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World Music CD Reviews Asia & Far East

Gamelan Madu Sari

By Robert Kaye
Published August 1, 2005

New Nectar

The percussion-based Javanese gamelan orchestra is one of the world's remarkable musical traditions. Founded in 1986, Vancouver-based Gamelan Madu Sari (“The Essence of Honey”) features the compositions of five composer-performers who, in addition to immersing themselves in the highly complex, interlocking gamelan music, also bring their collective experience to other genres. One hears elements of Western classical, ambient, jazz, Vietnamese and Balinese music, in addition to the quintet’s improvisational skills. The five composers are highly knowledgeable musicians: For example, Chris Miller, who authored some of the extensive liner notes, is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University. While excellently executed and produced, the album leans heavily toward the esoteric; hence it may not be fully appreciated by a casual listener. A WorldBeat dance gala this is not. Sonically, there are many instruments that will sound quite “foreign” to Western ears, such as the nasal rebab (a bowed fiddle), not to mention many of the non-tempered pitches emanating from the gamelan orchestra itself. If you’re open-minded (and open-eared) there’s much to discover. But it might take time.