Of Imbal-Imbalan

Bill Alves isn't the first Westerner to be fascinated by the gamelan, an Indonesian orchestra composed mainly of chimes, gongs, and wooden or metallic xylophones. From Debussy on, musicians such as Colin McPhee and Lou Harrison have found inspiration in its scintillating complexity and vibrant sonority. Alves's music draws on the authentic sound and style but adds non-traditional instruments--cello, violin, shakuhachi, and electronics--to extend the expressive range. Gamelan music includes rapid, multilayered compositions as well as dignified meditations in which texture and timbre are as important as the simple melodies. Alves has mostly chosen the moderately paced road--two relatively somber pieces are intended as elegies, and Tingklik Toccata, as its name implies, is more energetic. Throughout the CD, the Western instruments aren't used en masse but as soloists within the sensuous instrumental surround. In-yo, for shakuhachi, is particularly mesmerizing, with its minimal, but atmospheric gong strokes adding reverberant support. If you're at all attracted to the entrancing gamelan atmosphere, then you should find this an absorbing CD of inventive music that is at once contemporary and redolent of Indonesia's refined musical culture. -- Fanfare

(CD pick of the week): "Bill Alves is a California-based composer who thinks Americans are ready for a new type of chamber music. One built around the sounds of Indonesian gamelan instruments. In an unusual tuning. With occasional electronics or Japanese flute. Clearly Alves is a bit of a dreamer. But he also knows his way around the gamelan, and his chiming, richly textured works, often pairing the Indonesian percussion with western violin or cello, are easy to like." -- John Schaefer

Of Luminescence:

"...voices, gamelan, and computer-generated tones joined in a haunting, nocturnal reverie: unearthly, far beyond the reaches of harmonic or tuning systems." -- Alan Rich, LA Weekly

Of The Terrain of Possibilities:

"...uses change ringing, timbrally shifting drones, and post-minimalist tonality and rhythms. Best of all, Alves avoids both academic formalism and new age vapidity. Instead he creates sonic terrains of precisely matched tensions and beautifully timed releases, as well as structures which seem to grow naturally like organic crystals or frost patterns. Intelligent, warm, and engaging music." -- Option Magazine

"Bill Alves's music definitely grows from the tradition [of minimalism], but he throws his own spin on it as well. Like Lou Harrison, Alves uses many tuning systems, sometimes alternating among several. This gives his music a shadowy, shifting cast. Melodic patterns of various length interact with different tunings, not creating tension, but pushing the listener's attention to and fro." -- Keyboard Magazine.

"...moves forward with the drive of gamelan while displaying Alves command of timbre." -- Juxtaposition ezine

"...beautiful and expansive...wonderfully rich textural gestures" -- ICMA Array

Of The Question Mark's Black Ink:

"...electronically refracted music of the spheres...with themes and rhythms of a decidedly American thrust." -- Pasadena Star-News

"...structurally and stylistically diffuse and subtle...a sort of post-minimalist version of English change ringing." -- LA Times

Of Skala-Niskala:

"audacious...bright, vibrant, microtonal...even melodious." -- LA Times

Of aleph:

" pinging, quasi-gamelan tones and radiating linear patterns on screen with artful logic." -- LA Times

"... intimations of a search for meaning beyond traditional structures of thought." -- realtime arts


Bill Alves
Photo credit: Kevin Mapp

Bill Alves in gamelan
Photo credit: Kevin Mapp

The HMC American Gamelan
Photo credit: Kevin Mapp

Bill Alves and Lou Harrison, 2001

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