Gamelan Alligator Joy Premieres Michael O’Neill’s Ventriloquial Investigations

Saturday May 21, 2016, 8:00 pm

Western Front, 303 E. 8th Ave., Vancouver

Tickets: $18/$15 students & seniors, available at the door (cash only); reservations: 604 876-9343 (weekdays) or

The latest work from one of Vancouver’s most eclectic and sonically adventurous composers, Grotto: Ventriloquial Investigations is Michael O’Neill’s answer to the operatic works of Robert Ashley and the mysteries of Plato’s cave. A 40-minute musical theatre performance for speaker, ventriloquist’s puppet, Javanese gamelan and live video score, this is likely to be one of the most engaging philosophical treatises you will ever hear. The first half of the program features revised versions of some of Alligator Joy’s current repertoire of new music for gamelan, composed by members of Gamelan Madu Sari/Gamelan Alligator Joy: Mark Parlett’s “Dice Over Easy”, Andreas Kahre’s “Let N=N”, and Sam Salmon’s “96 Tiers”.

As O’Neill tells it: “Ventriloquial Investigations are in progress deep inside the axial chamber of an undetermined cave. Two figures are seated with eyes transfixed on the cave wall, as they engage in dialogue that wanders into realms philosophical and psychological – ransacking memories, recounting stories, quotations, and poetry, all in the name of their ‘Investigations’. In counterpoint, the cave wall acts as a membrane catching shadows, revealing thoughts, and evoking shadows of thoughts.”

They are on a journey inspired by artist Glenn Lewis’ proposal of ‘Eight Conceptual Aspects of the Garden’, which O’Neill has been realizing over the past 15 or so years in a series of works collectively titled Lessons of the Garden. This is the final stage of the journey, and involves Seamus, the ventriloquial puppet by sculptor Lionel Doucette, live interactive projections by Sammy Chien, and intercultural music by Gamelan Alligator Joy with Andreas Kahre on electric cello. (Gamelan Alligator Joy is the chamber ensemble incarnation of the performing group Gamelan Madu Sari, playing instruments commissioned by composer and Western Front co-founder Martin Bartlett in 1990.)

Michael O’Neill is known for his compositions for Javanese, Balinese and Sundanese gamelan as well as Scottish highland pipes. His CD of compositions for pipes, taiko drums and percussion, Ontophony, was released on the Songlines label in 2006. Vancouver New Music premiered his Stone Garden for Balinese gamelan, bagpipes and voices in 2014. Sammy Chien is an interdisciplinary media artist, director, researcher and mentor who works with film, sound art, new media and dance performance. His work has been exhibited across Canada, Western Europe, and Asia, including Centre Pompidou (Paris), Museum of Contemporary Arts Taipei and National Centre for the Performing Arts (Beijing).

Mark Parlett’s “Dice Over Easy” creates atmospheric sound and rhythmic patterns that explore the process musical option and surprise, as performers constantly make small choices based on fixed figures. Incorporating electric cello, and reworking and altering the instruments and traditional scales, he evokes a state of dark melancholia.

Andreas Kahre’s “Let N = N” is a cheerfully quirky work that plays with orchestral timbre by dispensing entirely with mallets and beaters. Using only fingertips and nails, the ensemble explores the instruments at very low volumes, in an experimental balance of instruction and freedom.

With “96 Tiers” Sam Salmon has created another of his process pieces referencing the minimalists, one of his great loves in music (along with Question Mark & the Mysterians!).

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Branching Out, Branching In: New pieces for Javanese Gamelan by Vancouver Composers

Victoria, BC:

Friday June 6, 2014, 7 pm

Open Space, 10 Fort St #2, Victoria, BC

Tickets$15 general, $10 students/seniors/members


Gabriola Island, BC:

Saturday, June 7, 2014 , 7 pm

2200 South Road, Gabriola Island

Tickets: TBA


Vancouver, BC:

Friday June 20, 2014, 8 pm

Western Front, 303 E. 8th Ave.

Tickets: $15/$12 students/seniors                                            Reservations: 604 876-9343

Tickets also available at the door (cash only)


More info: Tony Reif, or 604 737-1632

Or Michael O’Neill,, 604 253-0542


Gamelan Alligator Joy, the chamber ensemble incarnation of Gamelan Madu Sari, returns after a one-year hiatus with a varied programme of new works, Branching Out, Branching In, composed by members of the group and Vancouver composers John Oliver and Jon Siddall.  The whole program will illustrate the wide range of sounds, forms and feelings that an ongoing creative engagement with the wonderful instruments of Javanese gamelan can lead to.

