Robert Macht is a Javanese gamelan expert whose latest album Suite for Javanese Gamelan and Synthesizer
demonstrates his creative versatility with the form. Macht has composed works for numerous orchestras, chamber ensembles, and gamelan ensembles, and has taught at several American universities.
I recently asked Robert Macht about his interest in Javanese gamelan.
Paula: What is the story behind your album Suite for Javanese Gamelan and Sythnesizer?
Robert: The genesis of my album for Gamelan and Synthesizer was a trip I
made to Indonesia in 1997. I was invited by the Nusantara Symphony
Orchestra to perform my piece "Kreasi Baru" (New Creation) for gamelan
and orchestra in Jakarta. During that trip I became fascinated by the
stark contrasts of Java. Modern skyscrapers and bamboo huts, western
pop music and ancient gamelan music, jet planes and horse drawn
carriages all coexist side by side in Jakarta. So adding synthesizer to
gamelan seemed quite natural after that.
Paula: What is your background in gamelan?
Robert: My background in gamelan consists of about 6 months of study in Java
with Pak Walika, and I played with the Indonesian Embassy Gamelan in
Washington D.C. for about a year.
Paula: For those who don't know, could you explain the differences between Javanese gamelan and Balinese gamelan?
Robert: Some of the major differences between Javanese and Balinese Gamelan
are: Javanese gamelan is lower and slower, with an emphasis on
overlapping patterns at different rhythmic levels of speed. There is
room for some improvisation within strict boundaries in Javanese
Gamelan, and vocals are frequently important. Balinese gamelan is full
of sharp contrasts of dynamics and tempo. The music can sound almost
violent at times. There is much contemporary composition going on in
Bali. Both Javanese and Balinese Gamelan are frequently used to
acompany dance or shadow puppets.
Paula: What are your goals as an artist?
Robert: My goal as an artist is to make beautiful music that I enjoy playing
and creating. I hope other people will enjoy my music too.
Paula: Can you talk about some of your current projects?
Robert: Iíve just finished another gamelan album. This one is called
"Vishnu". This CD highlights Javanese gamelan mixed with other
instruments. Tabla, Bamboo flute, drums from Ghana, a string instrument
from china called the "Zheng" and synthesizer are all used on various
tracks of "Vishnu". The clear, precise and classically trained soprano
vocalist Hyunah Yu sings on many of the selections. Right now Iím
composing a work which was commissioned by the Baltimore Chamber
Orchestra called "Waniugo". This work is inspired by the harmonies of
C.P.E. Bach and the rhythms of African Pop music. This Three movement
work will premier in October.
You can buy Robert Macht's album by calling The Dorian Group at 1-800-DORIAN-6.
Although Robert does not yet have a Web site, he lists a site by Jody Diamond,
a gamelan performer and promotor, as a favorite.
Graphic courtesy of Robert Macht.