Echoes was written for the Puspawarna Gamelan Group at the University of Otago. I have long enjoyed the sounds of the gamelan, and welcomed the invitation by Dr Shelley Brunt to compose something for Puspawarna. Although I knew some rudimentary things about the instruments, composing this piece gave me the opportunity to learn a great deal more. Being able to play a little in the ensemble was invaluable, as was advice provided by leader Joko Susilo, Shelley, Chris Watson (Mozart Fellow at Otago University) and one of my students, Ali Churcher, who coincidentally was writing a piece for gamelan at the same time.
Echoes is the first piece I have written without using a piano at all to compose. Having been to a gamelan rehearsal I found a tune popping into my head during a walk to the dairy. I developed this tune on the computer (using vibraphone sounds to represent the gamelan), layering it into a canon, or round. Two further tunes appear, based on different home notes, but all the tunes use the same pelog scale. They are decorated and varied, before the opening tune returns like an echo at the end. The idea of echoes is also evoked by the canons, and the ringing sounds of the gamelan itself. Echoes have a spiritual significance, I think; sound waves return to a listener in the same way memories flood the brain when triggered by something special happens. They induce a reflective state.
A medicine bundle is part of the traditional teachings and practices of the First Nations peoples of North America. The title of this piece, which I wrote as one of the many invited composers worldwide to contribute a piece for pianist Ananda Sukarlan’s Concerts for Bali commemorating the Bali bombing of October 2002, was my response to an article published in the Toronto Star, where an elder of the Six Nations Reserve of southern Ontario spoke of a “medicine bundle” found within each of us; a place of healing and transformation which we can tap into in times of strife and need. I envisaged the bundle in this case as a bundle of notes from which the performer(s) can freely bring their own sensitivities, experiences and responses to the work’s realisation.
The title, Now I Know, is a play on an initial misunderstanding over the name of the clarinet soloist for whom, along with Gamelan Padhang Moncar, the work was written – was Andrzej’s surname Knowicki, or Nowicki?
I am grateful to Jack Body for commissioning the work and, through its writing and rehearsals, taking me on a long detour outside my comfort zone, into a world of communal music making and collaboration that is so much more immediate and enveloping than the more aloof composer/performer relationship that I am accustomed to. Thanks also to Andrzej Nowicki for having the courage to explore the limits of the de-tuned clarinet, to Gareth Farr and Yudane for putting together the opening and the ensemble for its hours of dedicated rehearsal, much of it in the uncomfortable heat of Java.
This piece was written in 1975 when Allan Thomas first brought his Cirebon gamelan to Victoria University. I encouraged a composition class to join in learning how to play the various instruments involved, and then to write something of their own as an exercise in modal composition. Also to see if they could come up with something that worked in a non-traditional-Javanese way. Having a go at doing such a piece myself was part of the encouragement. In the end, only one student and I finished our pieces!
My Ostinato, while taking into account the gamelan instruments and their colours, is a sort of “process” piece that could also be adapted for other timbres. Basically the process is a shrinking canon. The theme, first played by the kenong, is imitated six beats later by the bonang. With each repeat of this the theme gets louder and the canonic imitation a beat closer until at the climax they play together. The other gamelan instruments provide background ostinati throughout, and at the end join in the final echo cadence.