The Day – ‘Encountering Resonance’ by Lyman Allyn is an auditory and visual feast
For many people here in the West, there is only one real musical association with gongs. It dates back to arena rock, when drummers for acts like Rush or Emerson, Lake & Palmer performed on expansive drum kits, perched throughout the performance in front of giant gongs that remained silent – at least until ‘at the end of their very long solos. , and at what point the musician would jump, grab a Thor’s-like hammer and hit the gong! Maybe several times!
Alternatively, in Java, Bali and Indonesia, entire musical ensembles for centuries have played gamelan, which is indigenous orchestral music written for and performed on several varieties of gongs and tuned percussion ensembles – all of which are struck with mallets and percussion tools. The music is hypnotic, calming, dissonant and charming, and serves in a precious religious, aesthetic and societal capacity.
The idea that gamelan could be reconceptualized for postmodern times and Western audiences is something that fascinated American artist and composer Aaron Taylor Kuffner. Using computer algorithms and mechanical and technical innovations to form through kinetic sculpture, he emerged with something called Gamelatron, a fascinating installation of which, “Encountering Resonance: Aaron Taylor Kuffner’s Gamelatron”, is on display at the Lyman Allyn Art. Museum of New London.
The exhibit begins with a simple introductory section using video and wall signage, then leads through a series of rooms. In each are three to five of Taylor’s Gamelatron installations. They are similar but distinctive, varying in size and involving one to more bronze or steel stamps of different shapes and sizes. They in turn are mounted on a “sculptural frame” that looks a bit like brass plumbing pipes in an exposed architectural cutout. All instruments are equipped with automated mallets; each has been tuned to a specific note in a scale and electromagnetically activated by a computer system that transcribes the original gamelan music composed by Kuffner.
The pieces are fascinating to watch, merging the implicit cultural antiquity of the gong with a sort of sleek industrial and space-age look. What is more evocative, however, is to absorb the visual while absorbing the activated sounds of each installation. Some are automatic repeating; others can be activated by the visitor by pressing a variety of buttons. A few are close-up concepts where a guest can take a seat, like in an airplane cockpit, and listen up close to the soft clicking and tones of gongs on three sides. Others are massive wall units that sound independently – the mallets operating with a sort of invisible power reminiscent of playing pianos.
Gradually, on the whole, the rhythms become more complicated and the respective melodies from the different sites become more complex – and there is an overwhelming aura of dissonant beauty. Perhaps the best Western comparison would be wind chime recordings or Ambient / New Age meditation compositions. Indeed, by their original conception, the music and its interpretation have a nice meditative repetition that soothes and invites mental contemplation. Other than inspiring the visitor’s intellectual amazement through Kuffner’s dedication and ingenuity – which he might in fact see as counterproductive to his purpose – walking and LISTENING “Meeting the Resonance” is a guaranteed exercise. to lower blood pressure and refresh mental attitude.
The exhibit is complemented by short intructions to video stations throughout. They alternately present gamelon performances in their country of origin; present understandable demonstrations of music and performance theory; and explain how gongs and instrumentation are historically made in the context of Kuffner’s work.
That the exhibit landed at Lyman Allyn is a bit of providence. As each of Kuffner’s Gamelatron installations is site specific and requires years of design and construction, they don’t come cheap. However, Sam Quigley, executive director of Lyman Allyn, is himself a well-known Asian and Indonesian music authority who received a Masters in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University – where he learned to play Javanese gamelan.
“I hadn’t met (Kuffner) until recently, but I have long been an admirer of not just his work, but all the iceberg of possibility he sits on,” Quigley said last week by phone. “I first became aware of gamelan in 1972, and it moves me in ways that I cannot fully explain. When I heard about Kuffner and what he did, I was mesmerized by the possibilities. But it is a very expensive and laborious process. When we finally met, Kuffner was happy to meet a soul mate and offered to renovate an old facility from 2013.
“He recycled some of the material from this facility so that we could afford it, and then was kind enough to put a lot of sweat capital into the project. He knew the client was involved, and it said a lot about him as a person and artist that he would make the effort on our behalf. “
Kuffner, now based in Brooklyn, spent many years in Java and Bali and immersed himself in the cultural and spiritual significance of gamelan. Not only did he learn the different modal chords at the heart of music, but he became skilled at playing the various instruments and developed his own notation system. He either manufactures the components for each installation or orders them from master craftsmen in Bali and Java. Kuffner also writes the compositions, and each is unique to a specific Gamelatron show.
“Aaron has visited Lyman Allyn on several occasions and has personally set up the exhibit,” Quigely says, “and we couldn’t be more grateful”.
Quigley says it has been gratifying to see how clients respond to “Encountering Resonance”.
“The therapeutic quality invites a kind of contemplation that also seems to exclude the average experience of visiting the museum,” says Quigley. “People get lost, so to speak. The music and the installations seem to have a physiological effect on the human body. I couldn’t begin to explain how this happens, but several patrons have commented very positively on it. . What more could you ask for in a museum experience? “