Printer Friendly

Kembangan in the music of Lou Harrison.

LOU HARRISON'S MUSIC is best known for its intercultural connections. Since his first exposure to non-Western music through his study with Henry Cowell in 1935, HARRISON has been exploring a wealth of compositional and aesthetic perspectives from around the planet, although he is primarily associated with the tradition of the Javanese gamelan. The resulting influences do not lie just in the more obvious surface features such as cross-cultural instrumentation, but also in deep structural principles that he has adapted to his own unique--and undeniably Western--voice. Javanese gamelan music, like Harrison's own, is primarily a melodic music; a gamelan performance exfoliates the basic inner melody into an amazingly elaborate and coherent polyphony through a variety of principles very different from those that guide European polyphony. Chief among these structural processes is the one known as kembangan.

Kembangan is a noun in the Javanese language which literally means "flowering," but in music refers poetically to the intricate melodic figurations that characterize Javanese gamelan music. Some Western musicologists have referred to these rhythmically dense melodies as "elaborations" of the principal, or "core," melody, but such a term, with its connotation of nonessential decoration, is not really sufficient. Kembangan is not optional ornamentation, though it is true that, within certain strict guidelines, improvisation and personal taste can help shape the most rhythmically dense melodies in the gamelan texture. Instead, kembangan describes the ways in which a melody can "bloom" from a skeletal basis to elaborate filigrees that fit together, fractal-like, at different levels of density. The resulting complex melodic, tonal, and metrical hierarchy is at the heart of the structure of Javanese gamelan music, a structure which thus strongly appealed to the melodicist Harrison.

In his gamelan music, which he started composing in 1976, Harrison uses techniques such as "melodicles" and quintal counterpoint, both of which he learned during his studies with Henry Cowell (c. 1935-8), as well as decidedly Western experimentation involving new modes and formal structures. Nevertheless, these innovations remain faithful to a deeper Javanese spirit of kembangan, and to the gamelan ideals of community, balance, and harmony on multiple levels.


At the center of the hierarchy of Javanese gamelan music is the core melody, sometimes known as the lagu ("tune") of the work. It is represented in a somewhat spare, rhythmically simple form within the span of about an octave by the saron and slenthern metallophones that often dominate the texture of Javanese gamelan music. This representation of the fundamental melody is called the balungan, Depending on the metrical form (bentuk) and the rhythmic density relative to the balungan (irama), the so-called colotomic instruments will interpunctuate every other, every fourth, every eighth, and so on, beat. The pattern of cyclical interpunctuation, or colotomy, not only forms the supporting pillars of the structure of a piece but also forms further slow layers of melody in the texture.

The rhythmic density of each colotomic instrument is roughly proportional to its pitch. Thus the high kettle-gong kempyang may play every other balungan note, while the slightly larger kethuk kettle-gong usually plays half as many notes per phrase as the kempyang; the even larger and lower kenong kettle-gongs and kempul hanging gongs are played more slowly yet, while the largest gong is slowest of all, punctuating the ending of the melodic phrase. Though some of these relationships and the instruments used may change depending on the form, irama, and style, they are nearly always in powers of two. While the kempyang, kethuk, and gong generally have only one pitch, the kenong, kempul, and bonang panembung (optional set of kettle-gongs) usually have a whole scale available and most often play the pitch corresponding to the coincident balungan pitch.

Metrical stress is reversed from the Western concept: in any division of two, it is the second that receives more stress--the "upbeat" rather than the "downbeat." Thus the correspondences are usually at the end of the metrical unit. Example 1 shows the notation for these instruments for the first major section of the traditional piece Pangkur. Such a section which ends with a gong stroke is called a gongan or gong cycle and would be repeated many times in performance. (Numbers in Example 1 and following examples refer to scale degrees in the slendro tuning system. (1) T and G indicate notes for kethuk and gong since there is no change in pitch; kempyang is not used. The first kempul note in a gong cycle is frequently left out (wela) in Central Javanese style.)

The melodies played by the bonang panembung or the kempul and kenong are thus "abstractions" of the balungan, doubling those pitches that fall at metrically important points in the hierarchy. However, to hear these melodies only as interpunctuations that form the supporting pillars of the form is only part of the story. They can, and should, be heard as melodies in their own right. In a sense, the balungan is an "elaboration" of the slower bonang panembung melody just as the bonang panembung melody is an "abstraction" of the balungan.

