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Game for Gamelan

Music of Bali, Indonesia, will be featured in outdoor show.


On Bali, that fabled island, mothers begin taking their kids to music lessons "when they're born," according to Cliff De Arment, a CalArts-trained performer of gamelan, the traditional music of that part of Indonesia.

"Every child [in Bali] learns dance and music as part of their growing up, sitting on parents' and grandparents' laps at home," he says.

This Sunday, Valley families can experience some of this exotic tropical togetherness by packing a picnic and driving to an outdoor concert De Arment and his musical group, Bali & Beyond, are giving in Van Nuys.

The location is a city of Los Angeles facility, the Japanese Gardens at 6100 Woodley Ave., and the event is funded in part by the city's Cultural Affairs Department. Admission is free.

If you're unfamiliar with gamelan (pronounced GOM-a-lon) music, with its hard-driving, almost rock-like percussion beat, you can check it out ahead of time at your local record store. It's available on discs recorded in Indonesia, and there are many American recordings of music by Terry Riley, Philip Glass, John Adams and Steve Reich that reflect a gamelan style of composition.

"Star Trek: The Next Generation," a TV series now in reruns, used it in an episode in which Capt. Picard learned to play gamelan instruments. Tomorrow night at 7 there's a Mel Gibson movie on HBO, "The Year of Living Dangerously," which has a soundtrack that features gamelan.

Kids in Bali begin forming gamelan bands and performing at 14 or 15. It's popular and traditional music, De Arment explains, "sort of country and eastern, to coin a phrase."

He and his group--all of whom are Americans--learned gamelan music at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. They were at the Center for World Music there, a program that grew out of the original Monterey Pop Festival and that brought in musicians such as Ravi Shankar to teach.

The professor who originally taught De Arment, Nyoman Wenten, is from Indonesia and will be performing with Bali & Beyond this weekend as a special guest.

American colleges from California to Connecticut (UCLA to Yale) are teaching gamelan music. De Arment's group, which polished its technique during a two-year stint in Bali, now tours U.S. campuses all year, playing and instructing.

Kids who attend De Arment's gamelan concerts always come up afterward to ask where the instruments come from and how much they cost. Interest in gamelan music among California high school students has reached the point that instruction is now regularly offered as part of the California State Summer School of the Arts program, conducted annually on the CalArts campus in Valencia. (For information, log on to

The out-of-doors aspect of Sunday's Valley performance is very much in the spirit of gamelan musical culture as it's experienced in Bali. De Arment says: "We'll be starting with a procession up to the pavilion where we will be playing. We encourage people to bring things to eat and pillows or mats to spread out on the grass."

Sounds like a neat thing to do on Mother's Day.


Gamelan Music performed by Bali & Beyond, Sunday at 2 p.m., Japanese Gardens, 6100 Woodley Ave. Van Nuys. Free. (818) 768-7696.

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