HMC American Gamelan Concert to Honor John Cage Centennial

The Harvey Mudd College American Gamelan will perform works by American avant-garde composer John Cage, Lou Harrison and HMC music Professor Bill Alves at its annual fall concert Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. in the Platt Campus Center Green Room.

The concert will feature “Haikai,” the only work Cage—whose 100th birthday anniversary, the Cage Centennial, is being celebrated at festivals worldwide—composed specifically for gamelan.

“Haikai is the plural of haiku. Just like a haiku collection, this composition consists of eight atmospheric sub-pieces, although there are no words, just the evocation of the haiku form, “said Alves. “It is a challenging piece, because students have to make music and coordinate based on cues from one another rather than relying on beats. It is also interesting because it can change with each performance, and students have to be on their toes throughout.”

Javanese metallophone
The concert will also feature two works by former Cage collaborator Lou Harrison, a pioneer in the use of alternate tunings, world music influences and new instruments. Halfway through the program, the gamelan will add electric guitar, keyboards and strings for the debut of two new compositions by Alves, as well as two pieces that incorporate Alves’ original video for a multi-sensory experience.

Formed by Alves in 2000, the HMC American Gamelan is a rare ensemble that uses traditional Javanese instruments to play Western music. Instruments include those found in a traditional Indonesian orchestra, or gamelan, such as gongs and metallophones, which are similar to the xylophone and are struck with a mallet.

Gamelan members include students and faculty from HMC and other Claremont Colleges. “I enjoy playing in the group,” said Sun Hwi Bang ’14, who has played in the gamelan for a year. “Although each instrument plays simple and repetitive sounds, the whole group makes subtle and sophisticated music.”

Music Professor Bill Alves The group’s musical selections introduce an American style to the traditional Asian genre, creating rhythmically complex and exotically tuned music.

“I’m really interested in learning about different instruments, especially ones that are in unfamiliar tuning systems,” said Carling Sugarman ’14, who has played in the gamelan for three semesters while also studying trombone. “Playing in the group is really relaxing. The music is always very chill, and it’s nice to completely escape from the stress of Mudd by losing myself in my part.”

The HMC American Gamelan performs regularly at MicroFest, a concert series devoted to non-standard tunings that features eight concerts held in venues throughout Southern California. The group has also performed with the Pacific Symphony, as part of its American Composers Festival, at the Irvine Barclay Theater and the Orange County Performing Arts Center.