- Review Essay:Wayan Gandera and the Hidden History of Gamelan Gong Kebyar
A new CD of Balinese music featuring the mainstream repertoire foregrounded on Bali South will likely not strike connoisseurs as anything exceptional. The marketplace is amply stocked with comparable items. The gamelan gong kebyar featured here on the first four tracks, the celebrated Gunung Sari of Peliatan village, has been recorded commercially numerous times since its 1952 world tour-the first by a Balinese music and dance troupe-and virtually identical versions of most if not all of the compositions included have been available elsewhere at one time or another.1 The word kebyar, of course, describes the flashy, energetic style of Balinese gamelan most famous around the world and most widespread on the island itself. But there is no reason why the estimable Gunung Sari cannot, like the Berlin Philharmonic, release multiple recordings of the same music, especially when it is foreigners, not they, who instigate them. And Gunung Sari itself, extant in some form since the mid-1920s, has certainly scaled historic heights: it performed often for Sukarno while he was Indonesian president (1950-65), won frequent competitions at home in the 1930s and 1940s, and even dropped in to play at the 1931 Paris Exposition, evoking profuse responses from Artaud, Cocteau, Milhaud, and a roster of other impressionable auds and eaus in the Paris intelligentsia.
I don't think it is going too far to say that Western experiences of Gunung Sari crystallized the durable images and sounds of young, sensual "Bali dancers" that were adopted and diffused into Western modernist consciousness. Bali South, however, is by all appearances innocent of Gunung Sari's hoary public life as a cultural icon and makes no move to update or revise it. Yet for [End Page 109] this observer the need for such revision is both timely and overdue, and the chance to launch such an inquiry on the shoulders of this unassuming new publication is irresistible.
The CD and the Peliatan Kebyar Canon
The kebyar tracks on Bali South were originally issued in 1973, also by UCLA, as an LP. These and the other five selections on the CD were recorded in 1970 by Gertrude Rivers Robinson, prior to that time a student of Mantle Hood in the UCLA ethnomusicology program. Robinson passed away in 1995, but for more than twenty years she was professor of music at Loyola Marymount University, also in Los Angeles, where she composed some of the first works combining gamelan and Western instruments. (At a 1981 festival in San Diego I heard and saw her idiosyncratic Bayangan, a mini-ballet with visuals scored for eight gamelan instruments and chamber septet composed in the early 1970s.) She was important to the UCLA scene at the time and it is good that her work is seeing light again.
Bali South features three brief instrumental works ("Sekar Jepun," "Gambang Suling," and "Hujan Mas") plus the warhorse dance piece "Teruna Jaya," done in the ubiquitous standard version known by virtually every musician on the island, but with a special passage of interlocking parts (kotekan) inserted near the beginning that suffices, minimally, to mark this rendition as Peliatan's. As for the instrumental pieces heard here, they are still current in Peliatan but not elsewhere, at least any more. They are somewhat fossilized, actually, and offer a view of Peliatan's music in the mid-1960s, when the group first played them. It is striking that although thirty years have passed since the Bali South LP appeared, the recording still reflects living practice in this particular pocket of Bali. Anyone who has visited Peliatan over the years may well have heard one or more of them (plus the short instrumental, "Kapi Raja," featured on the 1952 tour) at Gunung Sari's weekly tourist performance, where the same repertoire is recycled week after week, year...