A well-composed lagu melody should sound good at a variety of different levels and in its relationship to the pathet. Pathet is sometimes translated as "mode," though the concept includes more than the scale of available tones. Javanese pathet are characterized by certain melodic figures, especially cadential motives, in addition to tones which tend to be stressed metrically and melodically (as "tonics") and others which are used less frequently or at less important points. In pathet manyura of the slendro tuning system, the pathet of Example 1, tone 6 is the most stressed and 5 most avoided. The most characteristic cadential motive in pathet manyura is 3 2 1 6. Example 2 is the Pangkur balungan in a more concise form. (The colotomic pattern is collapsed to a single line shown only once above the top line, but it is repeated for each line, except for the wela kempul stroke as noted above. T again stands for kethuk, N for kenong, and P for kempul. The gong is now indicated by a circle.)

This balungan clearly shows how the characteristic cadential motive at the end of the first kenong phrase (first line) emphasizes the stressed tone 6 by putting it at the end and most metrically stressed point in the phrase. The stressed tone is also heard on the final, and most important, beat, together with the gong. Much of the interest of the melody is retained in the often conjunct line sometimes played by the bonang panembung, that is, every other pitch, as shown in Example 3 (see also note 2).

At a lower metrical level, that of the kempul and kenong, the journey through the different cadential tones shown in Example 4 demonstrates how this deceptively simple melody still retains interest:

In the first two phrases, pitch 1 leads "down" to 6. (Because of the range limitations of the balungan instruments, this 6 is played in the upper octave, though it is thought of as being in the lower octave in the lagu or conceptual melody.) That relationship is paralleled in the second line, but now transposed up, leading to another tonal area. The expectation grows through the third line as the listener's attention remains focussed on pitch 2, before finally and satisfyingly descending to 6 on the final gong.

This crucial concept of melody lies at the heart of the structure of Javanese music, as well as Harrison's gamelan works. One can also hear this same relationship on a higher level, most obviously in the practice called mlampah or mlaku. This is a process of improvising or composing a new melody with twice the rhythmic density of the original (nibani) version through the insertion of passing tones, neighbor tones, or more elaborate variations that retain the same core tones and melodic drive as the original. Example 5 shows the first phrases of the Pangkur melody in both nibani and mlampah versions.

So as to preserve the smoothness of the contour here, the mlampah note corresponding to the fifth note of the nibani melody does not agree. Other adjustments are often made in order to preserve the recognizability of motives, to anticipate or extend important tones, to preserve the direction of melodic motion, to avoid immediate repetition, or to otherwise render the mlampah line more appealing.

However, just how genuinely "free" the elaboration can be and just how far a player can "stray" is generally inversely proportional to the metrical stress at a particular point. For example, all instruments must certainly come together at the gong, and usually on kempul and kenong strokes (momentary suspensions excepted). Likewise, it is more probable that the elaboration will "stray" on the second note of the phrase than the fourth because the latter receives a greater metrical stress.

Instruments that play more elaborate kembangan, that is, melodies of greater rhythmic density, include the gender barung and gender panerus (thin-keyed metallophones tuned an octave apart), the bonang barung and bonang panerus (sets of small kettle-gongs also an octave apart), and gambang (wooden xylophone) (3) The melodies of the gender barung, gender panerus, and gambang are rather free in the sense that they may deviate considerably from the balungan melody, though they typically converge to the balungan pitch every four beats. Thus their melodies extend the same process of "filling in" notes as in mlampah, but now with 16, 32, or even more notes between each "target" tone. Each of these players is generally thinking about how to create a smooth melody going from one pitch to another four beats down the line that fits the pathet, style, and rhythmic density (irama).

Though the amount of creative latitude in performing the melody is a topic of some debate (it seems that considerably freer improvisation was allowed early in the twentieth century than now (4), players now use as a starting point conventionalized skeletal melodies called cengkok. There is such a formula for virtually every possible note-to-note combination in a pathet. Example 6 is a gender barung cengkok that might be used for the first four-note phrase of Pangkur.

What results in gamelan music is a wonderful polyphony based not on harmonic structures, as in Western music, but on a complex hierarchy of melodic motion. Kembangan is often compared to the carving of the flat leather wayang kulit shadow puppets. The skeleton of the puppet is clear in its outlines, harmonically proportioned just as the musical blungan is divided into ever larger cycles. However, the most distinctive attribute of the puppets is the amazingly intricate, lace-like detail with which holes are carved in it to project the tiny features and clothing patterns onto a screen in the performance of the shadow play. These details are hardly incidental; they are the life of the artwork.


