A little background: the group formed during Vancouver’s Expo year, 1986, when every day from morning till night for six months the Indonesian Pavilion featured regular performances of music and dance from Java, Bali, Sunda etc., as well mounting special one-time events such as an all-night wayang (shadow play) and the first International Gamelan Festival. That same summer the first gamelan intensive was offered by Simon Fraser University.

After Expo the Javanese gamelan in residence at the Indonesian Pavilion, Gamelan Kyahi Madusari (“The Venerable Essence of Honey”) was donated to SFU, and this galvanized the development of a community-based group studying and performing both traditional and newly composed music, dance, shadow plays, and contemporary multi-media works, under the direction of the late Martin Bartlett, professor of music at SFU.

A core group of creator-performers who have been active in the group since the 1980s/early 1990s includes Michael O’Neill, Mark Parlett, Kenneth Newby, Ben Rogalsky, Gary McFarlane and Sam Salmon. Other notable ensemble members and collaborators include Ann Hepper, Tony Reif, Andrew Czink, singers Anis Wiji Astuti, DB Boyko, Margaret Gallagher and Joanna Chapman-Smith, computer animator/videographer Aleksandra Dulic, and musician/dramatist/scenographer Andreas Kahre.

In 1990 Martin Bartlett commissioned the creation of a new Javanese gamelan and brought it to Vancouver; it was named Alligator Joy after the freighter that transported it (and which was later implicated in arms smuggling, but that’s another story), and it belongs to our non-profit Vancouver Community Gamelan Society. From 1999-2008 and in 2010 Sutrisno Hartana taught SFU’s gamelan courses and was our leader for traditional music and dance, as well as creating and performing new music and shadow theatre (he currently lives in Victoria and remains a valued collaborator). In the years before that a number of other illustrious Javanese musicians taught courses or workshops for SFU and led the ensemble, starting with the late Pak Cokro (KTH Notoprojo), and including Hardjo Susilo, Subono, A.L. Suardi, Darsono, Widiyanto, Rusdiyantoro, and Joko Purwanto. Various members of our group have also studied gamelan in Indonesia for extended periods.

In 2004 Gamelan Madu Sari released its first CD of new music, New  Nectar, with compositions by Kenneth Newby, Michael O’Neill, Mark Parlett, Chris Miller and Paul Plimley, on the Songlines label. In July  2007 we toured our collaboratively created multi-media shadow play Semar’s Journey, featuring Javanese artist-in-residence Eko Purnomo, to festivals and arts universities in Java, with the participation of renowned Javanese shadow puppeteer Ki Seno Nugroho. In June 2008, Seno, Eko and other members of Seno’s troupe came to Vancouver to further this collaboration with its offshoot, Semar in Lila Maya, which we toured with them across Canada. Our 2009 concerts featured a new multi-media music theatre piece by Andreas Kahre, and 2010 saw the release of our 2nd CD of new music, Hive, with compositions by Hartana, Parlett, O’Neill, Newby, Rogalsky, Czink, and British composer Alec Roth, as well as the premiere of Marathonologue, a full-length multi-media work masterminded by Michael O’Neill, which was part of the Cultural Olympiad.