Composition For Gamelan & Modern Technology – by Tom Leah


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.

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