slower moving melodic passages floating over the texture. In the end Arnawa leaves Ligeti completely behind to explore his own ideas and the virtuosity of his fellow musicians.




NOTE di Federico Capitoni

“In principio era il ritmo”. È una parafrasi biblica condivisa da tanti musicisti e certamente sostenuta da Stravinskij che fece del ritmo – forse più che dell’armonia – il parametro fondativo della sua musica. Balletti a parte, tutte le composizioni di Stravinskij hanno una componente ritmica particolarmente accentuata come se il ritmo fosse appunto allo stesso tempo origine e fine della musica. È proprio così, e al di là delle speculazioni filosofiche che si possono fare sul ritmo come essenza della musica, si vede in questo album come la pulsazione esacerbata e la variazione ritmica inventiva si sposino egregiamente con la tradizione dell’orchestra di Gamelan che parrebbe poggiare molto più debolmente sui parametri melodici e armonici ma in maniera ineluttabile su quelli di ritmo e timbro. E infatti i sei pezzi stravinskiani qui suonati dall’ensemble balinese di I Made Arnawa sono stati studiati dai musicisti sulle registrazioni delle versioni per pianoforte (ove esistessero tali trascrizioni, ovviamente). Questo per due motivi: il primo è perché il pianoforte, rispetto all’orchestra, offriva meno connotazioni timbriche, il che ha reso possibile ad Arnawa di concertare il tutto più liberamente; il secondo motivo è che il pianoforte è uno strumento a percussione, quindi già artefice di una prima traduzione, dagli strumenti ad arco o a fiato, in un linguaggio più strettamente percussivo che verrà “finalizzato” attraverso la strumentazione di campane, tamburi e metallofoni in genere tipici del Gamelan. Il resto lo fa la fantasia di Arnawa, che deve fare i conti con un sistema di intonazione lontano da quello temperato dei dodici suoni utilizzato da Stravinskij. Il risultato è dunque una differenza non soltanto timbrica, ma di carattere.

Si prenda Ebony, la versione gamelan di Ebony Concerto (1945): dallo spirito jazz-swing - molto americano e con momenti da café chantant - dell’originale, si passa a un pezzo quasi futurista ove i suling (flauti balinesi) e il pereret (una sorta di tromba in legno dal suono nasale e penetrante) dialogano in modo apparentemente goffo, grottesco. È invece il risultato della mutuazione da un tipo di orchestra all’altra, segno importante di come gli strumenti facciano la musica più dell’inchiostro sulla carta.

Evidentissima questa trasformazione a più livelli indipendenti è nella Danse Russe (da Petruchka) e in Dumbarton (il primo tempo del concerto Dumbarton Oaks) ove il riadattamento è fedelissimo in termini metrici e ritmici ma gli strumenti utilizzati (jublag e gangsa, simili ai nostri xilofoni), avendo una scala diversa da quella del pianoforte, restituiscono una dimensione armonico-melodica deformata: la figura è la stessa, l’immagine è diversa.

Nel meditativo Andante (dilatata rivisitazione di uno dei Cinque Pezzi Facili per pianoforte a quattro mani), e anche nella Polka, interviene anche la chitarra di Simone Mor, il che offre l’occasione di mettere a confronto i due sistemi armonici che si sovrappongono. Nell’Improvvisazione sulla danza russa di Petruchka si rileva come un riassunto di quanto ascoltato, con l’intervento di pressoché tutti gli strumenti, a percussione, a pizzico, e a fiato, che ormai hanno assimilato la pratica collettiva.

