There was something different in what Taufik Adam had to offer in the opening act of International Gamelan Festival 2018. In contrast to the previous two gamelan maestros before, Rahayu Supanggah and I Wayan Gde Yudane, who performed in line with their own cultural backgrounds (Javanese and Balinese), Taufik Adam presented a melting pot of Indonesian musical arts, from east to west, in an enchanting piece of orchestra.

Taufik Adam combined elements of sound from not two or three, but five regions. In the arrangement, the audience was treated with the sounds of talempong, Makassar drums, and East Javanese trumpets accompanying Javanese gending karawitan as the main piece. The Minang composer also included vocals, such as East Nusa Tenggara chorus and Endah Laras’ improvisations.

“I don’t follow the canon for these three: Makassar drums, East Javanese trumpets, Endah Laras vocals. I depend on their improvisation,” Taufik Adam said in ISI Surakarta Auditorium.

Composing an arrangement which accommodated more than 30 players with various instruments and sound characters was not an easy task. It also needed harmonization with the East Nusa Tenggara chorus, which had a different notation system. The gamelan is pentatonic, whereas East Nusa Tenggara music is diatonic.

Taufik acknowledged this difficulty. It was his first time attempting to orchestrate a colossal gamelan. “Usually in a gamelan, one or two sarons are enough, but now I have 30 players, how to make all of them play? I finally had to cancel all my appointments for the past three months,” Taufik said.

Then he explained the development of the composition, by arranging the gamelan first as a framework. “Not fully. I harmonized it with the vocal chords [of the East Nusa Tenggara chorus]. If there’s an unfitting note, I get rid of it,” he explained.

Initially, the arrangement was not meant to be that complex. Just Javanese karawitan combined with East Nusa Tenggara chorus. However, as the creative process continued, Taufik received suggestions from IGF Vice Director Garin Nugroho to add sound elements from other regions in Indonesia, outside Java and Bali.

“At first, it’s just the choir and gamelan. But then Mas Garin asked if I could add Batak and Minang elements. There were changes up to the dress rehearsal at ISI campus,” Taufik said.

Intercultural Dialogue

Another challenge for Taufik was how to administer different treatments for artists coming from different cultural backgrounds. On one hand he worked with gentle-tempered gamelan players from Solo. On the other hand he also handled East Nusa Tenggara singers with their tougher demeanors. “During rehearsal, they could not sing without moving their bodies, and none of their songs back at East Nusa Tenggara has a slow tempo. When I made a slow beginning in the composition, they got stressed out, actually,” Taufik said.

The East Nusa Tenggara chorus was chosen because of their unique accent, which enriched the karawitan arrangement. But there were some cultural taboos to be considered. Taufik must convince them that what he intended to present on stage was not their hallowed cultural ceremonies, but their regional flavour.

That is why Taufik considered the work and its creative process a kind of intercultural dialogue. Artists from different cultural backgrounds collaborate, elements of sound from many regions are weaved together into harmony.

Telling About Home

In the performance, the East Nusa Tenggara chorus sang a song usually sung in the Reba ritual. The ritual is a welcome party for those who have returned home after seeking fortune and came back to build their own home and village.

The song was intentionally chosen in line with the International Gamelan Festival 2018 theme, “Homecoming”. But it was not just to celebrate the homecoming of karawitan players from various parts of Indonesia and the world. The performance intends to tell the younger generation about the gamelan and other artistic traditions in their homeland, in order for them to appreciate and preserve it.