You won’t travel for long in Bali without your ears stumbling across the wonderful, if strange, allure of Gamelan music and dance.

Distinctively evocative, exotic and mysterious at the first hearing, the weird percussive sounds and tuning systems involved are uniquely intoxicating and have inspired many great western composers, including Claude Debussy and Erik Satie as well as modern composers such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass and John Cage, and indeed a repertoire of sampled gamelan sounds are now a valued standard fare on most modern synthesizers.



The characteristically hypnotic evolving sound collages of Gamelan has a complex musical architecture rooted in the indigenous traditional Hindu belief system of Bali, though the ancient origins of the music actually predate the rise of Indonesia’s once great Hindu culture, and the philosophical principles which apply to the manipulation of tonality, pitch and the unusual interplay of inter-rhythmic cycling undulations and time signatures are fully intended to create a spiritual effect within the consciousness of the listener.  

This complex weave of sonic mindscapes has been traditionally handed down in oral teachings over the centuries, but in recent times various attempts to apply notational quantisation to its structure have been attempted. However, even in our modern era much of the emphasis of the performance depends ultimately on the intuitive interplay between the musicians, and for this reason, true Gamelan music should be regarded as a living entity rather than as a prefigured composition.

For those interested in the technical musicological aspects of Gamelan music, or indeed the similarly undulating accompanying dances which are very much a part of the gamelan theosophy, there are courses, ranging from short introductory lessons all the way up to a master’s degree available in Denpasar.

If, during your travels, you find yourself as captivated by the music as many famous composers and musicians have, but can’t stay in Bali long enough to study, many of the top universities and music collages around the world now offer serious study courses in Gamelan.

Of course, as with all genuinely 'spiritual' music, the real masters of the craft are not merely musicians, but navigators of the stream of life, tuned to the inner rhythms of motion and being, which cannot be taught, but only understood through intuitive practice.

 

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