Posts

Teaching Artist Matthew Clough-Hunter

The Center for World Music is delighted to profile World Music in the Schools teaching artist Matthew Clough-Hunter.

Matthew Clough-Hunter is a Los Angeles-based performer, composer, and educator who specializes in several Balinese gamelan traditions including angklung, gong kebyar, gendèr wayang, gambuh, kecak, and gamut. He is a member of several gamelan ensembles based in Southern California: Burat Wangi, a community-based gamelan at CalArts directed by I Nyoman Wenten; Merdu Kumala, a community-based gamelan directed by Hirotaka Inuzuka that teaches gamelan workshops and performs throughout the country; Giri Kusuma, a gong kebyar ensemble affiliated with Pomona College; and Sekaa Gambuh, an ensemble that specializes in an ancient repertoire played with meter-long bamboo flutes.

Recently, Matthew taught gamelan at Opus 6 (a summer camp program organized by the Santa Monica Youth Orchestra), participated in Performing Indonesia at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., and performed with renowned Indonesian guitarist Balawan.

Matthew earned an MFA from California Institute of the Arts in World Music with a focus on Indonesian music and composition, and a BFA from Denison University in Music Performance on jazz guitar. Outside of his work in the realm of gamelan, Matthew enjoys songwriting and performing. His songs can be found under the artist name “Cloudhopper” on streaming sites such as Spotify. Music composition, performance, and education are among the strongest driving forces in Matthew’s life, and he feels “so happy when [he] can excite someone about the possibilities of their input in music.”

Matthew Clough-Hunter and Hirotaka Inuzuka performing gender wayang

Gamelan Merdu Kumala performing at the 2022 Balinese Gamelan Festival in Colorado

Instruments of the Central Javanese Gamelan: An Introduction

This is the first in a series of articles exploring the various instruments of the Javanese gamelan. We start off with an overview of this fascinating topic.

If you were to travel to the islands of Java or Bali, you would very likely encounter the music of the gamelan, an ensemble of traditional instruments for which Indonesia is famous. There are numerous types of gamelan ensembles found across this diverse archipelago. Each has its own instrumentation, associated musical style, tuning, and cultural context. The Javanese gamelan tradition was cultivated in the palaces of Central Java as early as the second century CE. Because of its historical connection to the royal courts and their patronage, the music has developed into a highly refined art form and, like the classical music of Europe, has come to carry great cultural prestige.

The instruments of the Javanese gamelan ensemble at Canyon Crest Academy, San Diego. Photo by Laurel Grinnell-Wilson.

Most of the instruments of the gamelan are struck idiophones, a class of instruments that produce sound when the primary material of the instrument itself vibrates. They are made of hand-forged bronze, suspended on wooden frames. The gamelan ensemble can also include drums, stringed instruments, and wooden xylophones. All pieces of the ensemble are ornately decorated with hand-carved designs and shimmering gold paint.

The instruments of the gamelan can be divided into three families: balungan instruments, punctuating instruments, and elaborating instruments.

The balungan instruments—the saron, the demung, the peking, and the slenthem—carry the melodic lines. For these, players strike the instrument’s bronze bars with a mallet while dampening with their other hand to control the length of each note. Balungan in Indonesian means “skeleton,” which reveals a powerful perspective on how Indonesians perceive melody. A skeleton holds our body’s structure but is not seen from the outside. Similarly, a balungan melody should be strong but subtle. As with our bones, it should not be prominent. 

The ornately carved gong stand at the Kraton Yogyakarta (Royal Palace of Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia). Photo by Laurel Grinnell-Wilson.

Unlike Western art music, which tends to be linear, gamelan music is cyclical, or colotomic. Colotomic time cycles are marked by the second family of instruments, the punctuating instruments. Most important in this family, and in the ensemble as a whole, is the largest gong, the gong ageng. It marks the beginning/ending of each cycle and is thought to hold the spirit of the gamelan, reflecting the strong mysticism that Javanese people still hold today. The gong ageng and the kempul, which are smaller gongs, are hung from wooden frames and struck in the center with a padded mallet.

The kenong, kethuk, and kempyang are sets of inverted pots that are supported by rope in wooden frames. All three instruments are played by one musician, who uses two mallets, one in each hand. The kendang, or drum, punctuates the time cycles and is considered the leader of the ensemble. Much like a conductor in a western orchestra, the kendang player navigates the musicians through tempo changes, starts and stops, and accentuates other collaborative art forms such as tari (dance) and wayang kulit (shadow puppets). All of the punctuating instruments help in marking time in the gong cycle.

The third family, the elaborating instruments, help add shape and movement to a piece, as well as anticipate where the balungan line is headed next. In so doing, these instruments—each following its own special rules of elaboration—play what is known as an “inner melody” to the balungan line. There are many elaborating instruments in the Javanese gamelan ensemble, including a two-string bowed fiddle called a rebab, a zither called a siter, a wooden xylophone called a gambang, a bronze metallophone called a gendèr, and a row of small bronze pots suspended over a wooden frame called a bonang. Vocalists are also included in this group. Each elaborating instrument follows its own special rules of ornamentation.

