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Almost everyone is familiar with the fact that sometimes your life can completely change direction in a matter of seconds. Like a strike on a gong - a big bang, if you will. It is therefore no coincidence that the first joint performance* by composer Iwan Gunawan and choreographer Aafke de Jong had the 'infinite' resonance of gongs as its starting point. Also collaborations can continue to resonate for a long time, which is proven by the next plan the two artists have now conceived; an adaptation of Simeon ten Holt's masterpiece Canto Ostinato for Javanese gamelan orchestra and contemporary dance.


*'GONG' - for the Münchner Stadtmuseum in 2018


Striking similarities between Canto Ostinato and gamelan music

During one of their walks through the Bavarian mountainous landscape, De Jong brought up the work of Simeon ten Holt, at that time still an unknown name for Gunawan. Soon, however, he could no longer ignore the similarities between the repetitive Canto Ostinato - sometimes perceived by many as 'transcendent' - and gamelan music*. The comparisons are striking and go beyond intuition.

For example, the continuous, ostinato "pulse" and the repeating and shifting patterns characterize both styles of music. Circular perception of time - as often experienced by fans of Canto Ostinato, but also common in many Asian societies - detaches one from the past and the future. It contributes to the feeling that it is about more than pure music. It touches on life itself, which keeps moving in cycles. Ten Holt himself hoped that his music would 'float in time and space'. This would confirm the work's independence, while at the same time it would be about 'something universal'. Something 'permanent'. Precisely this 'floating' is an important element in the gamelan, in which the gongs and metallophones seem to start buzzing as soon as they are struck. Overtones emerge. A reference to the ever-spinning universe.

Remarkably, even the working method of a gamelan orchestra bears remarkable similarities to the method Ten Holt had in mind for the performance of Canto Ostinato. For example, Ten Holt gives the musicians some autonomy in determining the length of the work, they can vary the number of repetitions and determine the dynamics. Canto Ostinato, like gamelan music, is democratic in nature and appeals to the collective responsibility of the players. The players of a gamelan orchestra intentionally do not rely on sheet music. Thus, everyone remains constantly alert and all musicians feel equally involved.


Of course, there are also differences. Perhaps the most important challenge is the lack of the notes A and G in a gamelan orchestra. This problem can be solved in several ways, which too technically profound for now to go into further detail.


‘In the air’

Since the early twentieth century, many Western classical composers (including Claude Debussy, Benjamin Britten, Colin McPhee, Béla Bartók, Francis Poulenc, Olivier Messiaen, György Ligeti) have been inspired by gamelan. Even more recent composers of 'minimal music', such as Terry Riley, Philip Glass, John Cage, Steve Reich, Lou Harrison and Andrew Schultz, like to incorporate principles from gamelan music into their compositions. Even though Ten Holt's work is often erroneously labeled as 'minimal music' the influences of this musical movement seem clearly present in his work. The association with gamelan is therefore not surprising. There must have been 'something in the air', so to speak.


Considering all these similarities, it is remarkable that until now no interpretation of Canto Ostinato has been performed on gamelan.


We think the time is now ripe for it!

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