Overtone Bonang

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During my time at Mills College I had the privilege to study Javanese Gamelan with Daniel Schmidt: an amazing teacher and composer most famous for being one of the first people to bring Gamelan to the west. Additionally, Mills houses the Gamelan that Lou Harrison built while teaching there. Daniel, in addition to his aforementioned talents, also is a fantastic instrument builder and has been making Gamelans himself for much of his career. This crazy convergence of factors ultimately guided me to instrument building myself.

I wrote a piece my last year at Mills which involved four pitches from the Lou Harrison Bonang among other things. Since I wanted to be able to perform the piece in the future I, with plenty of input from Daniel, made a replica of these notes. This was enough for me at the time but over this past summer I began having ideas for new works which would require more pitches. So while I was visiting my family in California (my dad basically has a machine shop in his garage) I went to work and ended up with this.

The Overtone Bonang, so named because the plates are tuned to various partials of different overtone series’, is a prototype for a larger set of instruments I am thinking of making (time and money allowing). Each pitch is a tuned aluminum disk suspended vertically on a two row rack. Traditionally the Bonang is a set of small gongs (upside down pots) on a stand laying flat on the ground. The choice to make these stand up was due to some issues I had, specifically with the larger disks, where if there was anything too close to the back when you play them it deadens the sound considerably. There are still plenty of kinks to be worked out (mainly silencing the rocking sound of the suspension lines against the disks) but it works quite well so far.

I currently have two sets: one consisting of partials 8-16 of one series and the other 8-16 starting from 9 of the opposite one. They could be played by multiple people but currently I am working on pieces where I play both at once in the “V” shape shown in the picture. Though I made everything this summer, I wasn’t able to assemble the entire set until now: mainly because I had left the original four pitches in Colorado when I made the rest. The first performance I will be giving on this will be later this month at Pendulum New Music so if you are around and interested come on by!