After the purchase of a beautiful iron selonding gamelan set, a duplicate of the ancient 10th century set from Besakih Temple, Mekar Bhuana Conservatory has immersed itself serious selonding study. Read the rest of this entry »
Mekar Bhuana performed their first original drama this past New Year’s Eve. Read the rest of this entry »
Mekar Bhuana will perform at the Bali Arts Festival again this year on Sunday June 19th, a day after the festival opening, presenting the material they performed at the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010: rare and previously extinct semar pegulingan music accompanying a showcase of gambuh dances. Read the rest of this entry »
Now back in Bali, we are celebrating success in China where our performances in Guangzhou were really well received. Representing Indonesian traditional art-forms at the 16th Asian Games Concert Series, Read the rest of this entry »
Catch our performance tonight (Sun 15th) around 7pm at Br Biaung, Denpasar for the closing ceremony of Porseni Desa Kertalangu. Read the rest of this entry »
Since the death of I Ketut Nagi last month, there is only one musician left in Banjar Singgi, Sanur (I Wayan Mandra who is nearly 70) who remembers the extremely rare pelegongan repertoire learnt in the 1950s from I Kecug of Kelandis. Read the rest of this entry »
With a move to Denpasar, just outside of Sanur, Mekar Bhuana is now on larger, spacious premises, dramatically increasing the conservatory’s capacity to hold group lessons, workshops, seminars, performances and events. Read the rest of this entry »
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing on May 15th of pelegongan advisor, gender rambat expert and grandfather of Mekar Bhuana founders Putu Evie and Vaughan Hatch, I Ketut Nagi. Read the rest of this entry »
Pelegongan and gender wayang maestro, I Wayan Kelo from Br Pande Mas, Kuta, died on Thursday afternoon at age 70 after suffering a stroke and battling briefly with leukaemia. Read the rest of this entry »
Our semar pegulingan group is currently reconstructing one of the longest semar pegulingan pieces known: Semambang Jawa. Now extinct in the village where this version originates (Pagan Kelod), the piece was recorded on cassette tape by Professor Pande Made Sukerta in 1977. A big “matursuksma” goes out to Professor Sukerta for providing us access to this recording. We hope that, once the Pagan Kelod musicians who are members of Mekar Bhuana have learnt this piece, they will pass their knowledge on to their village where the music can be brought to life once more.
Semambang Jawa reveals modulation in and out of three modes: lebeng, selisir and sunaren, which makes it fascinating to both play and listen to. It is also very long and a real challenge to memorise, consisting of two 256-beat pengawak and two 64-beat pengecet. One of the musicians claimed that it could take two years just to remember the pengawak sections, which are are the equivalent four pengawak legong. It is probably the length of these compositions as well as their meditative-like tempo that contributed to their decline in popularity as Bali edged towards modernism and “everything fast and instant”.
Once the reconstruction is complete and funding is secured, our group plans to record this piece as well as several others for a second Mekar Bhuana court music album. Then this music will be documented and accessible to future generations to appreciate and study. Please give us all the support you can!
Our semar pegulingan troupe played to a good sized crowd at the opening of a painting and photographic exhibition at The Mansion last week. Even though dark skies loomed, the rain held off and the performance of eight court pieces were extremely well received. Mekar Bhuana founders, Vaughan and Evie were happy to get positive feedback directly from prominent Balinese including the Vice-governor, the Regent of Gianyar, Cokorda Ubud and Cokorda Peliatan. Hopefully we will be able to generate more support from the Balinese and Indonesian governments for our cultural heritage preservation efforts.
At this event we took the opportunity to perform Tabuh Blandongan, a twenty-minute piece that consists of four long sections (pengawak) and five shorter sections (pengecet). Our terompong player for this piece was only fifteen, and is probably the youngest person who has ever learned and performed this difficult court piece from Pagan Kelod (originally Puri Denpasar style). Three audio samples are on our Audio page.