It’s 24 years since Gamelan Alligator Joy (named after the reputedly gun-running freighter that hauled it over from Indonesia) came to Vancouver. Since then we’ve performed many new as well as traditional pieces on it, but this is the first time we’ve commissioned two composers from outside the group.

Jon Siddall of course is himself a vastly experienced gamelan musician: he co-founded Toronto’s Evergreen Club in the early ‘80s, and for many years has taught Sundanese gamelan degung at VCC and led their student ensemble, Gamelan Si Pawit. His modular, partly improvised piece The Gabriola Tidepools aims to evoke the half-hidden life-rhythms of a typical BC shoreline environment.

John Oliver is prominent in many areas of contemporary composition and performance, including works created for the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra. In fact his piece Balonmix is a reworking of a composition originally created for VICO, inspired by Balinese gamelan music but not intended to be performed on gamelan instruments. Bringing it home has been an intriguing process.

Our own composer-performers continue to mine their unique stylistic approaches with fascinating results. Mark Parlett’s Dice Over Easy investigates ideas of musical option and surprise, as performers constantly make small choices based on fixed figures. Incorporating cello, and reworking and altering the instruments and traditional scales, he evokes a state of dark melancholia.

Andreas Kahre’s Let N = N is a cheerfully quirky work that plays with orchestral timbre by dispensing entirely with mallets and beaters. Using only fingertips and nails, the ensemble explores the instruments at very low volumes, in an experimental balance of instruction and freedom (in certain places the players may substitute any pitch (N) for any other). The title is a nod to Laurie Anderson’s play on mathematical instructions in her ‘O Superman’ suite.

With 96 Tiers Sam Salmon has created another of his process pieces referencing the minimalists, one of his great loves in music (not to mention ? and the Mysterians).

And Michael O’Neill, known for his compositions for Balinese and Sundanese gamelan as well as Javanese ensembles, is developing a new medium-length performance work for gamelan and western puppet, Ventriloquial Investigations, that will premiere in 2015. We’ll be previewing most of the music for it.

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Gong! The Gamelan Festival – May 18-20, 2012

Contemporary Music for Javanese and Sundanese Gamelan

Sunday May 20, 2012, 8:00 pm

Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, SFU Woodward’s – Wong Theatre

Part of Gong! The Gamelan Festival

Presented by SFUW and Vancouver Community Gamelan Society

Featuring Gamelan Alligator Joy, and Gamelan Si Pawit with choreography

by Henry Daniel

As part of Vancouver’s 2nd annual gamelan festival, Gamelan Alligator Joy (the chamber gamelan alter-ego of Gamelan Madu Sari) and Vancouver Community College’s Gamelan Si Pawit will present a joint concert of new music and dance in collaboration with SFU dance professor/choreographer Henry Daniel and his group Full Performing Bodies. Each gamelan ensemble will perform original compositions by prominent composers in their group. Also, marking the centenary of John Cage’s birth, Gamelan Si Pawit will perform Cage’s “Haikai”, a 20-minute work originally commissioned in the 1980s by Jon Siddall for Toronto’s Evergreen Club Gamelan, performed again on those very instruments by Siddall’s Vancouver group, with Daniel’s choreography taking it to another dimension.

There will be premieres of new pieces by Siddall and Damon Schwabach-Morris for the gamelan degung ensemble and by Sutrisno Hartana for Alligator Joy. To complete Alligator Joy’s program, Mark Parlett and Michael O’Neill are arranging and expanding works that were premiered last year on SFU’s Gamelan Madusari. O’Neill’s 20-minute work “Beledrone”, combining his interest in gamelan and highland pipes, features two pipers and vocalists Beverly Dobrinsky and Carmen Rosen of Zeellia; Parlett’s piece “Ismoyo in Samsara” features vocalist DB Boyko. Altogether the concert will offer a stimulating cross-cultural experience for fans of gamelan, new music and contemporary dance. Tasty Indonesian food will also be for sale.

Tickets $15/$12 students & seniors at Banyen and Highlife, online at or at the door (cash only)

Click the image above or go to Caravan World Rhythms for more information.

This concert is made possible with support from the City of Vancouver, the Province of BC, and the Consulate-General of the Republic of Indonesia in Vancouver.