Central Javanese gamelan music uses two scales: pelog, which consists of seven notes, and slendro, which has five. The two scales are performed on separate sets of instruments, and gamelan ensembles may have one or both sets. There is no strictly prescribed tuning for either scale. The concept of laras, or how the scale should sound, was historically both subjective and protected, a choice based on aesthetic differences from village to village. This means that different gamelans using the “same” scale might have distinct root pitches, and the intervals between any two notes in the scale might vary, minutely or substantially, creating subtle differences in the mood or feeling of the music.

As in other elite musical traditions, the various instruments of the Central Javanese gamelan embody fascinating differences in construction, timbre, and performance methods. Learn more about the individual instruments as we add profiles of each in this ongoing series.

 

Kaylie Kirby: A Full Circle Experience

Student Kaylie in Museum School class (back right)

In 1999, Kaylie took her first class in Balinese gamelan and dance at Museum School in San Diego. It was a new charter school with a new vision: to incorporate music and other creative arts—seen as fundamental to child development—into the standard curriculum. The Museum School reached out to the Center for World Music (CWM) for help. It was the very first year of the CWM’s youth education program, World Music in the Schools, and the beginning of what would become some of the organization’s most rewarding work: matching accomplished and experienced teaching artists to residency programs within San Diego area K–12 schools.

Kaylie Kirby was in 5th grade when the Balinese gamelan program was initiated at Museum School, where she studied under I Nyoman Sumandhi (music) and Ni Putu Sutiati (dance), and later Alex Khalil (music) and Kaori Okado (dance). Training in music and dance was offered to students at Museum School, which at the time included 3rd through 6th grade. There was also an after-school program for intermediate and advanced students. Kaylie thrived in this program, taking lessons during school hours and participating in the after-school program during her years attending Museum School.

Kaylie with daughter

Upon graduation from 6th grade, Kaylie continued her involvement with the Museum School’s gamelan and dance program by attending weekly rehearsals after school. Alex and Kaori had created a performing group with the advanced students called Puspa Warsa, in which Kaylie had the opportunity to perform for numerous universities, festivals, and news stations all over Southern California for several years. Throughout this time, she continued to assist with the intermediate students’ after-school program at the Museum School. She also had the opportunity to study under other Balinese masters, including Dr. I Nyoman Wenten, renowned Balinese performing arts director at CalArts and UCLA. In 2018–19, she was a member of the Balinese gamelan anklung ensemble at the University of San Diego, directed by Dr. David Harnish. 

Fast forward to today; Kaylie’s daughter is currently a kindergarten student at Museum School and a member of their Balinese gamelan program, now in its 22nd year. We are excited to welcome Kaylie, as she shares her expertise and passion for Balinese arts as a teaching artist of the gamelan ensemble at Museum School!

This is a true full-circle story that humbly reminds us that the work we do and have been doing for decades in the CWM’s World Music in the Schools program is valuable, important, and to many, life-changing.

Welcome back, Kaylie!

Gamelan Project Article by Alex Khalil

Alex Khalil’s Gamelan Project Smithsonian Article

Gamelan aficionados and music educators alike with find much of interest in this great Smithsonian article on the value of music education for kids by Center for World Music board member Alexander Khalil, PhD. Dr. Khalil offers important observations on attention in children, impaired temporal processing, ADHD, and the benefits of bi-musicality.

Our research has found a connection between the ability to synchronize with an ensemble in a gamelan-like setting and other cognitive characteristics, particularly the ability to focus and maintain attention. Our current work explores whether improvements at interpersonal time processing, or synchrony, may translate into improved attention.

Also of interest in this article is Alex’s account of the history of the Center for World Music’s World Music in the Schools program, based on his experience as a founding instructor during and after the program’s 1999 inauguration in San Diego at the Museum School:

The gamelan program at the Museum School has its philosophical roots in [pioneering ethnomusicologist] Mantle Hood’s well-known concept of “bi-musicality.” Just as one who is bi-lingual must have fluency in more than one language, one must be fluent in more than one musical language to be considered bi-musical. Robert E. Brown, who studied under Hood at UCLA and subsequently founded the Center for World Music, made his first efforts to bring world music, a term he is credited with having invented, to the elementary classroom in 1973 through his “world music in the schools” program in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Read the full text of this article on the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Asian Art website.

Find out more about Dr. Khalil’s work at UCSD’s Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center.

And here’s a nice video documenting the ongoing gamelan program at the Museum School.

Alex Khalil

Alex Khalil: A Neurocomputational Ethnomusicologist (Yes, really!)

A Supercomputer Center is an unconventional place to find an ethnomusicologist. Yet, this is where we find Dr. Alex Khalil, an unconventional musician-scholar in whom the disjunct worlds of musicology and neural computation converge. This makes him, in a word, “eccentric.” No, not the “zany, frizzy-haired and absent-minded genius” type of eccentric. (Well, the “genius” likely applies, though Alex would deny it vehemently.) Rather, he is eccentric in that he makes a habit of pursuing those questions that carry him far beyond the comfortable center of any one world of standard practice or academic discipline.