Don’t miss our performance of rare Balinese court music on December 22nd at The Mansion, Sayan, Ubud. Our semar pegulingan troupe will present seven-tone repertoire from Kamasan, Klungkung (Puri Klungkung) and Pagan Kelod, Denpasar (Puri Denpasar). We will perform three Kamasan pieces and five Pagan Kelod pieces, including recently learnt Blandongan. Blandongan is one of the most difficult pieces in the Pagan Kelod repertoire because of its length and since it features modulation in and out of three scales.
The musical recital will accompany a wonderful, multi-faceted art exhibition, featuring Kamasan style painting by maestros Mangku Mura and Mangku Ni Mura Nengah Muriati, and two young artists, Krina Flower and Casimiro Valentim.
Exhibition opens at 6.30pm and recital starts at 7pm.
News – Addendum to Press Release about Performance at Puputan Badung: Reconstruction of Recording from 1928October 3rd, 2009
We would like to amend our earlier press release and mention that Mekar Bhuana wishes to acknowledge the generosity of Arbiter Records(www.arbiterrecords.com) and Edward Herbst for providing us with their newly restored audio versions of the 1928 Beka 78 r.p.m. records. These original Titih recordings will be released by Arbiter in 2010 on their Bali 1928: CD#3, but they were given to us prior to this release date to aid our music reconstruction project. The quality of these newly mastered recordings is enabling us to hear the individual instrumental parts more clearly than has been previously possible. It is wonderful that such kind people support the reconstruction of near-lost Balinese music, and I’m sure the current generation of Balinese, especially the people from Banjar Titih, will be delighted to hear this music once more. We hope that more recordings such as these will become available to the Balinese as times goes on.
On October 8 (tomorrow), Mekar Bhuana will perform at Maha Bandana (“to create something impressive”) – a three-day event at Puputan Square in Denpasar to elevate the value of Denpasar heritage and culture, whilst remembering the battles with the Dutch in 1906 that ended in mass suicide on the part of the Balinese kingdoms, called “Puputan”. As the main instrumental performance before the processions in the late afternoon, our semar pegulingan troupe will present two different original styles from Denpasar: Banjar Pagan Kelod and Banjar Titih. Upon receiving the invitation to perform, the musicians from Mekar Bhuana have reconstructed the oldest recording of semar pegulingan known (also the oldest Balinese gamelan recording known). The piece chosen was Tabuh Ginanti, played by the group from Banjar Titih, a banjar in Jl Sumatra, Denpasar. Sadly, in 1928, with the explosion of the kebyar style from the north, this gamelan set was melted in 1952. The vintage record that this recording is taken from is the compilation of Balinese music that inspired Colin McPhee to travel to Bali to study about Balinese gamelan. He was particularly taken by the scale of the semar pegulingan from Titih, commenting: “It is a scale of indescribably tonal beauty, remarkable for the unusual minor third occurring between deng and dung and the resulting near major second found between dung and dang.”
Our group first notated the piece and constantly referred to the crackly recording for the gangsa configurations (nguncang, in Balinese) and to work out the kendang patterns (the hardest part, because they are the most difficult to hear). Practice is coming along well now and we are confident that we will have the piece ready for tomorrow.
So, now after almost 60 years, the Titih semar pegulingan style will be heard once more. This reconstruction effort demonstrates the importance of recording to preserve traditional music the world over. Without such recordings (I’m sure that there are many more that are sitting in basements and attics across the world!), beautiful music like this would be lost forever.
A big thanks goes out to Denpasar City Cultural Department for giving us this opportunity to expose this rare music to the Balinese general public – hopefully the lyrical art-form of semar pegulingan will someday experience the popularity that it deserves!
If you are in Bali on October 8th, get down to Puputan Square at around 5.00pm. We will perform for just 30 minutes and also accompany the dance of the king and Sidakarya masked dance. See you there!
Mekar Bhuana’s four-day tour to Singapore with performances at the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay was a resounding success. Read the rest of this entry »
Dari Komunitas Kreatif Bali (http://komunitaskreatifbali.wordpress.com) Acara Obral Rabu Malam, Denpasar July 1, 2009 – Ternyata bukan hal sederhana macam berjumpa dan mendengar sharing dari tetamu saja yang di dapat dari OBRAL alias Obrolan Rabu Malam ini. Read the rest of this entry »
Preservation of Rare Balinese Gamelan: a South Bali Model for the North?