Though Harrison's interest in Javanese gamelan goes back to his study with Cowell and first exposure to gamelan in the 1930s, compositional influences of Asian music did not really surface until the 1950s. In 1961 he traveled to East Asia and studied intensively in Korea and Taiwan. In 1969, though he still had no practical experience with Javanese music, he and William Colvig decided to build an "American Gamelan" of just-intonation metallophones that was subsequently used in Harrison's works Young Caesar (1969-71), La Koro Sutra (1971), and Suite for Violin and American Gamelan (with Richard Dee, 1973). However at this point he was simply using the gamelan sonorities without a deep knowledge of gamelan theory and practice.

An opportunity for Harrison to gain practical experience with gamelan came in 1975 when Ki K. P. H. Wasitodiningrat, familiarly known as Pak Cokro, was teaching gamelan at the Center for World Music in Berkeley. (5) Pak Cokro is one of the great Javanese gamelan musicians and composers of the twentieth century, and Harrison carefully learned the principles of Javanese music from him and others, including Jody Diamond. In 1976, at Pak Cokro's suggestion, Harrison began composing for gamelan using traditional forms and performance practices, mediated from the start by his instincts as a Western composer and natural inclination to experiment.

To understand Harrison's synthesis of Javanese tradition and American experimentalism, it is necessary first to see how he adapted the Javanese idea of kembangan as a structural and melodic principle in his works.

Example 7 shows the balungan of the A section of Philemon and Baukis (1985-7) for violin and Javanese gamelan (slendro). ([MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] stands for gong suwukan, a medium-sized hanging gong that can substitute for the large gong. Also, some details have been left out, such as the part for the bedug drum. For the full score, see Harrison 1992.)

Since 1984 Harrison has not indicated the pathet of his pieces, (6) though this one clearly shows typical motives associated with slendro pathet manyura, especially the cadence motive 3 2 1 6. Another more obvious characteristic of this balungan is its distinctly un-Javanese asymmetric structure, which makes the kind of analysis shown for the traditional piece Pangkur less straightforward. Nevertheless, looking at the pitches corresponding to the kempul and kenong strokes (the most important colotomic instruments) yields the distillation shown in Example 8.

This abstraction of the balungan makes clear that the important cadential tones of 3 and 6 are being "saved" and tone 5 is being avoided (also consistent with pathet manyura). The melody can be further distilled by looking at the balungan notes corresponding to the kenong strokes (Example 9).

Example 9 makes the structure of the section very clear. The core tones shown on the last line are a reordering of those on the first line while the second line provides contrast by emphasizing tone 2.

The introduction to Philemon and Baukis is a serene trio between the violin and the soft gender metallophones. Though Harrison adapted these gender parts from traditional formulas in the style of the city of Cirebon, their relationship to the original balungan nicely demonstrates how the process of kembangan can be extended to higher levels. In Example 10, the top line is the original balungan phrase (though it is not heard explicitly at this point) and the second line is the corresponding gender melody. The second of each pair of balungan notes always corresponds to the coincident gender pitch, though the first (unstressed) note of the pair may differ so as to preserve the sequence pattern in the gender melody:

Example 11 shows how the higher gender panerus has a yet denser part corresponding to the same melodic phrase. Again the top line is the implicit balungan melody, the second the gender barung part and the bottom line is the gender panerus.

Though the denser line also depends on ostinato motives repeated at different pitch levels, the metrically stressed balungan pitches still line up. When the pitches do not coincide, they are most often a "slendro fifth"--an interval known as a kempyung--away, an application of quintal counterpoint, to be discussed below.

Using a process like this it is possible to derive a melody from a less-dense part or vice versa, but in order for it to work out so that all levels are nearly equally pleasing, it is most likely that a composer would keep several levels of the structure in mind simultaneously.


When Harrison was studying with Cowell, Cowell would sometimes give him an assignment to create melodies consisting of transformations of tiny melodic cells, which Harrison came to call "melodicles." They differ from conventional melodic motives in that they are independent of rhythm and that recognition of a melodicle as a characteristic theme is less important than the unification that results from restricting a melody or an entire piece to permutations of a limited set of notes. The mosaic-like effect that comes from stringing them together became a common characteristic of Harrison's distinctive melodic voice.

Though he invented a new term to refer to them, Harrison also found melodicles in other styles, in particular medieval chant (as in the process known as centonization), Schoenberg's music (especially his free atonal works), and, most especially, Javanese gamelan music. At the opening of his Music Primer, Harrison speaks of composing with melodicles and calls them "the oldest known method of musical composition, probably deriving from Mesopotamia and Egypt." (7) The reliance of Javanese gamelan melodies on short, often four note, motifs has been studied a great deal, especially in its relationship to the establishment of pathet. (8)

While the establishment of traditional pathet has not been a priority in Harrison's gamelan composition, especially after 1984, he is aware of the ways pathet characteristics can be applied to his works, as in the standard cadential motive for pathet manyura (3 2 1 6) used in Philemon and Baukis. However, more important is the overall unity that can be achieved through the use of a limited number of closely related motives. Example 12 shows the balungan of the original version of one of Harrison's first gamelan pieces, Bubaran Robert of 1976. (A slash through a note ([MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) indicates to damp the sounding bar while hitting it. A horizontal line above the numbers indicates a halving of duration.)

