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music that makes my ears wiggle


Gamelan Cudamani, "Odalan Bali", 2007, self-released

I've seen Gamelan Cudamani several times now, and each time, I've been astonished by their presentation, fluidity, virtuosity, and beauty.  They are a non-profit collective private arts organizations formed by a family of young musicians in the village of Pengosekan, a rich center of gamelan music, dance, painting and sculpture, to keep Bali's traditions alive, making all decisions through consensus and discussion.  They teach several hundred students a year, without charge, and are one of the few organizations in Bali that also teach girls.  With seven tones instead of the usual five, this allows for further flexibility in playing some of Bali's older ritual or court gamelan.  Cudamani is aware of the danger of performing gamelan solely for tourists, and seek to contribute performances of artistic excellence at temple ceremonies and religious festivals.

The first time I saw Gamelan Cudamani was in Sept. 2002 in front of the Hindu Temple in Calabasas, with the Shakti Dance Company.  I was swimming in beauty. The sky had lots of small balls of clouds of vivid pinks and oranges, created by the sun setting behind the temple.  Cudamani played songs they had written themselves, fired by an impeccable display of virtuosity and showmanship, with rhythms and abrupt changes in time tight enough to make any progressive rock band weep for mercy.

This last time I saw them, November 2007, I sat in the first row at UCLA's Royce Hall as they performed "Odalan Bali", their effort to recontextualize the music within a Balinese temple ceremony.  They came out, several at a time, whittling wood, sawing, working, distributing drinks, laughing, talking, working.  Several began chopping meat and spices for preparation, grating coconuts, cutting, kneading, cleaning.  And after a while, one realized, "Oh, hey, they almost seem like they're playing together...actually, in fact, they are!"  This would fall back into random work and chatter, only to slowly come together again.  And after a while, one realized that Cudamani was exemplifying how inextricably intertwined everyday life and music were. This left a lump in my throat, marveling at how beautiful it was, and how much I'd like to participate in a community like that. And I felt all this in the first ten or fifteen minutes of the show!

The performance continued, showcasing their insanely virtuosic talents, ranging from meditative compositions to dramatic and clangorous assaults, sometimes stopping or starting on the dime.  The dancing was a literal physical manifestation of the music, and it felt as if it were impossible for the music to exist without the dancing or vice versa.  Impossible breakneck flurries giving way to trance-like rhythms, singing, insistent or thunderous drums, flute melodies, and the dancing matching it all.  Gamelan Cudamani recreated the splendor of a temple ceremony.  I left feeling as if it were impossible for me to ever tell anyone how special, how great they were, and what a musical treasure they are to the world.  But here, I have tried to describe them, if only to turn someone else on to them.

And yes, they have a CD. It's a live recording, capturing the ensemble quite well, with recording engineer Paddy Sandino and mastering engineer Wayne Vitale (who also recorded nightscapes of crickets), both of whom have the sense to keep the dynamics intact.  And the recording showcases Cudamani's bold compositions and dramatic flair.  Particularly innovative is the use of textures through selected muting of some of the brass instruments in "Tajen", written by Made Karmawan with additional arrangements by Dewa Putu Berata.  This is my favorite Balinese gamelan recording, and it captures Gamelan Cudamani planting one foot in Bali's rich gamelan tradition and the other firmly in its future. 

As of this writing, I cannot find this recording anywhere on the internet (I purchased it at the show).  It's worth looking out for.  And as for seeing them live, I would strongly recommend anyone to do whatever it takes to see them in person.


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