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University of Pittsburgh Gamelan plays in Microtonal Music Festival (1/12/18)! Alvin Lucier's Mu

Some Program Notes for Music for Gamelan Instruments, Microphones, Amplifiers and Loudspeakers (15:09)

In 1994, when Wesleyan University invited me to present a festival of my work, I decided to make as many new works as possible rather than simply present a retrospective of older works. I had for some time wanted to make a work for Javanese gamelan but was hesitant to do so for three reasons: one, I didn’t want to infringe on the generosity of my colleagues Sumarsam and I. M. Harjito, who were so often asked to relinquish important rehearsal time for the performance of new works; two, I have always been wary of using someone else’s music in my own work; and three, I didn’t have an original idea. I certainly didn’t want my piece to sound Indonesian. It wasn’t until I started imagining the bowl-shaped bonangs of the gamelan orchestra more as resonant chambers to be sounded than objects to be struck, that I felt I could make a work that I could call my own. I now felt comfortable in asking my colleagues if they would be interested in having me compose a work for their ensemble. They agreed.

During the performance four players place bonangs of various sizes over microphones, creating feedback, the pitch of which is determined by the shape and size of the bowl and the resonant characteristics of the room. Three gender players strike the bars on their metallaphones, searching for the pitches of the feedback strands. Since it is virtually impossible that a strand of feedback will match exactly a pitch on any fixed-pitch instruments, audible beats – bumps of sound which occur as sound waves coincide – occur. The closer the tuning, the slower the beating. When the players reach near-unison with a feedback strand they slow down or speed up their playing, creating beating patterns between the pitches of their instruments and those of the feedback. Music for Gamelan Instruments, Microphones, Amplifiers and Loudspeakers was first performed on October 18, 1994, World Music Hall, Wesleyan University by the Wesleyan University Gamelan Ensemble.

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