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Gong with the wind: Gamelan heads south

Michael Jackson videos aside, conjoined acts of high drama and music do not tend to register very far up on the barometer of contemporary American culture. But even the King of Pop's audio-visual masterpieces are reduced to drivel when compared to the Javanese tradition of wayang kulit, or shadow puppetry with gamelan accompaniment.
Gamelan, the traditional Indonesian music of central Java and Bali, offers a deeply spiritual and hypnotic sound; old-school trance music, if you will. Though far from the Indian Ocean, Atlanta is privileged to have the Emory Gamelan Ensemble, a community group founded by professor Steven Everett a few years back, which performs traditional Javanese gamelan music on a set of instruments crafted in Indonesia. These include a variety of tuned gongs (siyem and kempul), kettle gongs (kenong and bonang) and xylophone-type instruments (saron, slenthem and gambang), some of which produce an almost tactile atmospheric change when struck.
This week the ensemble accompanies Midiyanto, a trained dahlang (or shadow puppeteer), in the performance of the wayang kulit. "We have had the honor of having Midiyanto come and direct this group a couple of times a year," says ensemble member Yayoi Everett, Steven's wife. "He's really a conductor and a puppeteer and a musician all at the same time. He does the shadow play and also he gives cues for when the gamelan ensemble comes in."
The wayang kulit presents a unique kind of gamelan performance, only one segment of the gamelan playing tradition. "This kind of music is almost more like a soundtrack," says Everett. "So it's not exactly representative of the vast other repertoires that we have."
The Emory Gamelan Ensemble performs with Midiyanto, 8:15 p.m., Sat., Nov. 4, at Emory's Performing Arts Studio, 1804 N. Decatur Rd. Call 404-727-5050 for more information.