Excavation Series 10 – Central Javanese Gamelan: Archaic Styles and Austere Performances of the Early 1970s (Jacques Brunet 70s recordings compiled by Ian Nagoski)
From the first few notes of the perfectly spaced ringing gamelan bronze, the music at play is evidence of mirrored life sound world overlap, with that peculiar mix of lyrical minimalism and haunted atmospheric ghostliness, the full expressive impact moves through time slowed down and trance-like, a reawakening to the new spirit shadow created by tone, overtone, and silence in uniformed progression, the scales of the ancestors filling space like stars at night in entrance, evoking mystery more than stableness, old world more than new, the uncanny over the known.
It is glorious.
When Phong told me that we might have a crack at releasing some very special gamelan recordings compiled by Ian Nagoski, after they had hung out and chatted a few times (talking about our series and how we could maybe tackle this material in a tape-only edition), I was over the moon. I’ve long been a fan of Ian’s work with Canary Records and have kept up to date with his archival and restoration projects, including incredible releases with Dust-to-Digital, Tompkins Square, Mississippi Records and Sound American, etc, etc.
Both Phong and myself have early CD-R editions of wild ethnographic music put together by Ian and released through his True Vine record shop (which he has since moved on from), and with his friends at Weirdo Records too (who have since closed down as well) where I got mine online – we both have the same small edition version of the True Vine 78 Series: Central Javanese Gamelan, amongst a few others. This collection presented here is that, with one long form extended piece added in for good measure. Call it a reissue, or call it a new format edition, or call it something new altogether – this has been re-mastered to sound better than ever and is an epic collection, an essential collection, a holy grail of sorts, in our humble opinions.
This is a fully loaded C90 brimming with expansive, utterly breathtaking gamelan music recorded by the esteemed French musician and ethnomusicologist Jacques Brunet. The collection presented here is a gathering of Brunet’s early 1970s recordings in central Java, all out of print and issued on LP with German and French labels, Galloway Records and Archiv Produktion to name two.
One thing that jumps out at me with these pieces is the clarity and spatial design of the recording, instruments shimmer and sit still in the air, high above the mallets and seated percussive sets, before blowing away like smoke, overtones whistle through that high air too thick in perfect shape and fall down like shooting stars holding their pattern, microphones attach to ears sitting dead center, unobtrusive but delicately laboured over to catch the performance in theatrical paranormal presentation. Expert musicians recorded by the expert ears of an expert engineer. Stereo speakers sit in now for the presence of the events, you are that close to it now, the distant birdsong joining in and you can open the windows too.
The totality of music like this eludes me, such simple scales and specific craftiness, such orchestral natural sounding composition, each sculptural part climbing on top of the next structural start, peaks-and-valleys in muted symphony, it moves along at its own pace altogether. Voiced historical story-telling through swing and hit, through elongated skeletal motion, the ratio of treble to bass situated in common-sense patterns of more to less, it moves along with complete surety and precision of the totalling parts. It’s confident, but not overly so, it holds a naked fragility that seems almost impossible to fully fracture, for there are threads holding on too tight, and upon further investigation, the music is strung out like a rope, like an eel, like a path, like a wave that can’t be cut, it is stronger than what was first perceived.
I don’t know how to say it without hyperbole, this is seriously some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard.
This is a tape-only release, in a fully produced edition of 100 copies.