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Thursday, June 15, 2023

Brian Baumbusch, Chemistry for Gamelan and String Quartet, Premiere Recording


The synergies of Gamelan from Java and Bali with EuroAmerican Classical and New Music goes back a ways, from Debussy's and Ravel's fascination to Colin McPhee's dedication to Harry Partch and Lou Harrison's activation and so we go. The impetus remains a viable one as attested by today's new album of the music of Brian Baumbusch, the World Premiere recording of Chemistry for Gamelan and String Quartet (New World Records 80833-2), featuring Jack Quartet and Nata Swara, a Gamelan Ensemble for today.

This new series of works is weighted a bit more initially towards the energy of Balinese music than the more Apollonian contemplation of the traditional Javanese approach. And this Gamelan as representative of the Baumbusch synthesis is very much intrinsically and explicitly rooted in the music not as in some past hybrids,  familiar in sound but only tangential to what has been practiced in Javanese and Balinese forms over time, but quite the opposite as we hear in the opening "Prisms for Gene Davis."  The closing movement is especially moving with its busy swirl of convincing Gamelan figuration and the underlying long form melodic pattern, a different one from a traditional Balinese piece per se but functioning in the same way.

A work for string quartet alone follows, "Three Elements" from 2016. The sound color pattern is exhilarating and expressive with especially good use of harmonics in bowing and the like. The results are rather uncanny and fantastical, a pleasure to hear, original and very much its own sound color expression universe.

The final work combines the two ensembles and worlds for "Hydrogen(2)Oxygen," a virtual chemical reaction of sorts. First, we hear long bows and mallet punctuations that ravish in a momentum of pulsations of gamelan along with held variations of bowed string clusters. It is a vital amalgam much more than a simple joining; it is a music of reaction-interaction so to say. It is a satisfying unfolding in a new territory that is glorious in tone and temper, building to a tapestry of  periodicity, a sort of industrial revolution of timbres, and there we have the first movement . Then follows something wholly unique and sensuously sonic in happy ways. Eventually polyrhythmic and multiphonic, fittingly, an in- tandem conglomeration of notable hue. It all morphs with high-gloss string harmonics and a tattoo from the gamelan, then string twitters of quiet cricketude that expand and unfold in winning ways, with a prettiness unexpected but welcome nonetheless.

The final movement brings a new division of rhythmic labor with Western instruments at times splitting functions to create an ever-expanding and contracting duplex structure that transcends a hard and fast dichotomy of Gamelan and West.

In total we have an adventurous and musically throughgoing romp through inner and outer differential relations between Gamelan and New Music. Brilliant it all is. Bravo!

To stream the album and find out about ordering go to the bandcamp link.


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