There is a great deal of unity of melodicles or motives on the level of every four beats, a phrase known as a gatra in Javanese gamelan. The first line is a sequence of two related melodicles. The retrograde inversion of the first gatra can be found in the second gatra of the second line along with a new melodicle on either side of it. The second line ends with an inversion of the conventional manyura cadential motive, so that, even though it ends on the "tonic" (pitch 6), it is still not as firm a cadence as at the end. The third line is a reordering of melodicles from lines 1 and 2 while the fourth line introduces some new ideas in order to return to pitch 6 on the gong.

In 1981, Harrison modified Bubaran Robert, writing an ad libitum piccolo trumpet part and rewriting the last of the four lines (Example 13).

Now the pattern of melodicles is much clearer and tightly unified. By assigning letters to each of the gatra-length melodicles, as in Example 14, the pattern is evident.

The second half of the piece is a reflection of the first half, but with the third gatra (A') deleted so that the following melodicles are shifted to earlier points. So now the D melodicle falls on the gong at the end of the third line. The deletion is made up only in the very last gatra, which is a much more dynamic variation of melodicle F, confirming arrival on gong tone 6. This shifting of gatra from metrically weak to strong parts of the formal structure is a favorite trick of Javanese composers as well, as Jody Diamond points out, comparing Bubaran Robert to Bubaran Rediguntur, a traditional piece. (9)

A perusal of the kenong tones of Bubaran Robert demonstrates how this shifting effectively leads from and back to the "tonic" 6, with an intermediate emphasis on pitch 3, a kempyung ("fifth") above, at other important junctures:

Though ethnomusicologists try to avoid terms like tonic and dominant, several Javanese theorists have pointed out the parallels between the importance of fifth relationships in Western tonal music and the importance of kempyung relationships to pathet in Javanese music. (10)

The melodic abstraction shown in Example 15 has a somewhat more static structure than is found in later pieces, such as Threnody for Carlos Chavez (1979), where Harrison deftly reconciles these different tonal/melodic levels. Threnody for Carlos Chavez is for viola and gamelan degung, a "chamber" gamelan from Sunda (West Java).

While in traditional Javanese pieces the bilateral symmetry of meter and form is carried out on eight or more different metrical levels, in Threnody Harrison uses triple divisions over the same range of temporal relationships. One might think of the resulting meter as a kind of compound triple (9 8) in Western terms, except that all further divisions are also by threes. Harrison relates this meter to medieval trinitarianism and refers to it by its name from mensural notation in the Middle Ages: tempus perfectum cum prolatione perfecta. (11) The phrases themselves consist of groups of threes, each section of three phrases, and the whole piece of three sections, which are played in the order AAB AAB CCB. The AAB pattern (the medieval bar-form) is reflected on a variety of melodic levels in the piece, such as the pervasive melodicle which consists of a repeated tone and a step down, which I will designate as melodicle "a."

Also prominent is a motive consisting of a dip to a neighbor tone and back (since there is no pitch 1 or 4 in this mode, 7 to 2 is a step and 3 to 5 is a step). I will call this melodicle "b." Example 16 shows the balungan of the A section with these melodicles bracketed. (The kempul is used only when played by a Central Javanese gamelan. Otherwise the P indicates the similar instrument in the gamelan degung, called jengglong. An i after a melodicle letter indicates inversion.)

The same AAB form is paralleled here between the three lines as well as in the three phrases of each line. The third line's role as contrasting foil to the first two is demonstrated in its melodic inversion, its new higher tessitura (called ngelik in Javanese), and its emphasis on pitches 2 and 3. Creating a contrasting phrase through inversion is a favorite technique of Harrison's, as in Gending Bill of 1984.

The next level of abstraction in Threnody is the melody formed by the third note of each "gatra" of three notes and is the melody played by lower octave metallophones. Melodicle b also appears at this level, as shown in Example 17.

A new pattern emerges when the perspective is shifted yet another level up. In Example 18, the kempul tones of the entire piece are written out linearly, with repetitions, starting with the gong tone at the end of the buka (the short introduction before A actually begins). The new melodicle, which I have named "c," consists of a stepwise motion up.

