From World’s Fair to Ecstatic Electronica: Friends of the Gamelan Carry On Chicago’s Indonesian Music Tradition
The members of Friends of the Gamelan agree that there’s something familiar about Dan Deacon’s music. But they can’t quite seem to put their finger on it.
“You know how Dan’s music is sort of hypnotic?” says Linda Maher, a founding member of the group—the only one in Chicago dedicated to performing and teaching the gamelan, an ancient Indonesian instrumental ensemble. “[The gamelan] is hypnotic.” She backtracks a little. “Not like we’re going into a trance or anything, though.”
On Thursday, July 11, the Friends of the Gamelan—or FROG, as they’re known—will open for Deacon as part of the Loops and Variations concert series at Millennium Park. The group’s 20–30 members—who practice weekly in the basement of a Hyde Park church—perform up to a dozen instruments, from the rebab, or spike fiddle, to huge hanging gongs, to the gendèr, whose xylophone-like keys hang above a resonating tube. Several ensemble members sing as well. When layered one on top of each other, the instruments and voices create a full, haunting sound that can indeed lull one into—if not a trance, then at least a very relaxed state.
On the surface, at least, this ancient, meditative music seems an odd match for Dan Deacon’s hyperactive brand of electronica. (Though the songs on his latest release, USA, tend to be more sedate, he’s still best known for blasting high-BPM dance music from a DJ rig surmounted by a green plastic skull.) But FROG’s ties with Deacon go deep. Ensemble member April Camlin, a needlework artist, performer, and musician, is a member of the Baltimore-based Wham City collective, of which Deacon is also a part. On his side, Deacon incorporated gamelan-like instrumentation into some of his songs—such as 2009’s “Paddling Ghost”—and was even at one point planning to write an original composition for FROG, according to Maher.
“You could keep playing forever”… More ▸
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