While I was home in Sacramento, cleaning my old room and preparing to move, I found a shoe box labeled “jewelry + childhood.” It contained a handful of necklaces I’ve never worn, some drying up sparkly nail polish, and a stack of storybook cassette tapes. This one was the hidden gem.
My cousin Jojo and I recorded this probably around 1998, when I was 12 and he was 5, judging by our voices. My desire to document began at a young age!
The first part of the tape is a news show, in which we cover a recent flood and speak with a few survivors. If you listen to any of my “Phoning It In” episodes, you’ll notice that my interviewing skills have not improved. How twisted is it that we invented a character whose family died so he declines an interview?
I remember writing that song “Down in the Meadow” with Jojo — possibly the first songwriting experience for both of us. As I listened to it last month for the first time in probably 15 years, I could still remember the words.
In the final part, I’m pretty sure Jojo made up words to a song from Gradius III, our favorite SNES space fighter game. He sings another weird song by himself, and then I interview him and make some poop jokes. Golden.
The final night of Performing Indonesia was an eclectic demonstration of traditional music, dance and folk theater from West Sumatra. The Professional Ensemble of the Indonesian Institute of the Arts at Padang Panjang began with a gamelan variation called talempong, consisting of small brass kettle gongs that sit horizontally in a frame, two hanging gongs and hand drums.
These guys really know how to build up a song! These melodies are pretty simple, but they steadily intensify until a sudden, pulsating conclusion. (Yow!) I especially like the slow vocal intro to this, like an Indonesian doo-wop:
The rest of the night mixed up the talempong with some double reed flute, electric bass and a zither. Two young girls did an impressive plate-balancing act. There was some cross-dressing, some comedy bits (which I couldn’t understand but laughed anyway because it was still fun), some sword fighting, some wrestling, a lot of “Stomp”-style dancing using percussive pants.
In a mind-boggling finale, the men did another plate-balancing dance, and then began smashing the plates with their bare feet. Jumping up and down on shards of china! Rolling around in this pile of shards shirtless! A guy took a handful and rubbed it all over his face! (See the remnants above?) It was wild.
Thus concludes my coverage of Performing Indonesia. So thankful to the embassy and the Smithsonian for hosting this inspiring event!
In a weekend full of gamelan, the Washington, D.C.-based House of Angklung was a welcome change in timbre and instrumentation. Like an Indonesian version of carolers’ bells, angklung are bamboo idiophones that a player shakes to produce a single note. With a whole ensemble, they create a melody.
If you search for angklung on Youtube, you’ll see it’s pretty popular to adapt contemporary pop music to these centuries-old instruments. This group was no exception. I have a soft spot for “Volare”:
Novelties aside, my favorite song of the performance featured this singer, a popular folk song from the Papua province called “Yamko Rambe Yamko”:
But the biggest gamelan-world overlap was Pandan Arum, consisting of many members of CalArts’ Burat Wangi, the focus of my master’s thesis. Tyler Yamin established the group after studying in a remote Balinese village, learning a distinct style of court music from the 17th century that is nearly extinct. His mentor unexpectedly passed away last summer, leaving Tyler to help organize the group in Bali and teach the repertoire to his colleagues in Los Angeles.
If you’re familiar with Balinese gamelan, you’ll notice that this group has a very different sound. The metallophones play in unison instead of interlocking, and while the popular gong kebyar is frenetically fast-paced, this samara pegulingan style is comparatively much slower.
I don’t often get starstruck, but I did a little bit with this beautiful contraption, the Gamelatron. I had seen videos of it at Burning Man and other big festivals, read all about it, played recordings of it on the radio. This weekend, this mechanical gamelan was the first sound to greet attendees of the Smithsonian’s Performing Indonesia festival.
Creator Aaron Taylor Kuffner explained to me that he writes original compositions specifically for the Gamelatron, rather than trying to program it to play traditional pieces — a robot simply can’t play it the way humans can.
But instead of programming some kind of crazy superhuman song, he said his focus is on the tones. When you watch a real gamelan, you’re hearing the music but also seeing costumes, dances, facial expressions, sensing egos and transitions. With a robotic gamelan, sure you trip out over it being a robot, but you’re focused more on just the sounds of each kettle, each cymbal, each gong.
I have many recordings to share from the highlights of this festival, but I’ll start with what the inside of my head has sounded like for the past few days. The finale of Saturday’s first “Gamelan Marathon” was a free-for-all, a total gamelan overload, with four ensembles playing simultaneously in one room.
It’s funny that gamelan music is intended to calm the chaos of the universe and preserve cosmic order, because this was one of the most chaotic, disorderly barrage of sounds I’ve ever heard! I felt like I was going insane. So fun.
Even though it’s undergone a complete resident turnover, the Villanova house in Davis hosted its second annual Halloween cover band show last weekend.
The lineup included Veruca Salt (The Azeotropes featuring Sally Hensel), The Hives (Babs Johnson Gang), all your favorite ’90s female singer hits (Villanova house band), and a couple others I’d never heard of. Sally nailed it!
My favorite costumes of the night: Quailman, a sexy Carmen Sandiego (redundant, really), and groove mechanic (how funky are you?).