The same motive c is played on the bonang (12) anticipating each kempul cadence, a nonstandard bonang style that creates a satisfying pull toward certain phrase endings. Repeating the process of taking every third note shows the next level of abstraction (Example 19), which reveals the "a" melodicle as wel.

The gong tones themselves, shown in Example 20, also reflect the AAB structure of the tonality of the work which, as in Bubaran Robert and other pieces, shifts between a tonic and the pitch a kempyung/fifth above it.


Harrison's willingness to explore forms that do not reflect the customary symmetrical divisions of two, as in Threnody for Carlos Chavez, is one characteristic that especially distinguishes his work from traditional, and even much new, Javanese gamelan music. Harrison often uses the generic designation gending to distinguish such works from pieces in standard forms, which are named for those forms: bubaran, lancaran, ladrang, and others, each of which is characterized by a unique colotomic phrase structure. (A few pieces of Harrison's use the term "gending" in a more specific sense to refer to larger traditional forms.)

In Honor of Munakata Shiko (1991-2000) has a form which reflects the dynamic asymmetry of the work of the famous Japanese woodblock artist and Japanese aesthetics in general. The number of gatra per gongan (section that ends in a gong) is nearly always a power of two in traditional Javanese works, but the A section of Munakata Shiko has gongan that are 7, 7, 9, and 10 gatra as well as asymmetrical but progressively denser colotomic patterns. The first of these gongan is shown in Example 21.

As in Threnody, the motivic basis for this wide-ranging and often disjunct balungan lies in the contrast between neighbor tones (melodicle "a") and scale-wise motion (melodicle "b"). However, while in the Threnody these are all worked out with great consistency and symmetry on all levels, the sharp angles of Munakata's woodcuts seem to show up through the unusual rhythmic variations and melodic interpolations that help disguise these motives in Munakata Shiko.

Harrison calls the form of For the Pleasure of Ovid's Changes (1983) a "transforming ketawang." The traditional form of the ketawang consists of a 16-beat gongan divided into two 8-beat kenongan (phrases which end with a kenong stroke), and that is how this piece begins. However, in the next section, that structure is expanded to 32 beats. Such an augmentation is common in Javanese gamelan music, in general between the merong (A section) and minggah (B section). Here however, the process continues in unexpected ways. The 32-beat gongan is followed by a 40-beat gongan, one of 64 beats, then back down to 32 and finally 16 again. All of these gongan retain the bipartite division articulated by the kenong characteristic of the ketawang. This kind of systematic augmentation and diminution of sections has a much older precedent in some of Harrison's percussion works, such as Canticle #1 (1940), but here their transformation is a suitable homage to the tales of change in Ovid's Metamorphoses.


In Honor of Munakata Shiko would sound quite remarkable to a Javanese musician not only for its unorthodox form, but also for its mode. Traditionally, pelog works use one of two five-tone subsets derived from the seven-tone pelog scale: bem (12356) or barang (23567). (Pitch 4 is usually used only as a substitute or interpolated tone.) Here Harrison uses both pitch 1 and 7 freely in the same piece, in effect creating a new hexatonic mode (123567).

Mode in a very general sense has been a chief preoccupation of Harrison's melodically based style since his study with Cowell. Modes in this sense are defined not just by their scales and tonics, but also by characteristic motives, mood, and the relative stress given different scale degrees. Rhythm and meter play an important part in defining this stress, especially in the context of Javanese music, but, interestingly, Harrison says that he learned this lesson by studying Irish folk music in the 1930s. (13) Thus, while pitch 1 is freely used in In Honor of Munakata Shiko, its role is limited through its almost exclusive use on unstressed parts of the meter.

In Gending in Honor of Aphrodite (1986) Harrison also uses pitches 1. and 7 together, but this time, along with the unusual pitch 4, to create a new pentatonic mode: 13467. The un-pelog-like absence of semitones gives this piece a kind of deviating slendro feel. Lancaran Samuel (1981) uses a very mysterious 13457 mode, ultimately and effectively married to a sinuous saxophone line that became A Cornish Lancaran in 1986 (see Example 22 below).


In the 1930s, Cowell would sometimes ask Harrison to develop a piece both in conventional (tertial) counterpoint and dissonant (secundal) counterpoint. On his own, Harrison extrapolated these ideas into quintal counterpoint, in which octaves, perfect fifths, and perfect fourths are considered consonant, but seconds, thirds, tritones, sixths, and sevenths are treated as dissonances. Part of Harrison's inspiration for this step came from Joseph Yasser's A Theory of Evolving Tonality, in which Yasser showed that pentatonic Celtic and East Asian harmony, where it existed, was based on the fifth/fourth, as was early European organum.