Whilst studying gamelan on a scholarship in Bali, ethnomusicologist Vaughan Hatch became aware of how many Balinese performing art-forms were either endangered or extinct. Read the rest of this entry »
Mekar Bhuana conservatory has been invited to demonstrate rare semara pagulingan styles and the results of their preservation projects at the International Conference and Festival on North Balinese Culture to be held at the Bali Taman Hotel in Lovina, Buleleng July 30-August 2, 2009. Read the rest of this entry »
Mekar Bhuana’s First Audio Recording Released
After nine years of ongoing preservation project, practices and performances, Mekar Bhuana have finally released their first audio recording. A compilation of semara pagulingan and pelegongan gems, further details are available about this outdoor recording on the Recording page under the audio tab.
Deriving from the word “gamel” which means “to hit”, a gamelan is commonly known as an ensemble of Indonesian traditional instruments, many of which are percussive and are struck with a beater. Read the rest of this entry »
In Bali, full moon is an important event—an occasion to be celebrated, a time to rejoice and making beautiful offerings to the gods. On the tenth full moon, hundreds of temples celebrate their seven-monthly temple anniversaries.
This month happens to be the tenth full moon (sasih kedasa) and Mertasari Temple, an old temple located by the beach in Mertasari Sanur, will hold its temple anniversary (odalan). There will be many music and dance performances over several days, including semara pagulingan court music by Mekar Bhuana Conservatory. Also, based in Sanur, Mekar Bhuana is going to entertain the gods as well as the local community with this rarely heard music. According to palm-leaf scriptures Aji Gurnita and Pra Kempa, a semara pagulingan orchestra is the most suited to accompanying high priests as they recite their mantra before worshippers pray at temple ceremonies. Read the rest of this entry »
Over the years, Pagerwesi has served as a reminder to me of the coming of a wonderfully mystical legong performance. It is the most sacred of all sacred legong dances and is performed in the inner sanctum of Payogan Agung Temple in Ketewel every six Balinese months. The style is known as Legong Dedari, or Legong of the Angels (Can you think of a more heavenly name than that?). The prepubescent dancers wear masks which are not strapped to the face but clasped in the teeth during the performance.
The Legong Dedari of Ketewel and its gamelan accompaniment known as Semara Pagulingan (the gamelan of love) are said to be centuries old and enshrouded in local legend. The story is set hundreds of years ago and is focused around a Balinese prince named Dewa Agung Karna. The prince was a keen meditator and on one particular occasion he was meditating in Payogan Agung Temple when he fell into a deep meditative state which lasted for several days. It is said that many believed his spirit had left his body and would never return. Eventually, he awoke and recalled a vision. He dreamed of the most exquisite music and dance performance, sweet and refined in character, known today as the “Legong of the Angels”. Musicians and dancers were then commissioned to recreate his dream by making masks and music for the dance. The gamelan, however, is said to be much older.
The dance has a sublimely magical feel to it, set in front of the largest shrine in the most inner realm of the massive temple. The scene opens with a prelude played on the heavenly orchestra, which has a ethereal, bell-like resonance; so ancient that some of the bronze pots are peppered with bubbling rust. In the meantime the troupe of young legong dancers file into the court yard, with only two dressed in costume and the remainder witness the performance, either as dedari dancers of years past or prospective angels. The girls must undergo months of training before they are ready to perform with the masks for the Gods.
Apparently, there are a total of nine masks and they must not be touched directly. So, every time a dancer prepares to dance, the mask is blessed and fastened on the face using a soft cloth. The dancers perform in pairs and dance four times in a row, for a total of more than forty-five minutes. The dance starts slowly and is more Javanese in form – the movements are flowing and stylized and there are no flashy jolts or hops. Each mask is a painted a different colour and possesses its own special character – one may be sad, another half-smiling. No two masks are the same and it seems that the more you stare at them as they dance, the more they seem to produce ever-changing facial expressions.
