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Davis, California

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Balinese musicians embody their ideals through music

While rain fell from the sky in Davis Sunday
night, Cudamani performers in “Gamelan Cudamani: Bamboo to Bronze” lit up the
stage inside Jackson Hall of the Mondavi Center, where a sunny vibe contrasted
the more wintery outdoor conditions.

 Vibrant green bamboo shoots hung in
front of a calming blue backdrop. 
Men clad in patterned sarongs swayed their upper-bodies as they played
their array of instruments, all carved from either bamboo or bronze: flutes,
drums, xylophones, recorders and gongs. Nine musical numbers with names such as
“Nature,” “The Divine” and “Humanity” created a night of Cudamani immersion.
Raw instrumentals, occasional chanting and minimal use of recorded sound made
for a performance that was at once unique, spiritual and meditative, while
still remaining upbeat.

“Gamelan
Cudamani represents a blend of the best of traditional and modern Balinese
approaches to music, education and society,” said associate professor Henry
Spiller, who led a workshop about Cudamani a day after the performance. “They
have found ways to breathe fresh life into traditional Balinese music, and ways
to package it for foreign audiences without compromising their own artistic
vision.”

Dedicated to
ayah
, or devotional service,
Cudamani performs at the highest artistic level for temple ceremonies and other
religious festivals.

“These bring
little or no money, but reconnect artists to the community and temples in which
music and dance have played an integral role for centuries,” writes Emiko
Saraswati Susilo, assistant director, in the show notes.

Sanggar
Cudamani was formed in 1997 by brothers Dewa Putu Berata and Dewa Ketut Alit.
The two men called forth talented youth from Bali to form the group that would
soon foster cultural and educational activity.

In addition
to teaching youth for free, Cudamani is one of the few groups that teaches
girls to play Gamelan music. The group has toured Italy, Greece, Japan and the
United States and has collaborated with world-renowned musicians and scholars.

 Their show at the Mondavi Center was an
outstanding demonstration on how the same core Balinese values can be
manifested in sounds made on two dissimilar materials: bamboo and bronze

“The concept
is to illustrate the evolution of Gamelan in Bali,” said Philip Graulty,
Gamelan Cudamani’s road manager. “The artists do this by performing instruments
on two very different elements: bamboo, which came first, and bronze, which
came later.”

Spiller
highlighted the differences between bamboo and bronze. Whereas bamboo grows
like a weed, is easy to fashion into all sorts of useful objects and doesn’t
last very long in Bali’s tropical climate, bronze, on the other hand, requires
advanced technology and once forged endures infinitely. The music they create
is deeply integrated into Balinese life, Spiller said.

He noted
that many of the music’s characteristics are audible manifestations of Balinese
culture and philosophy, citing one example as how the instruments all come in
pairs. Within these pairs, one instrument is tuned slightly lower than the
other, making for a sound that shimmers and comes alive in a phenomenon called “acoustical
beating.”

Spiller said
that the Balinese hear this as an audible manifestation of the principle of complementarities
(between male and female, for example) that brings balance and life to their
society.

The
performance on Sunday, at once opulent and down-to-earth, incorporated
acoustical beating into acts that thematically dealt with unpredictable moods
of childhood, men protecting all that is vulnerable around them and heavenly
beings coming down to earth with the humble desire to dance.

“Balinese
music’s many dynamic contrasts and rhythmic excitement hold my interest,”
Spiller said. “I am drawn to the close relationship between music and dance,
and I find fascinating the way that the dance gestures and musical gestures fit
together. Balinese music is visually exciting, as well — the instruments are
works of art, and the dancers and musicians are draped with beautiful textiles,
flowers and gold ornaments.

As the curtains went down after a series of humble
bows and modest smiles, the crowd caught a last glimpse at festive sarongs and
hand-carved instruments. The musicians will continue to bring ayah
to the stage with their feel for rhythm &
harmony, aesthetic pleasantries and above all, the Balinese ideals.

To learn
more about Cudamani, look for their upcoming shows or listen to recordings, go
to cudamani.org.

 

ELENI
STEPHANIDES can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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