Though traditional Javanese music does not approach simultaneities in the same way as Western tonal counterpoint, in which every interval is carefully justified in terms of consonance or dissonance, there is nevertheless plenty of evidence for the importance of the kempyung in harmonic and tonal contexts. Only the kempyung and gembyang (octave) are acceptable harmonic intervals at cadences. The two-part polyphony of the metallophone gender barung often emphasizes the kempyung and uses it in parallel motion.

Though a kempyung is sometimes compared to a fifth, the Javanese define it as an interval of four scale steps (inclusive) in a given mode. In the slendro tuning system, the kempyung is, on average, three-fifths of an octave or 720 cents. Though the tuning of kempyung varies somewhat from one version of slendro to another, this interval rarely approaches the size of the 3:2 perfect fifth (702 cents). Kempyung in pelog may vary from intervals in the region of a tritone to a major sixth.

Even acknowledging these differences, the transfer of quintal counterpoint to gamelan came naturally to Harrison. This technique helped him to add melodies to balungan, even, in several cases, to pieces written years earlier. To demonstrate how this process works, Example 22 shows the balungan and saxophone line of A Cornish Lancaran. Though the pitches of the balungan are approximated in staff notation and may vary depending on the gamelan used, the saxophone player is expected to tune to those pitches. Below the saxophone melody I have noted where a kempyung or its inversion occurs with the letter K, the octave with the letter G (for gembyang, the Javanese term for octave), and dissonances (i.e. all other intervals) with d, all of which are conventional passing tones, anticipations, suspensions, and so on.


In August of 1982, during Harrison's most intensive period of gamelan composition, he wrote an elegy for his friend Calvin Simmons, the 32-year-old conductor of the Oakland Symphony who had died in a boating accident that summer. Harrison wrote the piece for a chamber orchestra at the Cabrillo Music Festival, where it was premiered two days after its completion. Though he chose to write for Western instruments in the diatonic phrygian mode, the structure of the piece is clearly based on Javanese models and kembangan in particular.

The form of the piece is that of a ketawang, that is, a 16-beat gong cycle divided into two kenong phrases. Though Harrison does add an actual Javanese gong to mark the larger phrases, it is supplemented with tones from the double basses. A harp arpeggio and horn tone represent the kenong. At the approach to the second gong, the notes of the core melody change from quarter notes to half notes, creating a shift in irama, or rhythmic density relative to the balungan. A countermelody in quintal counterpoint in a rhythm offset from the core melody by a half beat thickens the texture somewhat during the initial irama. After the irama shifts, Harrison adds a plaintive oboe solo, also in quintal counterpoint.

As the irama changes, this countermelody changes into a form of kembangan known as pipilan or mipil. This technique is a stock method of elaboration normally played on the bonang panerus and bonang barung kettle-gongs in the Javanese gamelan and consists of a syncopated alternation between pairs of balungan tones, as shown in a typical gatra in Example 23. The mipil tones always anticipate the corresponding balungan tones, as one would expect in a system where metrical stress is inverted from the Western convention.

Example 24 is an excerpt from Harrison's implementation of mipil in Elegy, to the Memory of Calvin Simmons. Harrison sometimes uses passing tones in place of the constant alternating tones in order to smooth out and add interest to the melodic line, a technique known to the Javanese as mipil nglagu, or "melodic mipil."

Though the core melody of Elegy, to the Memory of Calvin Simmons sounds phrygian and indeed emphasizes the descending semitone at the gong, (14) much of it is contained within the pentatonic subset of E, G, A, B, D. The tension between these falling semitones and this pentatonic

In 1986, Harrison again experimented with the use of Javanese techniques for Western instruments for a movement in his chamber work for dance New Moon. In this work, the adaptation of the core melody to a kembangan structure is even more complex because of Harrison's use of an often chromatic melody.

As a young man, Harrison had a keen interest in chromaticism and the twelve-tone method even prior to his actual study with Schoenberg in the 1940s, yet the lack of note-to-note choice when composing strict twelve-tone melodies frustrated him. Cowell's teacher Charles Seeger suggested that melodies could be "dissonated" by avoiding consonant melodic intervals. (15) The idea of deliberately constraining the available melodic intervals inspired Harrison to invent a process he calls "interval controls." In this technique, the composer limits the choices of melodic intervals in a work to a few, thus retaining chromaticism and a sense of melodic unity while offering, he felt, more choices at each juncture than the twelve-tone method.

