New music nourished by the forgotten past
Political epochs have dates, but cultural change is less tidy. Animist, Buddhist and Hindu elements persisted into Muslim times, not merely as leftovers but as ways of thinking, handy symbolic forms. Each civilisation was built over the last, layer upon layer, but the old ways remained too useful to discarded - like the Hindu-style split-gates of the first mosques; so the past, even the forgotten past, continued to nourish the present. Village feasts still used a colour symbolism in their offerings that mimics the iconography of fifteenth-century Hindu Java (though the villagers do not know it); mystical practices blend Sufism with tantric yoga; the ancestors whisper through Muslim ritesAndrew Beatty writes in his story of encroaching Islamist orthodoxy A Shadow Falls in the Heart of Java. The island of Java is Islam's eastern frontier, and it looks across the Pacific towards the west coast of America. Although Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation its religion is syncretic and draws on diverse traditions. This attracted American composer Lou Harrison and he developed a syncretic composition style that combines western instruments with the Javanese gamelan.
My header image shows the recently re-released 4 CD Nimbus box of Lou Harrison's music for orchestra, ensemble and gamelan. The recordings were originally issued on the MusicMasters label in the 1980s and 1990s and feature many leading exponents of Lou Harrison's music with a guest appearance by the composer himself and Virgil Thomson as narrators in the Suite from the 'Marriage at the Eiffel Tower'. Lengthy advocacy is unnecessary. Instead I will say just two things. The first is that the set is currently retailing on Amazon.co.uk for £17.99 and the second is buy it. Lou Harrison followed Colin McPhee's lead in his exploration of the music and culture of Java. Read more in Colin McPhee - East collides with West.
Also on Facebook and Twitter. The Lou Harrison box was bought online. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk