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Matthews - Adapting Javanese gamelan
Charles Matthews, PhD

Charles Matthews - Adapting and applying music theory from central Javanese gamelan in electroacoustic composition and performance.

What happens when we attempt to adapt conventions belonging to a musical tradition, removing them from the voices or instruments for which they were created?

Gamelan in central Java features a unique approach to performance and in particular musical time, as a central melodic framework is typically stretched out or compressed several times in the course of a performance. This allows certain players to fill in and interact as more space becomes available. The current research builds on the relationships between core melodic and elaborating instrumentation across different ratios of rhythmic density, exploring how such a system may be adapted to integrate sound synthesis and processing in a performance setting. The studies completed so far make use of traditional instruments augmented with actuators, allowing for experimentation on the borders of tradition and the expanse of possibilities presented by the electroacoustic medium.


Audio examples

The following studies have been created using software developed in the visual programming environment Max/MSP as part of the research.

Bonang Study. Charles Matthews 2011. 02m 24s

This study is based around the bonang barung, a set of horizontally mounted gong-chimes. Each pot has been augmented with surface transducers that effectively turn them into a set of eight metal speakers. The notes traditionally played on the instrument are accompanied by synthesised parts to create extended tones and a variety of timbres.

Ketawang (Gong Cycle). Charles Matthews 2011. 02m 00s

A ketawang is a traditional Javanese musical structure in which a cycle is subdivided by the striking of various hanging and horizontally mounted gongs. Here a pair of gong chimes called the kempyang and kethuk are accompanied by streams of pulses that elaborate on their timbre and pitches, which have transposed as rhythmic intervals.

Subakastawa. Charles Matthews 2011. 02m 24s

This is a development of the ketawang study above, using an adaptation of the gendèr part for the traditional piece Subakastawa. The gendèr is a metallophone played with a soft beater in each hand, typically used to provide ornamentation and accompaniment for vocalists. In this version of the piece an unconventional level of rhythmic density is used (irama wiled).

Gendèr part performed by Charlotte Pugh; all other parts including computer operation performed by Charles Matthews.


Video documentation

Bonang with transducers 2. Charles Matthews 2011. 08m 34s.