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Gong! The Gamelan Festival – April 15-17, 2011

To mark the 25th anniversary of the first International Gamelan Festival, Vancouver’s three Indonesian gamelans will present three showcase concerts, plus a variety of free workshops and delicious food! Launching the festival on Friday evening, Gamelan Gita Asmara features twenty-five musicians performing on the spectacular full gamelan semaradana, a shimmering orchestra of gongs, keyed instruments, flutes, and drums. The ensemble will feature four special guest dancers, including some renowned as among the best of Bali. The combined effect of the music, dance, instruments and costumes is dazzling.

Saturday’s performance will feature one of the most popular Javanese shadow-puppet plays in the Ramayana cycle, Anoman the Envoy, performed by the American dalang (puppeteer) Matthew Cohen, in collaboration with Gamelan Madu Sari’s leader Sutrisno Hartana. An exciting visual and aural journey for the whole family to experience! Opening for the performance will be music for zither and bamboo ring flute by Toronto’s Sunda Duo: Andrew Timar and Bill Parsons. Seattle’s Jessika Kenney adds dreamy, emotion-filled vocals to the Sundanese songs.

For Sunday’s Matinee (3pm) performance, Gamelan Madu Sari and Gamelan Si Pawit present a program of new music for Javanese and Sundanese gamelan, featuring an arrangement of Terry Riley’s famous minimalist benchmark In C and premieres of compositions by Jon Siddall, Michael O’Neill (for pipers and gamelan) and Mark Parlett.

Click the image above or go to Caravan World Rhythms for more information.

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Benefit Concert January 26, 2011

To assist the victims of the Mount Merapi disaster, Gamelan Madu Sari will present a concert of contemporary and traditional music for Javanese gamelan.

Wednesday January 26, 2011, 8:00 pm

The Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre – SFU Woodwards, 149 W. Hastings, 2nd floor

A Vancouver Community Gamelan/SFU Woodwards co-presentation

Tickets at the door: $10 minimum donation (all proceeds will be donated to Indonesian NGOs)

Concert info: 604 737-1632 or 604 253-0542.

For info on the current situation in Yogyakarta and the area around Mount Merapi: Sutrisno Hartana, 250 361-0067,

The explosions on Mount Merapi, which killed 353 people, injured hundreds more, and displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes in October and November, devastated the surrounding area. Villages on the slopes were buried in lava and ash. All funds raised by this concert will be donated to Indonesian NGOs to assist with the relocation and rebuilding process.

Just 28 km. south of Mt. Merapi, the city of Yogyakarta is a world-renowned centre of gamelan activity, with a yearly gamelan festival (which our group performed at in 2007), a performing arts university and high school, two palaces with their own unique gamelan and dance traditions, and a popular shadow play scene. The instruments of Kyai Madu Sari, which were brought to Canada for Expo 86 and subsequently donated to SFU, are from Yogyakarta. Many of our teachers have been from there, including the late doyen of Javanese gamelan, Pak Cokro, who gave our gamelan its name Madusari (the essence of honey). Sutrisno Hartana, who has been teaching gamelan at SFU since 1999 and is a permanent member of the Paku Alaman palace gamelan, has just returned from Yogyakarta and will be discussing the situation and showing photos and videos of the disaster.

Last August the gamelan instruments were finally moved from SFU Burnaby to their new home, the Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre, which was specially designed to house them and provide an attractive and sonically appropriate space for performances. Although many events have already been held there, this is the first gamelan concert. The program will include several examples of traditional central Javanese music as well as contemporary compositions by Sutrisno Hartana and gamelan members Michael O’Neill, Mark Parlett, Gary McFarlane, and Sam Salmon.

Gamelan Madu Sari is a community-based performing ensemble that includes both professional and amateur musicians. Our goal is to foster an understanding of the rich performing arts traditions of Indonesia and to develop contemporary works that extend those traditions in unique ways. We are part of a worldwide gamelan community that includes a couple of hundred gamelan groups in North America, Britain, Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Argentina, Israel and Singapore. We marked our 20th anniversary in 2007 by creating Semar’s Journey, a collaborative, intercultural shadow play which was presented in Vancouver, Victoria, Yogyakarta and Bandung. In 2008 we toured its successor, Semar in Lila Maya, to Ontario and Quebec, and in 2010 we released our second CD of new compositions for gamelan, Hive (Songlines), which gave a 4-star rating and called “not music for casual listening, but something to sink into, complex and inviting, and utterly absorbing.”

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