News, resources and thoughts arising from our new stewardship of the Cumbrian Gamelan
During the second summer week at Heathlands, Matt (young music leader) and I recorded some of the gamelan instruments, getting a clear tone from each.
I then, with some help from Tom Leah, our studio composer, was able to sample the best sounds using Logic’s EXS24.
I then took the laptop and midi keyboard into Bewcastle school for their Big Sing Shadows session, and they wrote a rap for the Rheged show and created their own gamelan lines for it.
We came up with loads of different ideas – you can hear a couple of them here on the demo track!
It was a great thing to do, and because it is a small school everyone who wanted to got a chance to play the virtual gamelan on the keyboard!
Firstly I introduced the Roland SPD-SX. This was always going to be a popular choice, with it’s preset drum kit sounds and “Liquid D’n’B” loops. However, using this in an ensemble scenario requires a little more restraint, as you might expect from a member of a more conventional rhythm section.
The physical size of the SPD-SX allowed me to invite a couple of members of the group to create a rhythm together, splitting kick and snare into one part and shakers/hi-hat/cymbal/percussion samples as another.
Having created a rhythm part to work underneath the ongoing Gamelan composition, it was important to make some sort of reference to the organic textures of the Gamelan and the sample based means of playing the SPD-SX.
To make this link, I took it in turn with members of the group to go outside and record found sounds of an organic, percussive nature. We recorded the sound of wooden branches, metal gates, bushes, birds, really anything that we could find that sounded interesting.
Once we had collated all of these sounds, we applied them to different notes in the ESX24 Sampler in Logic. These were made physically performable by using the the Akai MPD32 (a sort of midi MPC) as our midi controller for the ESX24. We then integrated these parts into the Gamalan composition so that it now encompassed Gamelan, Roland SPD-SX & Akai MPD32.
Using these technologies alongside the Gamelan encouraged a different approach to the composition than I had previously experiences. It allowed Gamalan players a little more time between parts to adjust to what they were going to do next. This had the impact of allowing for more space in the music which, at times, can be difficult to find when you have a room full of musicians hitting their respective parts of the Gamelan.
The found sounds really helped bring a strong sense of narrative to the composition too. One particular part of the music revolved story of a bird. This was matched wonderfully with a lovely field recording of some Sparrows that were chatting and fluttering about the bushes outside the Heathlands building.
One challenge presented to the group as a result of the technology was the irresistible urge to constantly trigger the interesting preset sounds of the SPD-SX. In the end this was largely resolved through the process of allowing everybody a go so that members kept switching around. This is something we carried in to the performance of the piece as well, with different members of the group stepping up to trigger sounds at particular points in the composition.
Bewcastle School is a tiny village school with under 30 pupils but they are always up for engaging in new creative ventures.
It was a delight to work with them on the Gam-A-Jam project. They obviously really enjoyed interacting with members of the Heathlands Project, looking around the farm and eating a packed lunch outside in the gardens.
They also wrote their own composition called BlueSky Bewcastle and have ideas for taking it further when they get back to school.
Children from schools that have had taster workshops, and players from our community and training sessions played an introductory piece on the gamelan to 200 children from local primary schools. They will also accompany the singing for the specially composed cantata and film “A Musical Journey in the Land of Shadows” which incorporates the musical genres BlueJam is currently focusing on – gamelan, jazz improvisation and electronic soundtracks.
This BlueJam event aims to develop Cumbria Music Hub’s singing strategy for Cumbria and increase access to the acquisition of musicianship skills through combining vocal, compositional, percussive and improvisational music-making.
The second week of the gamelan project at Heathland Project involved participants from Heathlands users with a young music leader from BlueJam. The sessions were run by Jilly Jarman from BlueJam who directed the project and finalised the music and Spiff from Heathlands who devised the storyline. The group was inspired to help write the music for the theme tunes that 200 primary school children will sing at the BlueJam Big Sing at Rheged on October 17th and will come to Rheged to join in the concert.
The story they have created has a main character “Fox!” and this is what she looks like! (courtesy of Hugh Pottinger) and the forest she lives in (courtesy of Bryony Jarman-Pinto). Fox journeys through the Land of Shadows alongside other characters like the Pirate and finds his special place full of light, form and colour.
This year the Penrith Lions added a range of workshops in St Andrews Churchyard to complement the stalls and parade in the town. We set up Lawrence Leith’s gangsa instruments and gongs, with our dragons and banners to set the scene and had a steady flow of young players throughout the 3 hours we were there.
Children came with their families and discovered the sounds of the gamelan from 7 different schools around the area from toddler to secondary.
Lawrence had devised a new tune as an introduction for new players and Bryony assisted in getting everyone to join in.
This was our first public exposure in Eden and encouraged by the feedback we are now planning to take the instruments to other festivals during the summer.
The gamelan instruments are easy to access, make a distinctive and magical sound, and because outdoors they are melodious and not too loud, they can co-exist with other stalls and workshops nearby.
We think this is a very good model for an engaging, hands-on taster music session for all the family.