The gamelan has been getting a lot of attention this year, with Onkalo, Glochids and Oregon’s own Daniel Menche introducing the instrument’s tones to a larger audience. When Menche was afforded the opportunity to explore, experiment and record in The Venerable Showers of Beauty, the gamelan studio at Lewis and Clark College, he must have felt like a kid in a candy shoppe. He returns this favor with a creative album that goes where few artists have ventured before.
The Marriage of Metals referred to in the title is one of gamelan and computer. The sound of gongs is evident throughout the recording, but the clearest sounds are saved for the beginning of each side. Slight melodies glide in and out; the heavy “Gong Ageng” provides bass tones; echoes double back upon themselves. Menche embeds the gongs in a dense skein of static feedback, which grows in volume along a linear path. As the processing rises, the primary instrument reacts; in the fourth minute of “Marriage of Metals 1”, gamelans are hit in a seemingly random sequence that forms a harmonic circle as it progresses. Meanwhile, an outer circle imitates the inner circle at a higher octave.
When the thick swirl dissipates, it leaves behind a concentrated residue. The “pure” opening of Side B provides a sharp contrast. By this time, the listener has become acclimated to hearing the gamelan in electronic form; at the beginning of B, the timbre turns once more to the organic. This shift allows the gamelan to be viewed from two different angles, the traditional and the modern. While few local Indonesian artists might have imagined such experimentation, the integration of the instrument into such extended drone pieces opens new possibilities for exploration. As the electronics start to seep back in, the artist seems both audacious and respectful. While Marriage of Metals pushes forward, it also looks back, celebrating the purity of tone by altering it for a different culture. (Richard Allen)