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date: 21 January 2020

American gamelan [Western gamelan]locked

  • Rachel Chacko


[Western gamelan]

Term for modern ensembles of percussion instruments inspired by Indonesian gamelan models. Growing American interest in Indonesian music in the mid-20th century, fostered in part by commercial recordings and burgeoning academic ethnomusicology programmes, prompted efforts to fashion gamelan-type instruments locally to enable performance of traditional Indonesian and new Western compositions. Dennis Murphy (1934–2010) has been credited with the first such effort while he was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison about 1960. He was followed by Barbara Benary, Paul Dresher, Daniel Schmidt, and others, who created home-made gamelan-type metallophones and related instruments from readily available materials (typically scrap aluminium and iron) and tuned them according to individual preferences. Most prominently, beginning in 1971 the experimental composer Lou Harrison (1917–2003) and his partner William Colvig designed and constructed three sets of gamelan-inspired instruments, the first of which was named ‘An American Gamelan’ (and later dubbed ‘Old Granddad’); two later ensembles were destined for schools in California where Harrison taught (Mills College and San Jose State University). These later gamelans were modelled on traditional Javanese instruments but tuned in just intonation. The San Jose State ensemble, Gamelan Si Betty, was bequeathed to composer Jody Diamond and in ...

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Musical Quarterly