In "Song," the fourth movement of New Moon, Harrison created a melody which uses only the linear intervals major second, minor third, and minor sixth, a melody which he intended to exfoliate in a Javanese-like kembangan structure. Perhaps because of the difficulty of satisfactorily doing so with the limited instrumentation of New Moon, he dropped the movement from that work and took it up again only in 1990, when it became the first movement of his Fourth Symphony.

The "balungan" of this movement is a 64-beat melody asymmetrically divided by tones in the low strings, which take on the role of colotomic gongs. The melody and "gong tones" as they first appear in the cellos are shown in Example 26.

These colotomic tones reflect the overall contour and provide a Javanese-like descent to the final gong tone on A (a pitch otherwise unstressed metrically).

As in Calvin Simmons the large-scale structure of the movement comes from repeating the balungan in different irama. Also as in Calvin Simmons, the primary technique by which the more rhythmically dense lines are exfoliated from this melody is mipil, this time in two levels in the woodwinds, shown in Example 27.

However, beginning with the second repetition of the balungan in the slower irama, a core "gamelan" ensemble of harp, celesta, tack piano, (16) and vibraphone also provides a new and more elaborate succession of cengkok (Example 28).

Harrison says that he was delighted with the resultant sound, which, when transferred from the metallophones of the gamelan to the instruments of the Western orchestra gave an "impressionistic" effect. Like the impressionist painters, Harrison has created an intricately textured large-scale canvas from the tiniest of brush strokes.


From nearly his very first compositions, Harrison has been an unapologetic eclectic. In his early career he freely and unselfconsciously accepted influences from Cowell, Schoenberg, Ives, Ruggles, medieval chant, Elizabethan madrigals, and Latin American percussion, just to name a few, and yet Harrison's distinctive melodic voice still predominates. Thus it is not the superficial sound of gamelan music which Harrison has adopted, but the aspects of its hierarchical structure which intersect nicely with his own melodicism, modalism, and use of counterpoint.

Kembangan is a powerful tool for creating melodic structure, but the gamelan aesthetic does nor represent to Harrison simply a compendium of techniques to be exploited. The way in which kembangan ties together metrical, melodic, and tonal levels reflects the close-knit community spirit of the gamelan and gamelan players worldwide, as is acknowledged in the title of Harrison's Main Bersama-sama (1978), which means "playing together." There is really no better motto for Harrison's respect and enthusiasm for gamelan and the harmony it creates and represents.



Thanks to Lou Harrison for his kind and generous cooperation with my research. Thanks also to Charles Hanson, Elaine Barkin, and Brett Campbell.

(1.) Pitches in Central java are now written in kepatihan or "cipher" notation, in which scale degrees are represented by numbers, and dots above or below the number indicate octave displacement. In the heptatonic pelog tuning system, the numbers are 1 through 7. In the nearly equidistant pentatonic slendro tuning system, the numbers are 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. Unmodified numbers last one beat, but dots in place of a number indicate a rest or an extension of the duration of the previous note by a beat. Lines above the pitch numbers or dots indicate a halving of the duration, and multiple lines may be used (like beams in Western notation). The actual tuning of the pitches represented by these numbers varies from one gamelan to another and in most cases deviates considerably from the tempered Western scale. Nevertheless, in Harrison's scores, pelog pitches 1-7 are usually represented as D, E, F, G[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], A, B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], C and slendro pitches as D[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], E[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], F, A[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or D, E, F[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], A, B.

(2.) The bonang panembung is an optional instrument mostly found in the style of gamelan from the city of Yogyakarta. It is included here because it is nicely illustrative of the kembangan principle. In actual performance, most players would adjust the last kenongan (last phrase of eight balungan notes) of this example to create a smoother melodic descent to the cadence appropriate for pathet manyura: 3 . 2 . 1 . 6 . I have retained the original pitches in Examples 1 and 3 to consistently illustrate the abstraction principle.

(3.) Other melodic instruments, including the voice, suling (bamboo fipple flute), and rebab (spike fiddle) play parts too rhythmically free to fit easily in this scheme.

(4.) See McDermott and Sumarsam 1975, Hood 1988, and Sumarsam 1995.

(5.) The initials K.P.H. (for Kanjeng Pangeran Harya Notoprojo) refer to Pak Cokro's status within the Yogyanese royalty, from which he was descended. They have recently replaced the initials K.R.T. (for Kanjeng Raden Tumenggung), which are found in earlier publications. "Ki" is an honorific. For more on Pak Cokro's music and legacy, see Wenten 1996.

(6.) When Harrison was in Indonesia in 1984, his application of a certain pathet was questioned by Javanese experts, leading him to conclude that the concept of pathet was too complex and essentially Javanese to be intelligently applied to his own works. Thereafter, he ceased to indicate the pathet of his works. See Lieberman and Miller 1998, 170, and Harrison 1985.

