Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 33, 2001


Fong Naam: Ancient-Contemporary Music from Thailand. Celestial Harmonies. 14098-2. Annotated by Bruce Gaston. 20 pages of notes in English. Musical notation. 2 discs (Disc I: 7 tracks; Disc II: 8 tracks). Recorded in concert and in the studio. 131.49. 1995.

The title of this CD gives the clue to its intentions. Fong Naam has attempted to present an encyclopedic range of music in order to make what is old, fresh, and what is newly created, resonant with the ancient past. The purpose, according to the notes, is to provide a "Practical Guide for the Development of Thai Listening Skills" for outsiders.

Fong Naam is a group of Thai musicians brought together by an American named Bruce Gaston to stimulate interest in Thai music in Thailand and around the world. It is a core group around which many guest musicians gather for specific projects. On this CD, Bruce Gaston's ambitions are high. The liner notes are very scholarly and informative. With written educational back–up, he takes the listener from music which is so old, the origins are lost (Royal Lullaby and Cherd Nai), through historical Thai compositions (The Chinese Doctor's Puzzle), right up to pop music inspired by traditional pieces (Busaba's Votive Candle) and contemporary compositions in the Thai classical style (The Maiden Plays in the Water Overture).

The result is a triumph: fresh, highly accomplished, carefully recorded and mastered, and thoroughly enjoyable for Thai and Westerner alike. I recommend it both for the first time listener and the connoisseur, which is a rare achievement.

  • Dusadee Swangviboonpong

Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 33, 2001


Tembang Sunda: Classical Music from West Java. Celestial Harmonies. 13134-2. Produced by David Parsons. Annotated by Andrew Weintraub. 14 pages of notes in English. 1 colour map, 1 colour photograph. 9 tracks recorded in a studio. 71.36. 1996.

Tembang Sunda is the collective name for Sudanese aristocratic song, accompanied by large and small boat–shaped zithers (kacapi and rincik, respectively) and a bamboo flute (suling). In only the past 5 years, half a dozen compact disc recordings of this important regional style have been released, and this recording well represents this style. With some of the most often performed sings in two of the three common tuning systems, the disc could easily be used to represent a typical evening performance of tembang sunda.

The primary performer, Ida Widawati, is a very well–known singer with awards and many recordings to her credit. Her instrumentalists all do a fine job of supporting her on this recording; they work well together and hold tempos steady throughout. Although the recording lacks the crystal clarity of some compact discs, its warmth more closely duplicates the sound of an Indonesian recording. Andrew Weintraub's liner notes are excellent, written with an insider's knowledge and just the right blend of theoretical and contextual information to make the work useful to a diverse audience. In particular, his explanations of the individual songs are very helpful.

  • Sean Williams

Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 33, 2001


Yogyakarta: Gamelan of the Kraton. Celestial Harmonies. 13161-2. Recorded by David Parsons. Annotated by Roger Vetter. 26 pages of notes in English. Colour photographs. 4 tracks recorded in the field. 63.45. 1997.

This CD features four compositions played by one of the gamelan orchestras of the Sultan of Yogyakarta in Central Java (Indonesia). It comes with a handsome 26–page booklet, written by Java–specialist Roger Vetter, containing excellent notes, addressing the historical, cultural and musical context.

The quality of this recording, which emphasises the loud (soran) style of gamelan playing, is superb; David Parsons did an excellent job in capturing the complicated sound characteristics of the gamelan instruments.

Track #1 (genhing lintang kaharinan) is a great example of the rich texture that results from playing interlocking and anticipatory patterns. Thanks to the good quality of the recording, the listener should have no problem identifying the different musical layers. Track #2 (ladrang semingan) is a lighter and livelier piece, derived from tayuban, a social tradition. The last track (ladrang liwung) is a short, vigorous piece that serves as a nice conclusion.

At almost thirty–five minutes, track #3 (srimpi pandhelori) is the centrepiece of the disc. This court dance features a sequence of vocal and instrumental sections in different tempos. The march–like segments (ladrang gati) which frame the dance are extraordinary because of the addition of Western brass instruments and snare drums.

The only shortcoming of this CD is the fact that it lacks an inventory of the featured musical instruments, nor do we know which gamelan Parsons recorded. However, the quality of the recording and the accompanying notes make this CD much more valuable than most of the poorly documented CDs that flood the market. This is a must–have for novice and expert.

  • Paul A. Wolbers

Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 33, 2001


The Art of the Koto, Volume One. Celestial Harmonies. 13186-2. Performed and produced by Nanae Yoshimura. Annotated and translated by Steven G. Nelson. 24 pages of notes in English. 1 colour photograph. No bibliography. 5 tracks recorded in the studio. 52.83. 2000.

