Gathering of the Gamelans, Saturday sessions
May 1, 2012 1 Comment
Today’s conference activities were somewhat disrupted by a revised schedule of wayang rehersals, which also caused our Scottish group a certain amount of last minute phone calls to try to get everyone there in time. I was fortunately able to make Helen Loth’s paper session ‘”Why gamelan, couldn’t we just use steel-pans?”: The use of gamelan with special needs groups and populations’. Helen is engaged on doctoral research in this area, and presented an illuminating account of her findings so far. Her application of the term ‘special needs groups’ is very broad: in effect she is surveying pretty much the a full range of what I would might have called ‘community music’ with gamelan in the UK. After a literature review, she presented a series of tables full of interesting nuggets of information: for instance, the most common timescale for this kind of work seems to be the (often criticised) one-off workshop, followed by the 1-2 week residency. I was particularly interested in a diagram which laid out people’s perceived feelings about the different tunings one could potentialy use, slendro, pelog, Sundanese and two Balinese tunings. I was also fascinated by some of the negative perceptions of gamelan music which she had identified in her study. With the rescheduled day there was little time for discussion: this would have been an interesting area to probe further.
I’ve now been to two really excellent workshops by Jonathan Roberts. A number of years ago I participated in an illuminating session on wayang puppets and puppetry, and this morning he gave us a great section on gerongan, the unison (mostly male) singing which accompanies Javanese gamelan. In a brave but completely correct move, I think, Jonathan had us do hardly any singing, but spent the majority of the time on Javanese pronunciation. There are a number of sounds in the language which are not found in English, which we worked through in some detail: at times the session almost turned into – bilabial fricative?! – a lecture on phonetics. I still struggle to hear the difference between those d and t sounds, but I think I have clearer idea how to make them.
After the pronunciation, Jonathan took us through some techniques in Javanese vocal production. He started off by busting the myth that it is ‘nasal’. Instead, we were to try yawning, to start to feel the action of the pharynx and how that could be brought into action to produce a kind of vocal resonance which he called ‘twang’. I can’t do it yet, but at least I’m going to stop singing through my nose!