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Gamelan Madu Sari: New Javanese Shadows

Even though I am very busy with everything else in my life, I could not refuse an invitation to join a week-long workshop with five of the most innovative masters of the Arts of Java.

Gamelan Madu Sari, Vancouver’s gamelan that uses Javanese instruments, was producing a show called “Semar in Lila Maya” and they had worked very hard to bring four performers from Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Students could study with one or all of these instructors who specialize in dance, shadow puppetry and music instruction. It was tempting to sample a bit of everything from the rich cultural buffet. The group picture, taken at the end of class, was a bit of an afterthought and I had already changed into my motorcycle riding clothes so I couldn’t sit cross-legged anymore.

Madu Sari workshop with Javanese guests

On the far left back row and below, is my friend Mas Sutrisno Hartana, who has moved to Vancouver and teaches Javanese music at Simon Fraser University. It is because of Sutrisno, that I say five Masters of Javanese Arts, although there are only four visitors. I have taken better photos of him, but he is really concentrating and serious in this image below. He introduced me to the subtle beauty of Javanese gamelan when I was still playing with Gong Gita Asmara, the ensemble using Balinese instruments based at UBC. I did rehearse with Madu Sari and play one concert, and I look forward to having more time to play with them in future.

Mas Sutrisno is a multi-talented performer who has worked with the Javanese guests as a shadow puppet master (dalang) and treated us to an impromptu dance duo performance with the visiting dance specialist. He is best known as an expert Javanese performer, recognized composer and arranger and the Artistic Director of the Madu Sari Community Gamelan group.

Mas Sutrisno Hartana with Javanese kendang drum

 

Many of the other students had better cameras and they may share their shots later, but I took a few pictures. On the left is Ki Seno Nugroho, one of the most famous of Java’s traditional shadow puppet masters (dalang.) He constructed and manipulated puppets in the Madu Sari production assisted by Eko Pumono.

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Most of the Indonesian visitors smoked clove scented cigarettes (kretek), it is a very widespread habit in their country.

 

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Below is a photo of the four members of Gamelan Wargo Laras who visited Vancouver, taught a week-long workshop, then performed with Gamelan Madu Sari during their “New Javanese Shadows” Canadian tour. The dance specialist, lower left, demonstrated and taught at the workshop, but participated in the show as a musician.

4 gamelan performers from Java

Then there was the show. This genre is called “Wayang Lectrik” in Indonesia, wayang is the Indonesian term for the puppet play and lectrik signifies the use of electricity, instead of traditional oil lamps, to produce the light. It combines the traditional magic of the shadow play with the innovative magic of technology.

Semar in Lila Maya 1

The electronic visuals were by Aleksandra Dulic and Ken Newby, who are located in the back left in the photo below. I tried to show the screen from the side so the puppet can be seen behind the screen and the shadow reflection as well.

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Above: Ken Newby is playing suling (Javanese flute) in this photo and the gamelan orchestra instruments are shown much more clearly. The long table in the middle of the group holds the puppets where the dalang can easily pick them up and animate them.

The music was composed by Madu Sari members Ben Rogalsky, Mark Parlett, Micheal O’Neill, Sutrisno Hartana and Kenneth Newby. The story combined Javanese mythic figures and stories with modern vignettes and cameos by Western philosophers. The beauty of the visual elements combined with the emotionally evocative gamelan sounds created a wonderful ambience. I went to the show each evening to enjoy the improvisation and watch the evolution of the show.

I had seen “Semar’s Journey” last year and so made the effort to see the launch of this show, “Semar in Lila Maya”, at the Vancouver Art Gallery on the Night of Broken Bikes. This was a much more interesting presentation visually as during the launch, it was still light outside and in the Roundhouse the light was controlled. There is always something special about listening to gamelan music outside, but the audio was very good in the Roundhouse.

The show went on to tour in Ottawa, Mississauga and Toronto after two nights in Vancouver at the Roundhouse on Wed. July 9th and Thu. July 10th, 2008. There was some recording and other documentation that I may be able to post later. I will never forget the generous spirit of the Javanese artists, who shared their expertise with us. I give them and Gamelan Madu Sari, my deepest thanks for the experience.

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Categories: Inspiration, VIX at Work
  1. kraig
    July 21st, 2008 at 13:00 | #1

    a different but parallel use of electric light for shadow work
    http://anaphoria.com/shadow.html

  1. September 14th, 2008 at 20:40 | #1