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World Music CD Reviews Asia & Far East

Various Artists

By Derek Beres
Published March 13, 2007

Gamelan Of Central Java V. Gaya Yogyakarta
Felmay FY 8075

Gamelan Of Central Java VI. Kraton Surakarta
Felmay FY 8103

Gamelan Of Central Java VII. Edge of Tradition
Felmay FY 8104

To tap into the sonic history­ and meditative resonance ­of Gamelan music takes time. Because it’s tuned to pitches and tones different from anything Western, it can be difficult for a Western ear to hear the magic—at first. For when the mind relaxes to this folk music of Java, Madura, Bali and Lombok, an inner tuning relieves any initial uncertainty. Felmay, in an attempt to reeducate the Western ear, has done a great service with this ongoing series; the latest three releases are extended glimpses of a music better experienced live than heard on record (indeed, most Westerners entered this fascinating realm through the unforgettable orchestra featured in Baraka). The strength of these CDs, as with all Gamelan heard through home speakers, is the meditative state it induces. Much like some forms of Persian, Indian or baroque classical music, the longer one listens, the more relaxation settles in. Unlike more upbeat forms of trance (Qawwali, gnawa), Gamelan, a word signifying the entire orchestra, achieves hypnosis through sedation. All three of these discs are excellent representations, though Kraton Surakarta, featuring an excellent drone of rebab, proves most interesting. The vocal style featured is perhaps as foreign as the various metal drums, almost a toned-down version of Polish shepherding songs. Yet the intricate play of the metal (drums are made of bronze, brass or iron) against the floating voices adds an ingenious edge. Somehow this ritual court music, always spiritually attuned, makes an organic resolution.