Loren Nerell: Indonesian Soundscapes

ner-is.jpg (8k) Loren Nerell: Indonesian Soundscapes
(Soleilmoon Recordings - 1999)

Ethnomusicologist Loren Nerell has spent time abroad studying gamelan music of Bali and Java, and relives the visit with this recorded account. A definite documentary feel accompanies Indonesian Soundscapes, though it can certainly be listened to ambiently, effectively bringing another world into your home environs.

Actual field recordings document musical ceremonies, natural sounds and locational atmospheres, making for an enveloping sonic travelogue. Loren is our interviewee this month and tells more about the "making of" Indonesian Soundscapes in his AmbiEntrance Exclusive interview.

At the dawn of a new day, various chants (and lots of insects) are heard in all directions as the Call to Prayer begins. A fascinating panorama of practically otherwordly sound and space. The actual performance of a ceremonial Shadow Play lasts for nine hours, so this is a mere snippet (consisting of Javanese voices speaking and singing, crowd sounds and flute, chime and drum meanderings) during the introduction of characters. Breezes blow and water sounds flow in Wind Through Bamboo Forest, assorted creaks and clunks add even more naturalistic touches.

A gamelan symphony of clatters, clangs and vocal chants are part of a traditional Galungan Ceremony celebrating good over evil. The recording is obviously live, intensifying the "you-are-there" sense. Humming motors and loudspeaker announcements indicate the next stop is at the Bus Depot, documenting activity at Ubung's central transportation hub. As evidenced here, it's not unthinkable that the naturally occuring symphonies of Frogs were the roots for gamelan musical structures.

Spirited vocal hijinx abound in Kecak (Monkey Chants), a vocal rendition of traditional gamelan structures. Ear-openingly energetic performances! Much more peaceful, Morning Insect Sounds announce the arrival of a new day. Seems quite sultry. Back into the crowd for the Maulud Nabi Festival, a celebration of Muhammad. Brassy clangs and thumping beats intermittently break up the noise of the throng.

Speaking of throngs, it seems even more crowded at the Surabaya Airport, almost drowning out the muzak. Perhaps my favorite spot is the (unfortunately short) visit to the Gamelan Maker Showroom (2:46), where we hear instruments being inquisitively tested (and crafted). A capella voices murmur the House Blessing, prior to new building's construction.

Another talkative mass of humanity surrounds when taking a A Walk Through the Market; deals are being made, wares are being sold and everyone, it seems, has something to say. Crickets chirp, frogs croak, a brook babbles... it's Evening Sounds, another peaceful slice of Balinese nature. When it rains, it pours enough to quieten the roosters. In Morning Rain (9:35), an early downpour spatters all around. Apparently recorded rather near the chicken pen. (And if you ever have a problem of knowing whether or not the recording has ended, you won't have that problem here...)

Even without fully comprehending the goings-on, the casual listener can appreciate being vicariously absorbed into the Javanese/Balinese soundworlds brought home by Loren Nerell. The whole "documentary" spin is very cool too, IMHO. Indonesian Soundscapes takes me away, to the tune of an 8.5 AmbiEntrance rating; could be your ticket outa here, too. 8-5.gif
This review posted May 26, 1999

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