Music from Bali, the Island of the Gods
Like so many of the other blessings in my life, I owe my discovery of Bali to a guy named Meatball Fulton at ZBS Foundation.
I'd never heard of gamelan music until he began putting it in the background of a few Jack Flanders adventures. For that matter, I'd never heard of Bali. Like most Westerners, my knowledge of Indonesia is woefully inadequate.
At first, all I knew was snatches of ... something ... playing in the background of the Casa Luna or on the Travels with Jack series. It was wonderful. The first time I heard a gamelan, I seriously thought it was an entire orchestra composed of wind chimes.
I wasn't far wrong. Gamelan music ... whether traditional or new age ... is amazingly complez. The instrumentation is so intense that the instruments normally belong to the band ... which normally means the village itself.
I nearly wore my ZBS stories out, replaying tracks again and again because they had that magical mixture of windchimes and gongs in the background. All the while, I was searching for albums that featured pure Balinese music.
It wasn't an easy search. But over the years it paid off. Suddenly, so long after my original quest began, there seems to be an explosion of interest in Balinese music. So, I decided to share a few of my favorite CDs.
First off, is Bali by Jalan Jalan. This is without a doubt the most accessible gamelan music for westerners. The music is wistful, gentle and rythmic in a way that perfectly captures my first impressions of Balinese music as windchime orchestras. If you like, you can hear some samples from the CD at Amazon.com.
They also have Jalan's follow-up CD, Bali Dua. I haven't gotten a copy of that one yet, but I'm told it's even more stunning than the first.
While Jalan Jalan slightly Westernizes the music while using nothing but traditional instruments, Voyages: Winds of Bali takes a slightly different method. This album uses pure, raw gamelan music but dubs in synthesizers and other western music behind it. It adds an extra layer of sound while providing more of the melodic substances Western listeners are used to hearing. Again, you can hear clips at Amazon.com.
Two other CDs make no apologies and no efforts to Westernize the music. In both cases, production crews traveled to Bali and recorded the music live during religion ceremonies, festivals and other gatherings. The result is raw gamelan music exactly as it sounds on the beaches and valleys of Bali.
Again, you can visit Amazon if you'd like to hear excerpts from Music Of Bali/Gamelan & Kecak or Bali: Music from the Island of the Gods.
Whether you ease into the sound by starting with Jalan Jalan or plunge straight into the full orchestration of the native gamelan bands, I'm sure you'll find the music of Bali opens up a whole new way of thinking about sound.
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