The ancient gamelan Semara Pagulingan which accompanies the dance plays a haunting accompaniment to the dance, a piece known as Subandar Rawit. Its peculiar, haunting scale is known by no other gamelan and it takes specialist musicians to play the difficult repertoire, passed on from generation to generation.
The young dancers must be both mentally and physically strong; for as well as carrying the spiritual responsibility of the archaic masks, the two must dance the same dance four times in a row. The performance is purely for the entertainment of the Gods, although many spectators huddle cross-legged in the small courtyard to witness the sacred spectacle. As the dance is performed, priests busily bless all the shrines and temple buildings, on occasion weaving in and out of the dancers as they chant and flick droplets of holy water into the air.
It is truly a night of artistic beauty, leaving you with an invigorating sense that no matter how much this island is corrupted by monsters of modernism, the magic of Bali will never really ever be lost.
Bali, some time in the 1700s—it’s evening and shadows flicker in the dim light of oil lamps hanging from the pavilions that enshroud a courtyard dotted with manicured shrubs, statues and caged birds. Most of the royal family have retired for the night, but the palace is still alive with musical fervour.
On the performance pavilion a bare-chested gamelan musician lightly taps out a tune on the kettles of the terompong. Setting the mood for the evening, this seemingly improvised melody gradually evolves into a charming melodic line, finishing on the stroke of the kempur gong. The terompong then starts up once more, joined by a pair of kendang drums and the rest of the instruments join together ceremoniously on one note. The orchestra shimmers, beating in vibrant waves and ringing out like tiny bells. The melody is clear, yet layered by instruments of different pitches and timbres, creating a sound-scape like no other music in the world. Upon hearing this old court music, many say that the sound is ethereal, heavenly, of almost indescribable beauty.
These are the rare sounds of the semara pagulingan, the “gamelan of the love god”. In feudal times, most courts in Bali possessed a semara pagulingan orchestra that served to lull the royal family to sleep, as well as accompany sacred pendet dances in the temples. Today, due to the palaces’ loss of authority, as well as many other complex factors including tourism, globalisation and a generally faster pace of life, the remaining semara pagulingan sets left in Bali can be counted on one hand.
Mekar Bhuana Conservatory in Sanur was established in 2000 with the aim of reviving, preserving and conserving these rich and wonderful, yet undervalued art-forms. They work closely with senior guru from the villages, as well as professional musicians and dancers, to reconstruct, revitalise and re-popularise a near-extinct tradition. In Balinese, Mekar means ‘to blossom’ and Bhuana means ‘the world’. Their founders’ vision is these old art-forms will one day blossom again not only in Bali, but also around the world.
At the moment, Mekar Bhuana’s focus is on mediaeval court music and dance, and their groups learn compositions from guru, or old recordings that are often sourced overseas. The musicians then play the music on the antique orchestras at the conservatory. Their concept of faithful preservation is analogous to creating a living museum—like playing Mozart on baroque instruments.
This year Mekar Bhuana has been invited to bring their complete semara pagulingan, played by 26 musicians, to perform at the Esplanade in Singapore as part of an international festival called Shanti – a Tapestry of Sacred Music. It’s not every day that an old semara pagulingan has the opportunity to perform overseas and present this seriously classical music to an international audience. In fact, this is the first time several different court art-forms will be performed outside of Bali by one group.
The troupe will present court repertoire, and also some pelegongan and angklung pieces from a number of different villages in Bali. This will be in the strictest classical style, with no modern innovations, based on more than a decade of research by ethnomusicologist Vaughan Hatch in villages across Bali.
Mekar Bhuana will not only be ambassadors for traditional Balinese music, but also for Balinese and Indonesian tourism in general. At the Esplanade, a huge international events centre, they will present five non-ticketed performances at the open-air stage over nights of May 2nd and 3rd.
Anyone interested in supporting Mekar Bhuana by becoming a sponsor, or even a permanent patron, can contact their founder and director Putu Evie Suyadnyani on firstname.lastname@example.org or (0361) 464201 / 081999191104. The conservatory and its members greatly appreciate your support and generosity.