31 Fest Beat FestivalIn 1999, we celebrated 25 years of gamelan in New Zealand with an international gamelan festival which featured guests from the US, Netherlands, Australia, Singapore and Indonesia. The week included performances of traditional and new gamelan music and a programme of seminars, including a keynote lecture by Pak Hardjo Susilo. A CD of highlights was produced.

“A fusion of the exotic, traditional, and contemporary, all woven into … sublime music-making from the Victoria University’s Gamelan Padhang Moncar group, beginning in fine festive style Wellington’s International Gamelan Festival.”
Michael Heath, City Voice, March 25 1999

Gongs and chimes transcend cultures

What: International Gamelan Festival. Gamelan ensembles, dancers, puppeteers, individual performers and composers in Indonesian traditions
Where: llott Concert Chamber, Bats Theatre (evenings), Queens Wharf and Majestic Centre (lunch times)
Reviewed by: Lindis Taylor

Jack Body and Allan Thomas, ethnomusicologists teaching at Victoria University School of Music, are mainly responsible for staging what must be the largest international festival of gamelan and other Indonesian music, puppetry and dance ever presented in New Zealand.

It also serves to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the university’s resident Gamelan Padhang Moncar.

The Wellington ensemble (“gamelan” refers to the suite of instruments as well as to the body of instruments plus their players) has given music students over that period an important practical perspective on non-Western music.

That has challenged the barrier between “classical”, “serious”, “fine” music (all pejorative terms) and various kinds of popular music, for these distinctions are harder to apply to non-Western music.

The festival programme lists 23 groups or individuals, from New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, other South-East Asian countries and the United States. They have been performing free lunch-time concerts at Queens Wharf Retail Centre, Bats Theatre for 6pm and 9.30pm concerts and the Ilott Concert Chamber at 8pm.

Principal gamelan instruments include gongs, large numbers of smaller, spherical gong-chimes, metallophones. (like xylophones) and double-ended drums capable, in the hands of Pak Rahayu Supanggah or the three remarkable members of Warogus, of the most varied, vivid and subtle sounds.

We also heard the zither played by Agus Super, the Indonesian fiddle, or rebab, flutes and much else from the gifted and versatile Rafilosa bin Rafii, and from the comparable virtuosity of Ron Reeves of Warogus, the khene, a Thai wind-organ.

Most was composed music, certainly rooted in tradition, but with layers of sophistication, and structures imposed by other cultures.

The opening concert by the Gamelan Padhang Moncar offered Gareth Fair’s riotous mixture using European timpani, roto-toms, tam-tams along with gamelan. Others tended towards the pretentious, though usually constrained by the innate sound to create often beguiling music.

The results were often exciting or entrancing - you became transfixed by the insistent high-pitched metallic clangour of the Balinese gamelan.

The performances have shown the richness of the musical traditions of these regions and the ease with which they can be used to thrill audiences of the most varied backgrounds.

Evening Post, 5 April 1999