Robert Macht

Dateline: 05/28/99

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.

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