La complessità che ne scaturisce ci traghetta nel secondo capitolo dell'album dedicato a Ligeti con due pezzi di matrice minimalista ma dalla scrittura dettagliata e articolata: Continuum (1968), composto per clavicembalo, e Autoritratto con Reich e Riley (e Chopin sullo sfondo), scritto per due pianoforti, costituiscono un banco di prova esecutivo difficile e un esito sonoro che si raggiunge per accumulazione di strumentazione, utilizzando ben sette gangsa suonati, sotto la guida di Arnawa, da un gruppo di giovanissimi musicisti (alcuni appena adolescenti). Entrambi i brani di Ligeti sono riflessioni sull’infinito, non però prodotte con l’espediente della lunga durata ad libitum, bensì con la divisione dell’enunciato musicale in parti infinitamente piccole, attraverso l’accostamento strettissimo delle note suonate in velocità, tanto da dare l’illusione della continuità: il paradosso di Zenone in musica.

Nei suoi lavori, I Made Arnawa lascia intendere di aver ascoltato molta musica.


NOTES by Federico Capitoni

"In the beginning was the rhythm." This biblical paraphrase can be approved by many musicians and was certainly true for Stravinsky, who made the rhythm – more than harmony – the founding principle of his music. Ballets aside, all compositions by Stravinsky have a strong rhythmic quality, as if rhythm were simultaneously the origin and the end of music, which is absolutely true. Beyond any philosophical speculation on rhythm as the essence of music, this album shows a perfect combination of heightened pulsation and creative rhythmic variations with the tradition of the Gamelan orchestra, which appears to be based more on rhythm and timbre than on melodic and harmonic sequences. In order to play the six Stravinsky pieces included on this record, Arnawa’s Balinese ensemble studied the recordings of the piano versions (when such transcriptions existed, of course). That was for two reasons: firstly, the piano has less tone-color connotations than the orchestra, which allowed Arnawa to create his pieces more freely; secondly, the piano is a percussion instrument capable of translating the sound of string or wind instruments into a more strictly percussive language, which is then enriched with the metallophones and drums which are typical of the Gamelan music. The rest is left to Arnawa’s creative elaboration of a tuning system that stands far from the twelve-toned equal-tempered scale used by Stravinsky. Ultimately then the differences between output and model are not only a matter of timbre, but of musical character.

In Ebony – the gamelan version of the “Ebony Concerto” (1945) – the American jazz-swing spirit of the original, with its café-chantant flavor, turns into an almost futuristic piece where the sulings (Balinese flutes) and the pereret (a type of wooden trumpet with a nasal, penetrating sound) are intertwined in a seemingly clumsy, grotesque way. This is the result of moving from one type of orchestra to another – an important sign of the fact that music is “written” more by instruments than by ink on paper.

This transformation taking place at different levels is particularly evident in Danse Russe (from “Petrushka”) and Dumbarton (the first movement of the “Dumbarton Oaks” concerto), where the re-creation is true to the original in terms of metrics and rhythm, but it resorts to instruments (jublag and gangsa) that play on a different scale, thus producing a distorted harmonic-melodic dimension – the figure is the same, but the image is different.

In the meditative Andante (a time-stretched version of one of the “Five Easy Pieces” for piano-duet) and in the Polka (from more “Easy Pieces”) there is also Simone Mor’s guitar, which makes it possible to compare two overlapping harmonic systems. The Improvisation on the Petrushka theme appears as a summary of the entire album, with the participation of almost all instruments – percussion, wind and plucked strings – which are now perfectly intertwined as an ensemble. The complexity emerging from this piece brings us to the other part of the album, dedicated to Ligeti, with two minimalist pieces characterized by a meticulous and articulated writing – Continuum (1968), composed for harpsichord, and Self-portrait with Reich and Riley (and Chopin in the Background), written for two pianos. In these musically challenging pieces, the sound results from an “accumulation” of instruments, with seven gangsa played by a group of very young musicians – some are teenagers! – under the guidance of Arnawa. Both pieces are “reflections on infinity” created by Ligeti, not through an ad-libitum prolonged sound, but through the division of the musical phrase into infinitesimal parts played at high speed so as to give the illusion of continuity: Zeno's paradox translated into music.

Arnawa’s pieces are the works of an artist who has surely listened to much music.