Pondok (2001) is Indonesian for a cottage, such as the tiny bamboo hut I lived in during my first stay in Bali in 1981. I arrived unprepared for the cultural and sensory overload I encountered. I would sit on my porch, transcribing music, smoking clove cigarettes, listening to the shortwave, and trying to make sense of it all. Twenty years later, this piece imagines a different level of repose. Each movement is based on a particular aspect of Balinese music, taken in its own direction to the point of no resemblance. "Fragrant Forest" borrows an attitude toward pacing and phrasing from the first scene of the shadow play; "Tree Trunk" builds on a rhythm buried in the texture of beleganjur marching music; "Ginoman" abstracts from the immobility of the introductions to classical lelambatan; "Gebyog (Husk)" combines the intense rhythms of west Balinese female rice pounding music with the serene postures of its performers. The piece is dedicated to Sarah Cahill.
Piano Trio - Typical Music (2000) was written for the Arden Trio. Before this piece I generally wrote for unusual combinations of instruments, and I wasn't sure what to do with this archetypically classical combination. As I was writing it, I saw Burmese master drummer Kyaw Kyaw Naing perform at a Unitarian Church in Brookline, Massachusetts. Most of his playing that day accompanied song or dance, until finally the well-meaning hostess announced that Kyaw Kyaw would play a solo, no singer and no dance, "just a piece of typical music." The piece is dedicated to Martin Bresnick, my teacher and friend, whose own piano trio serves as a lofty pinnacle of pure music.
Ngaben (for Sari Club) (2003) is for full Balinese gamelan and western orchestra and was written in response to the Bali terrorist bombing of October 12, 2002. I had just begun working on a very different type of piece for gamelan and orchestra, but the printed images of Balinese women crying and praying at the blast site overwhelmed me. Suddenly, musical cross-culturalism meant something far different than it had.
The ngaben cremation is the last and most important life ritual in Balinese Hinduism. Like a traditional New Orleans funeral, it covers a wide range, not all mournful. Loss is acknowledged but subsumed by the far more important task of releasing the soul from the body. The procession itself is serious, chaotic and circuitous: the raised, highly ornamented sarcophagus is spun violently at all intersections so as to confuse evil spirits. The subsequent burning frees the soul to await its next incarnation.
This Ngaben follows the same course, with these two sections fused together by a central kebyar, the highly charged, ametric-but-synchronous tutti which characterizes modern Balinese music. As with Balinese temple rituals, the musicians fill the room—the strings envelop the gamelan on the stage, while the winds are arrayed across the balcony, behind the audience. Kebyar is often translated as a blossoming or lightning flash, but it also means 'explosion.' It arose in response to the bloody Dutch takeover of Bali at the dawn of the 20th century; that tragedy sparked a renaissance of art and cross-cultural exchange on the island which has lasted until this day. This piece, a response to the violence which starts this century, is a small offering in the hope that the east-west exchange will continue undaunted.
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