A confused mixture of a poet feeble in style, and a painter lazy of brush, with a Javanese 'gamelang' accompaniment buzzing in between.If you wanted a relief from Wagner's monumental melodic formalism, a good bet would be a gamelan record. Of course, all music has structure—otherwise it would be white noise. But with the possible exception of silly La Monte Young drones, gamelan is the most random music I've ever heard. I used to play in a small gamelan group—in fact I played in two, one in York, with the (apparently) great Neil Sorrell, and the other here in Tempe. These were Javanese gamelans, 20-piece orchestras on metallophones (saron, gender, demung, slenthem, peking), breast-shaped sitting gongs (bonang, kempul and kethuk), larger hanging gongs, two hand drums (gendhing and ciblon), and the rebab or fiddle—probably the saddest, reediest instrument you'll ever hear. Aside from drums and fiddle, these instruments are visual knockouts—hulking bronze forms set on carved and crimson-painted wooden frames. The groups would attract misfits—hippies, narcolepts, home-brewers, metalheads, activists, coasters, musicologists, piano-teachers—amateurs of every description. I would generally turn up and leave in silence, preferring not to mingle with them. What a pleasure to disappear into a group for two hours a week, forgetting my academic concerns in the lull and haze of an endless dissonance.
— Max Nordau on Richard Wagner, 1892.
We would play 20-minute pieces consisting mainly of disconnected repetitions slowing and speeding up at the beck of the guide drum. When we played audiences, they clapped politely for the ethnic music, but really they thought it was horrible. (Mrs. Roth admitted as much, though as a former ballerina she enjoyed the professional Indonesian danseuse our group hired to accompany the music.) The music is horrible, like free jazz. But liberating and powerful, too. My favourite part was when, playing the saron, I got to break step with the other sarons and play the upcoming countermelody backwards and at double speed. That was about as great a challenge as my puny musical ability and manual dexterity could handle. We sang too, extremely badly:
Parabe sang mara bangunAs for listening, I prefer the Balinese kebyar gamelan, more dynamic, rhythmic, staccato, unpredictable. I can't imagine how anyone could even begin to play this stuff; Gawain, a frequent visitor to the Balinese Arts Festival, no doubt has no need of imagining, and could fascinate you silly with his encyclopaedic knowledge and connoisseurship. I'm listening to the standard compilation, Nonesuch's 1967 Music from the Morning of the World; several 'songs' give you the impression of being bludgeoned by professional assassins, then soothed for a moment, then bludgeoned again. The synchronism is remarkable. I have no idea how they even make some of those sounds.
Sepat domba kali Oya
Aja dolan lan wong priya
Gurameh nora prasaja.
There's one piece called the monkey kecak where assembled hordes do ape-impressions in perfect rhythm for 25 minutes—no, really! Actually, the Sigma Kappa boys in my apartment-block give an excellent rendition of it every night. I'd been wondering why they whooped incessantly—had my arch-enemies given them my whereabouts? Were they yawping in homage to Mr. Keating? Or just expressing existential ennui? They whoop, and they laugh, too, ad nauseam, like cretins. As Castiglione (Il Cortegiano, 1528) put it:
Cosí ancora quando vedete uno che guarda troppo intento con gli occhi stupidi a foggia d'insensato, o che rida cosí scioccamente come que' mutoli gozzuti delle montagne di Bergamo, avvenga che non parli o faccia altro, non lo tenete voi per un gran babuasso?Thomas Hoby's 1561 translation:
So in like maner whan you see one gase earnestely with his eyes abashed, lyke one that had lytle witt: or that laugheth so fondly as do those dombe menne, with the great wennes in theyr throte, that dwell in the Mountaines of Bergamo, thoughe he neyther speake ne doe anye thinge elles, will you not counte him a verye foole?Notice the translation of scioccamente ('foolishly') as fondly, which makes us think of Lear as a 'very foolish fond old man'. Hoby glosses the dombe menne as 'Gozzuti, men in the mountaines with great bottles of flesh under their chin, through the drinking of snow water'. A 1901 translator notes that these 'goitrous mutes. . . still abound near Bergamo'. This website transcribes an 1858 study of the gozzuti—the first cause being, with my translation:
Dalle acque calcari in eccesso che sono bevute da quei terrazzani, comecchè se una certa quantità di sali calcari sia necessaria per l'igiene, dannosa è ad ogni modo l'eccesso di saturazione, e i primi effetti si riscontrano nel sistema glandolare e più che altrove in quel delicato organo glandolare che è il tiroideo.From Wikipedia, omitting a slew of juicy and much-recommended etymological speculation :
An excess of calcareous water is drunk from the roof-terraces; although a certain quantity of calcareous salts is necessary for good health, an excess saturation is always harmful, and its first effects are on the glandular system, and especially on the thyroid, that delicate glandular organ.
Cretinism is a condition of severely stunted physical and mental growth due to untreated congenital deficiency of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism). . . Endemic cretinism was especially common in areas of southern Europe around the Alps and was described by Roman writers, and often depicted by medieval artists. Alpine cretinism was described from a medical perspective by several travellers and physicians in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At that time the cause was not known and it was often attributed to "stagnant air" in mountain valleys or "bad water".The great gamelan is sort of a gozzuto music, ugly and raucous, played by gymnasts and jesters for connoisseurs; it is, naturally, a lot of fun once you get used to it.