Leeds University Students Brought the Atmospheric Sounds of Javanese Gamelan to The Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall

Last Friday, the Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall was filled with the atmospheric sounds of Javanese Gamelan, a blend of interlocking rhythms and interweaving timbres creating complex polyphonic textures. The audience walked into the concert hall to the sound of this Javanese percussion orchestra, and were presented with a colourful array of instruments, comprising gongs, drums and various metallophones. Performers sat cross-legged, with their shoes off, clearly absorbed in the sounds they were producing as a unit.

The music was meditative and trance-like and although using repetitive rhythms, the variety of the programme helped to engage the listener. From the slower, relaxing pieces, to the faster, more energised, each piece gave a different flavour of traditional gamelan. There were even two compositions written by the ensemble which were medleys of pop songs, and these certainly went down well with the audience. The highlight for one audience member, however, was the traditional Javanese singing accompanied by the instruments, being described as “truly hypnotic”.

The frequent tempo changes during the pieces helped to create some variation during the concert, giving a sense of structure to the performance that a 21st century western audience could connect with. One audience member, a music graduate who had never heard gamelan before, described the performance as “mesmerising”, and particularly enjoyed watching the dampening technique used by the performers playing the metallophones – “I appreciated the complexity of the music; it gave me enormous respect for the musicians.”

The concert ended as it had started, with the audience leaving the concert hall to the fading sounds of gamelan, the shimmering sound of Indonesia disappearing subtlety into the background.

Bethan Blaxall