Sunday, January 23, 2011

Balinese Gamelan – Music from the Morning of the World

Folk music from all over the world was mainly recorded subject in early times of phonograph. The possibility of  preserving sounds became the foundation for totally new methodological approach in ethnomusicology. For more than half of the century these recordings were known only for researchers and students. Popular 78 rpm records we used for mainly for popular music. In second half of XX century improving technology of 33 rpm, microgroove, long playing, high fidelity and then stereo record made possible to use this medium for wider spectrum of purposes. When vinyl records become popular, it was inevitable to spread catalogue to the whole spectrum of musical culture and even much more. This was one of steps of the information revolution.
In 1967 New York label Nonesuch published first recording in the legendary Explorer Series. The next seventeen years under this label occurred a real revolution in the way the musical culture can be perceived. Field recordings made in Asia, Africa, Americas and Eastern Europe by remarkable scholars, gave the listeners new perspective of seeing musical (and not only musical) heritage, and making possible the next step in the history of humankind. In 1977 some of Explorer Series recordings have been choose for golden record with samples of musical sounds and send into space on aboard of the Voyager.

Balinese Gamelan recorded by David Lewiston

The first record published in Nonesuch Explorer Series was outstanding compilation of Balinese music, especially the gamelan orchestra. Published under the meaningful title Music from the Morning of the World, record became famous and has great impact on popular culture. The program of this album came from the material recorded in Bali by British musicologist David Lewiston. He also wrote cover commentaries to the whole collection and to every piece.
Commemorating crucial meaning of this record in 2008 the National Recording Preservation Board has selected it to the National Recording Registry, which groups records that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” for American cultural heritage. Music from the Morning of the World is undoubtedly bearing title. This synthetic presentation of Balinese musical heritage was one of very few settling the breakthrough in thinking about musical past. Of course one LP is too short to record panoramic view of the whole culture of any nation. Trying to obtain this aim Lewiston made an inspired choice and his first success he continued with next compilation of Balinese music Golden Rain (1969).
Among many sound checks and musical artifacts album presents excerpt from one of most unusual musical miracle play – The Ketjak Dance also known as The Ramayana Monkey Chant. In pure form it is a religious ceremony but as folkloristic spectacle it has variety of symbolic and narrative content. With its roots in sanghyang this trance ritual chant can be proof of vitality of cultural archetypes. Included on two Lewiston’s compilations, in next years ketjak became important trace in popular culture – quoted in movies (Fellini’s Satiricon, Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple) and pop music (Manhattan Transfer's Soldier of Fortune, Faith No More's Got That Feeling, Mr. Bungle's Good Bye Sober Day). In Ron Fricke’s movie Baraka (1992) the scene of the ritual is marked out as one of most significant motif.

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