Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Gamelan to Glasses

I have the nagging feeling that I should describe the gamelan concert I attended last night, because such an event must be rather rare in the Czech Republic, but am torn about this. On the one hand, I think that it is Jesse’s task to describe it since he’s the ethnomusicologist, but he indicated that it might be my task since the concert was in Prague and he is covering Brno. (Since we have both played in gamelans, either of us could say something from that perspective, although my gamelan days are much more distant.) We found out about this gamelan through the odd circumstance that when on a gamelan-related trip to Indonesia this summer, Jesse encountered a Czech gamelan student. Naturally, they exchanged contact information, and during Fulbright orientation week in September, Jesse and I did visit the Indonesian Embassy in the hopes of meeting the Prague gamelan teacher, but unfortunately he was out of town. The Czech gamelan student subsequently sent word of an upcoming concert in the Karlín district.
We showed up shortly before the concert was to begin, having taken an Indonesian approach to time and the public transit system. This was, perhaps, not such a great idea. The venue was a small sort of bar and swarms of Czech gamelan enthusiasts had gotten there before us and taken all the seats and formed a long line for the beer. We ended up sitting on barstools at the back of the room, which was somewhat better than standing, but mainly offered a view of all the standees in front of us. Gamelan appears to appeal to younger Czechs, most notably anarchists and those with masses of dreadlocks. I have never before seen quite so many Czechs with dreads, but there was considerable opportunity to study the phenomenon here. Musically, I don’t suppose I can say much about the concert, except that the instrumentation was somewhat different from that of the UC Santa Cruz gamelan, which is Sundanese (I think the University of Pittsburgh gamelan is also Sundanese; at least, Andrew studied with Undang Sumarna at UCSC a few years after I did and the Pitt concerts I’ve attended sounded much like the UCSC ones). From what I could hear, there was more rebab and suling in the mix than I’ve usually heard elsewhere. In any case, the sound of the Prague gamelan was quite appealing overall, with a silvery timbre. It also seemed much more relaxed than the Balinese variety, which is pretty high-energy. There was a dance performance as well, but I was only able to catch the occasional glimpse of the top of the dancer’s headdress, which was disappointing (the visibility, not the headdress). The dance appeared to be an energetic one, unlike the more refined character dances that I studied back in my undergraduate past.
Following the performance, we met up with Hubert and Alex and were relieved to be able to locate a restaurant that served food after 10:30. Hubert said that Sunday night’s performance of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire was good (where it was and performed by whom, I cannot say) and Alex is making plans to visit some puppet specialists in Zlín. After supper, we had the opportunity to try the night trams, which turned out to be somewhat more of an adventure than anticipated because the night tram to my stop proved to be one of the few that does not go past Národní Třída. This resulted in a walk down to Vytoň since we had missed the 52 while reading the schedules at Národní Třída. The weather was cooperative, we had the chance to examine the Palacký monument yet again and debate whether the group on Palacký’s left could be construed as homoerotic, and along the river there was an interesting clump of police cars interrogating what seemed to be most of the vehicular traffic. After an exciting evening like that, I found it hard to get out of bed this morning, but I made the effort, and was rewarded by a breakfast SMS telling me that my new glasses were ready. That, however, is its own saga.

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