Imagine an orchestra of pitched percussion instruments. The exotic rhythms are created with a mix of gongs, metallophones, zithers, xylophones and drums. The sound evokes the rich culture of Indonesia, where this type of ensemble is integral to the court and sacred music of the nation. At the same time, the sights are a feast for the eyes, as the performers don brightly colored robes, flowers and head wraps. That’s the experience the CMA is presenting when it brings Evan Ziporyn to town on Friday, January 8, along with his 30-member Gamelan Galak Tika. For musical fans, this is big news because Ziporyn, a longtime member of the Bang On A Can All-Stars, is one of the most interesting and enjoyable American composers working today. Plus, it’s not often that we get to see and hear a gamelan ‘round these parts. Ziporyn, a Westerner, joins a long line of forward-thinking artists whose enchantment with another tradition informs and builds on his own. We might think of Lou Harrison (China), Terry Riley (India), Steve Reich (West Africa), and the granddaddy of them all, Colin McPhee, whose memoir “A House in Bali” inspired Ziporyn’s opera with gamelan, which premiered to great acclaim just a few months ago in Berkeley. For this concert, Gamelan Galak Tika will perform Ziporyn’s pieces from their fantastic recording, along with newer works. You’ll find a preview of what you might hear on the Galak Tika web site. Hot tip: Museum patrons who visit the exhibition Paul Gauguin: Paris, 1889 now through January 3 will receive a voucher for two-for-one tickets to this exhibition-related concert. Additional information also is available on the CMA web site. What happens when an artist has to travel to the other side of the world to find his muse? Gauguin was that guy; Ziporyn is too. In the best cases, a whole new world emerges. Perhaps he wasn’t thinking of Gauguin or Ziporyn when he wrote the following, but David Toop might have said it best in his Ocean of Sound:
The day when Claude Debussy heard Javanese music performed at the Paris Exposition of 1889 seems particularly symbolic. From that point–in my view the beginning of the musical 20th century–accelerating communications and cultural confrontations became a focal point of musical expression. An ethereal culture, absorbed in perfume, light, silence, and ambient sound, developed in response to the intangibility of 20th-century communications. Sound was used to find meaning in changing circumstances, rather than imposed as a familiar model on a barely recognizable world. Inevitably, some of this music has remained in fragments; some has been molded from fragments into mantras and other solid structures.