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OOIOO and an incomplete history of gamelan

July 17, 2014

OOIOO, the trance-dance outfit led by Boredoms drummer Yoshimio (a.k.a. Yoshimi P-We), has consistently conjured the fourth world and the otherworldly. For their latest album, Gamel, the group sought inspiration from the traditional Javanese musical style of gamelan, seamlessly merging chiming percussive patterns into its hypnotically zigzagging superhighway. The oft-startling sounds of these Indonesian ensembles have enthused many other musical explorers over the years, so here’s an incomplete history of gamelan.

Check out OOIOO below, then walk through our incomplete history of the instrument. For those of you in Toronto, OOIOO perform at Lee’s Palace on Tuesday, July 22.

Javanese gamelan

Slow and dreamy, combining metallophone mallet percussion with stringed instruments, handclaps and hair-raising vocals.

Balinese gamelan

The other most common Indonesian gamelan style: fast-paced and brain-drilling!

Sekar-Melati – “Not Great Men”

Javanese gamelan ensemble Sekar-Melati covering Gang of Four: possibly the greatest video on the Internet.

Béla Bartók – “On the Island of Bali”

Countless composers have integrated gamelan elements into their work, from Debussy to Xenakis, minimalist maniacs Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and the godfather of weird percussion instruments, Harry Partch. However, ethnomusicologist extraordinaire Béla Bartók may have come closest to invoking the mysterious beauty of the Balinese style.

23 Skidoo – “Language (Dub)”

On the opposite end of the sonic spectrum, industrial/post-punk outsiders 23 Skidoo toyed with pieces of scrap metal to create mutant gamelan.

Xiu Xiu – “Don Diasco”

Of course, no one has used gamelan to more unsettling effect than Xiu Xiu on this song from the 2002 album Knife Play.

Cul de Sac and John Fahey – “Gamelan Guitar”

Fingerstyle godhead John Fahey incorporated gamelan into experimental pieces dating back to the ’60s. This 1997 collaboration with post-rock group Cul de Sac combine their fragile, shimmering sounds with jaunty yet mesmerizing plucks.

Sonic Youth – “She Is Not Alone”

On their debut EP, Sonic Youth detuned and transformed their guitars into a wildly different gamelan-influenced style.

Tlatah Bocah and Arrington de Dionyso

Shamanic freak-jazz art-punk Arrington de Dionyso has expressed a deep interest in the music of Indonesia. His Bandcamp page offers a wealth of East/West fusions featuring one-off collaborations such as the video above.

Richard Lermon – Travelon Gamelon

Richard Lermon’s 1982 album Travelon Gamelon introduced a super cool concept: Gamelan pieces can be performed on bicycles.

Geinoh Yamashirogumi – “Chaos”

While Geinoh Yamashirogumi’s soundtrack for Akira may have been many Western listeners’ introduction to gamelan, their 1990 album Ecophony Gaia finds the Japanese musical collective soaring to transcendent heights.

Secret of Mana – “Ceremony”

The ominous soundtrack to this 1993 RPG offered another subliminal introduction to gamelan to a generation of SNES players. Obviously Ryan Hemsworth is down.

Teriyaki Boyz – “Tokyo Drift”

“I wonder if you know / how they live in Tokyo (hai)!”

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