Alex Khalil performing on gender wayang

Balinese Gender Wayang Performance, Seaport Village

Alex holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Music Composition and Performance from CalArts and a PhD with an emphasis in ethnomusicology from U.C. San Diego. He has spent more than twenty years conducting research on several Asian musics (primarily those of China, Japan, and Indonesia), speaks Mandarin and Indonesian, plays a host of traditional instruments (specializing in Balinese gamelan and Chinese guqin), and has worked extensively with the Center for World Music for over three decades, including stints as Executive Director and Teaching Artist in Residence. His current post? Project scientist at UCSD’s Institute for Neural Computation and research fellow for the Temporal Dynamics in Learning Center. How did this happen?

What may appear as a dramatic career shift is really a natural continuation, a fulfillment of Alex’s varied abilities and ideas that were sparked while he was teaching in the CWM’s Balinese gamelan program, which he established alongside Center founder Robert Brown back in 1999. In gamelan, rhythmic precision and tight group synchrony are vital. Gradually, Alex noticed that most children synchronized relatively easily, while a few struggled. “It clearly wasn’t for a lack of effort, nor did it correlate with their musical ability in anything other than rhythm. This was strange.” He later discovered that all of these struggling students also had attention deficits. Through further testing he established a definitive correlation between attention and rhythmic timing.  

Further study could show that musical practice might facilitate improvement, not just in musical timing but beyond gamelan and into interpersonal communication, which is also fundamentally rhythmic.

“Attention is dynamic, that is, changing in time, and so it is rhythmic in nature.” Alex believes that developing proficiency in music, especially rhythm, may improve communication skills in children with ADHD or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and perhaps even for all children. His road from the classroom to scientific research has been a long and difficult one, but it is starting to pay off. Recently, he and partnering institutions were awarded a substantial grant from the National Science Foundation (Science of Learning Center) to further study synchrony in group brain dynamics. “If the hypothesis is true,” he says, “we have an army of skilled music teachers who can offer help.”

“We tend to wonder what happens when music is included in cognitive development, but a musical brain is a normal brain . . . and music just isn’t in our lives in the same ways it used to be.”

Alex Khalil embodies the heart of what the CWM promotes in its youth education program, World Music in the Schools: we solve problems better when we are skilled at listening and acting across the boundaries between cognitive worlds, even those that seem so stubbornly divergent as “science” and “the arts.” Something as seemingly simple as learning an unfamiliar musical style can, in a sense, make us bilingual. Nine-year old Olivia, a gamelan student from The Museum School, makes this crystal-clear when she says that “it’s fun to learn another culture’s music because then you can kind of speak with them, in a way.” You’re right Olivia!  

Cultural fluency can be fun, and, as Alex demonstrates, it can also provide a lens for viewing and solving old problems in new ways.

alexkhalil-1200x627

Japanese Shakuhachi Performance, USD

Speaking of cultural fluency, can you guess Alex’s central passion since childhood? It’s unlikely that Byzantine chant came to mind. But for Alex, who still frequently performs as a cantor in a Greek Orthodox Church in San Diego, this is not just another thing he does. Just as gamelan rhythms might improve communication skills, on a cognitive level our various activities don’t stay in neat compartments as we might expect.

The many worlds in which we participate converge, integrate, and become the world we know.

As we depart the supercomputer center where we found Alex Khalil, our world has already grown. But it also imparts a question, really a personal challenge: how will you expand your horizons today?

Read an article written by Alex on the value of music education for kids for The Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art here.

Learn more about the CWM’s World Music in the Schools gamelan program at the Museum School.

James Gutierrez, PhD, Northeastern University

Java Gong Foundry

West Java’s Guardian ‘Gong-Makers’

In a photo essay, the Jakarta Post reflects on the only remaining gong foundry in West Java . . .

At 89, Sukarna still has an ear for gong tones. He also still lends a hand at his workshop on Jalan Pancasan in Bogor, West Java. No one else can tune a gong like he can, it is said.

For six generations, his family has made gongs by hand at the factory, which has been in the same place for two centuries.

Sukarna has more than 50 years’ experience at the factory, the oldest — and now the only one left . . .

Read the full article at TheJakartaPost.com.

CCA Wayang Kulit

50th Aniversary Celebration – Javanese Shadow Theater, May 10, 2013

Celebrating our 50th Anniversary with Canyon Crest Academy

A Javanese Wayang Kulit, Shadow-Puppet Play
featuring the Canyon Crest Academy Javanese Gamelan, with special guests From Los Angeles

Baghawan Ciptoning, dalang
Djoko Walujo, CCA gamelan director

Friday, May 10, 2013 • 12:00 noon

Canyon Crest Academy
5951 Village Center Loop Road
San Diego, CA 92130
Admission: Free

CCA Shadow Theater Flyer

Events

Nothing Found

Sorry, no posts matched your criteria