on September 22, 2002
As much as Balinese Gamelan is known in the West, one of their most unknown ensembles is the Gambuh Theater. It is probably not proper to consider Gambuh a Gamelan ensemble because it doesn't have the 'xylophone' type instruments like Gangsa or Saron. It has some flutes about 1 meter long, a pair of hand drummers, gongs, and several high metallic percussion instruments, some of which sounds like the Western triangle. Then of course are the vocalists. Gambuh is theater, perhaps operatic. Still, without understanding the words, the voices have gestures which carry information about their character. The sound is an ancient temple sound, full of ritual, with the actors playing their roles in the drama, and the deep microtonal flutes carrying their tenuous lines of mystery.
For all the forms of Balinese music, this has perhaps the most sophisticated drumming. It is not that it is overly complicated like African or Indian polyrhythms, but the phrase grouping and tempo changes and its integration in the ensemble are very rich and spontaneous.
There is another more recent recording of an ensemble from Batuan which surely has most of the same members that is available from the Yayasan Polosseni (use google to find them). I would say the Yayasan recording is even stronger, but don't let this recording pass you by.
The author of the liner notes writes "In this ancient Gambuh form lies the essence of all that is to come in the future".
I understand these performance go on for hours at a time, but they have been condensed to a few hours for the recording.
Uncle Morty would be proud.