MIT's Gamelan Galak Tika opens its 12th season this week with a concert on campus tomorrow followed by its debut performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City Saturday.
The concerts will feature two cross-cultural compositions by Professor Evan Ziporyn for the 25-member gamelan, an Indonesian-style orchestra featuring mostly percussion instruments such as gongs and chimes. Gamelan Galak Tika plays traditional Balinese music as well as experimental pieces composed by Ziporyn, a well-known jazz clarinetist and composer who directs the orchestra. His compositions, including the two to be performed this week, helped propel MIT's gamelan onto the world music scene. Ziporyn's pieces often combine Western instruments such as electric guitars, mandolins and even symphony orchestras with traditional gamelan insruments.
"Tire Fire" (1994) is a clash of gamelan and electric guitars, bass and keyboard that brought the audience to its feet at the conclusion of the 1995 "Bang On A Can Marathon" at Lincoln Center in New York. "Amok!" (1997) is a 30-minute piece featuring sample technology, extended instrumental techniques and elements of electronica.
Joining the gamelan for this cross-cultural reunion is Odd Appetite, the electro-acoustic new music duo of cellist Ha-Yang Kim and percussionist Nathan Davis, who performed Ziporyn's music for the recent production of "Oedipus Rex" at the American Repertory Theater. Also from the "Oedipus" ranks are multi-instrumentalist Jeff Lieberman and bassist Blake Newman, accompanied by guitarist Eddie Whalen, a former member of the Gamelan Galak Tika. Bali's master musician Dewa Ketut Alit begins a year-long residency with the orchestra by reuniting with Balinese choreographer I Nyoman Catra for a performance of "Semara Wisaya," featuring dancers Desak Made Suarti Laksmi and Cynthia Laksawana
The campus concert will be held in Kresge Auditorium on Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students/seniors, and free with MIT I.D. The New York concert will be in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall (881 7th Ave., New York) Nov. 13 at 4 p.m. It is part of the "In Your Ear Festival" curated by John Adams. Tickets range from $20-$32.
Since its founding 11 years ago as the Boston area's first gamelan, Gamelan Galak Tika has devoted itself to studying traditional Balinese music and dance and to developing new works by Balinese and American composers. The group has given dozens of performances around the East Coast and New England.
Now, Balinese audiences may have the opportunity to hear the American gamelan orchestra. The ensemble has been invited to participate in the annual Bali Arts Festival in June 2005 in Denpasar, Bali. The festival is a month of daily performances, handicraft exhibitions and other cultural activities.
"Taking a gamelan to Bali might seem like taking coals to Newcastle, but it's a signal moment for the ensemble," said Ziporyn. "It's illuminating to hear the music as it's meant to be played and meet the musicians who play it. I also think it's increasingly important at this time to show people in other cultures that we value and respect them, and that connections and meaningful exchanges are still possible."
The orchestra has begun an intensive fund-raising effort to make the trip a reality, offering concert tickets, T-shirts, CD's and gamelan music and dance lessons as incentives to donors for their tax-deductible donations. For more information, see the Galak Tika web site.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 10, 2004 (download PDF).