The first recording of a four-volume series, The Art of the Koto, Volume One offers an overview of the classical koto repertoire of Japan's Edo period (1600-1868). It contains five compositons that are representative of the danmomo, jiuta, and tegotomono styles that became popular in the Kyoto and Osaka areas from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. While the five pieces Rokudan, Midare, Zangetsu, Godan Ginuta and Chidori appear frequently on compilations of koto "classics" or "favourites", this recording is by no means redundant. Rather, by listening to this CD and comparing it to some of those other recordings, one can gain real insight into an important dimension of koto aesthetics: style.

Like other collections of classical koto music, this CD begins appropriately with Rokudan and Midare. They are attributed to Yatsuhashi Kengyo, the "father of solo koto music." Yoshimura performs these pieces, as well as Chidori, solo. She is joined by Satomi Fukami on Zangetsu (Fukami performs shamisen) and on Godan Ginuta (Fukami performs koto).

The liner notes present a comprehensive introduction to koto, encompassing its history, construction, and tuning systems. They also provide an impressively broad context for the compositions on the CD, situating them at the intersection of history, geography, society and politics. The annotations even describe how these pieces relate to other genres and instrumental traditions (biwa, shakuhachi and kokyu) of the time.

  • Joanna Pecore

Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 33, 2001


The Music of Bali. Celestial Harmonies. 13136-2 to 13138-2. Recorded by David and Kay Parsons. Annotated by Andrew N. Weintraub and Wayne Vitale, with Kate Bedall as consultant on Vol. 1. 1997.

Vol. 1. Swara Cipta Priyanti - Jegog. (13136) 15 pages of notes in English. 5 colour photographs. 3 tracks recorded in the Pura Penataran Temple. 68.30.

Vol. 2. Tirta Sari - Legong Gamelan. (13137) 24 pages of notes in English. 9 colour photographs. 8 tracks recorded in the Pura Gunung Sari Temple. 69.30.

Vol. 3. Tojan - Kecak and Rama Budaya-Tektekan. (13138) 12 pages of notes in English. 6 colour photographs. 2 tracks recorded in the Pura Gunung Sari Temple and the Pura Penataran Temple. 68.14.

This three–CD box set covers a diverse range of Balinese genres and styles. Volume One features three selections played on the bamboo idiophone–dominated gamelan jegog; Volume Two, somewhat misleadingly subtitled Legong Gamelan, in actuality comprises a set of popular classics drawn from the legong and kebyar repertories, which are performed here by the Tirta Sari gamelan group, arguably the most well–known of all Balinese gamelan clubs. Volume Three is divided roughly equally betweeen a kecak and a tektekan performance, the former highlighting the ever–popular "vocal gamelan" (gamelan suara) style for which it is famous, the latter moving into the less heavily charted terrain of a type of processional gamelan that features interlocking patterns played on a small slit–drums (tektekan) together with a beleganjur-like ensemble of drums, cymbals, and gongs (see Bakan 1999: 102).

The Music of Bali is a welcome addition to a growing body of Balinese music recordings released in recent years. All of the selections were digitally recorded at Balinese temple sites. The recording quality and production values are uniformly high. The quality of the performances themselves, which feature respected Balinese groups, is also very good overall, although there is an interesting disparity in levels of performance ability between different ensembles. At one end of the spectrum is Tirta Sari, whose virtuosity and precision are almost uncanny; at the other end is the Rama Budaya tektekan group, whose performance is marked by loose interlocking drumming, mushy cymbal unisons, and slippery tempos. While any number of "tighter" tektekan groups might have been selected, Rama Budaya's presence here is refreshing, bringing to life the "sound of the street," which is as much a part of the Balinese musical soundscape as the more polished musical fare of groups like Tirta Sari that dominates most commercial recordings.

Each of the three CDs is accompanied by its own booklet. The notes, by Andrew Weintraub and Wayne Vitale (with Kate Beddall on Volume One), are accurate and informative. The Volume Two booklet, which includes an individual annotation for each of the eight selections, is especially helpful. In contrast, the booklets for Volume One and Three provide more generic discussions of the gamelans and genres represented, without getting into specifics about actual pieces.

In its entirety, this CD set provides an interesting approach to the Balinese music "sampler." By limiting each CD to just one or two types of music and including complete performances of often lengthy works, producer David Parsons and Balinese co–producer I Nyoman Dupa have achieved an admirable balance between depth and eclecticism. As a result, listeners are treated to an interesting array of contrasting syles, while at the same time getting a chance to really sink their teeth into each one.

Reference cited
1999 Music of death and new creation: Experiences in the world of Balinese gamelan Beleganjur. University of Chicago Press.

  • Michael Bakan