(7.) Harrison 1971, 1.

(8.) See Hood 1954, Becker 1980, and Sutton 1993.

(9.) Diamond 1987, 101.

(10.) See Martopangrawit in Becker and Feinstein 1984, vol. 1, 60-5; Soeroso 1983, 15-7; Suwando et al. 1986, Seri 4, 12-3.

(11.) Personal communication, 2001. Harrison thinks of this form as a ketawang in threes. See also Liebermann and Miller 1998, 169.

(12.) In the gamelan degung, there is only one size of bonang, as opposed to the panerus, barung, and (sometimes) panembung varieties in the Central Javanese gamelan.

(13.) In particular, Harrison in his Music Primer credits his reading of Henebry 1928.

(14.) Harrison, whose interest in pre-classical music goes back to his earliest compositions, is well aware that the descending semitone was an accepted musical symbol of grief in the Baroque period.

(15.) Nicholls 1990, 91.

(16.) The tack piano is a piano with thumbtacks inserted into the felt of the hammers, giving it a bright, harpsichord-like timbre. Harrison has frequently used the tack piano in his works since the 1950s.


Becker, Judith O. 1980. Traditional Music in Modern Java: Gamelan in a Changing Society. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii.

Becker, Judith O. and Alan H. Feinstein, eds. 1984. Karawitan: Source Readings in Javanese Gamelan and Vocal Music. Ann Arbor: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan.

Diamond, Jody. 1987. "In the Beginning Was the Melody: The Gamelan Music of Lou Harrison." In Peter Garland, ed. A Lou Harrison Reader. Santa Fe: Soundings Press.

Harrison, Lou. 1971. Lou Harrison's Music Primer: Various Items about Music to 1970. New York: C. F. Peters.

Harrison, Lou. 1985. "Thoughts about 'Slippery Slendro.'" Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology 6: 111-7.

Harrison, Lou. 1992. Music for Gamelan with Western Instruments. Aptos, CA: Hermes Beard Press.

Harrison, Lou and Trish Neilson, eds. 1981. Gending-Gending California. Aptos, CA: American Gamelan Institute.

Henebry, Richard. 1928. Handbook of Irish Music. Dublin: Cork University Press.

Hood, Mantle. 1977. The Nuclear Theme as a Determinant of Pathet in Javanese Music. New York: Da Capo, 1954, rev. 1977.

Hood, Mantle. 1988. Paragon of the Roaring Sea: The Evolution of Javanese Gamelan, Book 3. New York: C. F. Peters.

Lieberman, Fredric and Leta B. Miller. 1998. Lou Harrison: Composing a World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McDermott, Vincent and Sumarsam. 1975. "Central Javanese Music: The Patet of Laras Slendro and the Gender Barung." Ethnomusicology 19, no. 2 (May): 233-44.

Nicholls, David. 1990. American Experimental Music, 1890-1940. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Soeroso. 1983. Menuju ke Garapan Komposisi Karawitan. Yogyakarta: Akademi Musik Indonesia.

Sumarsam. 1995. Gamelan: Cultural Interaction and Musical Development in Central Java. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Suwondo, Bambang and H. Ahmad Yunus, eds. 1986. Ensiklopedi Musik Indonesia. Jakarta: Proyek Penelitian dan Pencatatan Kebudayaan Daerah, Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan. 4 vol: Serie A-E, 1980; Serie F-J, 1985; Serie K-O, 1985; Serie P-T, 1986.

Sutton, R. Anderson. 1993. Variation in Javanese Gamelan Music: Dynamics of a Steady State. DeKalb, IL: Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

Wenten, I Nyoman. 1996. The Creative World of Ki Wasitodipuro: The Life and Work of a Javanese Gamelan Composer. Ph.D. dissertation, UCLA.

Yasser, Joseph. 1932. A Theory of Evolving Tonality. New York: American Library of Musicology.

BILL ALVES is a composer on the faculty of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. He has been studying the life and music of Lou Harrison since their meeting in 1987. He has composed extensively for gamelan as well as Western acoustic instruments, electronics, and multimedia, including abstract computer animation, robot choreography, and web art. In 1993-4, he was a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Indonesia. His works are recorded on the EMF and ICMC labels, and his video works are distributed by CinemaNow and lotaCenter.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Perspectives of New Music
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Alves, Bill
Publication:Perspectives of New Music
Date:Jun 22, 2001
Previous Article:The flowering of gending Agbekor: a musical collaboration with I Dewa Putu Berata.
Next Article:Afterword.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |