Mys­ti­cal eu­phony

Watch a per­for­mance from an en­tirely dif­fer­ent realm.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ARTS - By CH­ERYL POO en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my nmaya:gongillu­sions will run from this Thurs­day till Sun­day at the Shan­tanand Au­di­to­rium, Tem­ple of Fine Arts in Brick­fields, Kuala Lumpur. Tick­ets are priced at RM53. HSBC card­hold­ers are en­ti­tled to a 15% disco

IN a lit­tle in­dus­trial lot in Petaling Jaya, Se­lan­gor a group of mu­sic lovers gath­ers reg­u­larly to prac­tise a rare, tra­di­tional art – game­lan.

The rhyth­mic clang of brass plates and knobs pro­duces a ma­jes­tic, mys­ti­cal sound that re­ver­ber­ates through the hall.

This is the world of Rhythm in Bronze (RIB), a lo­cal con­tem­po­rary game­lan troupe noted for its spec­tac­u­lar per­for­mances.

It likes to be known as the new Malaysian game­lan.

Its spe­cialty is game­lan the­atre, an artis­tic pro­duc­tion with a rich sen­sory ap­peal as it fuses tra­di­tional arts with the con­tem­po­rary and in­cor­po­rates dance and other move­ments into the sto­ry­line.

Cur­rently, the en­sem­ble of 15 is busy pre­par­ing for its up­com­ing con­cert, Maya: Gong Il­lu­sions, which is its fourth the­atre pro­duc­tion.

It in­cludes a creative and di­verse range of in­stru­men­ta­tion from Malay, Ja­vanese and Ba­li­nese game­lan to Cyan­otic mu­sic, Chi­nese drum­ming and Sufi po­etry, a mys­ti­cal Is­lamic art.

In Maya: Gong Il­lu­sions, RIB col­lab­o­rates with renowned dance chore­og­ra­pher Joseph Gon­za­les and 20 other guest per­form­ers such as singer and song­writer Reza Salleh, bassist Zailan Razak and award-win­ning Bat­tery headz Per­cus­sion.

RIB be­gan in 1997, when artis­tic di­rec­tor, com­poser and Univer­siti Malaya eth­no­mu­si­col­ogy lec­turer Sune­tra Fer­nando pi­o­neered a new breed of Malaysian game­lan mu­si­cians to pro­duce a per­for­mance that caters to an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence.

With fel­low mu­sic afi­ciona­dos, she brought the mu­sic to a con­tem­po­rary con­cert stage and de­vel­oped an au­di­ence for its unique sound.

In those days, it col­lab­o­rated with the likes of lo­cal vet­eran mu­si­cians Hardesh Singh, Jillian Ooi, In­done­sia’s Ben Pasaribu, Bri­tish and New Zealan­der com­posers Adrian Lee and Gareth Farr.

Through the years, RiB even joined forces with Malaysian Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra as­so­ci­ate con­duc­tor Kevin Field.

Sune­tra has since mi­grated to Bri­tain and is not di­rectly in­volved with RiB, which is now headed by Sharmini Rat­nasingam, a 46-yearold with a lively per­son­al­ity.

“That’s the essence of our shows, the col­lab­o­ra­tion with dif­fer­ent com­posers. It brings a dif­fer­ent el­e­ment to the pro­duc­tion each time,” says Sharmini who is the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.

“Dear Mama Sharm”, as the troupe en­dear­ingly calls her, sits among them in re­hearsals, min­gling eas­ily, man­ag­ing and per­form­ing in the pro­duc­tions.

Its pas­sion is ev­i­dent. Jolly ban­ter fills the air as it comes to­gether on a Satur­day af­ter­noon be­fore prac­tice, pre­par­ing bul­letins for its up­com­ing pro­duc­tion.

Be­hind each game­lan set, the mu­si­cians work in pairs.

“It’s all about chem­istry,” says pro­ducer Chris­tine Yun, a Univer­siti Malaya re­search as­sis­tant who has been with RiB for four years. “It’s im­per­a­tive that it con­nects and learn to play to­gether.”

The group is tight-knit and there is a fa­mil­ial ease that’s es­pe­cially ev­i­dent in per­for­mances.

One of its more no­table per­for­mances was Alih PungGong, a 2007 pro­duc­tion held at the Kuala Lumpur Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre, which com­prised power-packed short pieces. Like RiB’s other pro­duc­tions such as Hari Jadi in 2009 (its 12th year an­niver­sary con­cert), Alih PungGong scored praises for its con­tem­po­rary mu­sic for game­lan or­ches­tra.

Sway­ing to the re­ver­ber­a­tive rhythm in light, fluid move­ments, the troupe’s move­ments are dreamy, pur­pose­ful and per­fectly in sync with the melody.

Most of the cast mem­bers are re­cruited from monthly work­shops that RiB runs. For a monthly fee of RM180, stu­dents gets ex­po­sure while RiB iden­tify fresh tal­ents.

A will­ing­ness to learn and fierce com­mit­ment to train are im­per­a­tive.

“A fun­da­men­tal un­der­stand­ing of mu­sic and be­ing able to sing in key are nec­es­sary, of course, but ulti- mately, we wel­come peo­ple who are pas­sion­ate about what we do,” says 31-year-old RiB mu­sic di­rec­tor Ann Salina Peter, who is a mu­sic teacher in a pri­vate school.

This unique group is ea­ger for the au­di­ences to un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate the magic of game­lan the­atre.

“Peo­ple think that it’s just about the way we play the in­stru­ments, but re­ally, it’s the af­ter-ef­fect, that lin­ger­ing sound that res­onates within you,” Sharmini says.

“See that huge, brass piece over there?” she says, point­ing. “That’s the gong Agong. Those who made the gong had to fast be­fore hand. Game­lan is a highly spir­i­tual thing.”

Sharmini also points out that, con­trary to com­mon mis­con­cep­tion, game­lan is not what many might per­ceive to be old-fash­ioned and un­suited for modern taste.

“Game­lan is tra­di­tional but it can change and grow,” Yun said. “Like how we have in­ter­preted English song­writer Reza Salleh’s song For Her into game­lan.”

Sharmini re­futes the com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that views RiB as a Malay game­lan. “We are a Malaysian game­lan. We use many tech­niques – Su­danese, Ja­vanese – any­thing, in fact, so we pre­fer to not be stereo­typed,” she em­pha­sised. “We’re all about the mu­sic and vis­ual.”

Maya:gongillu­sions.

They’ve got rhythm: The cast of rhythm in bronze re­hears­ing for their fourth game­lan the­atre pro­duc­tion,

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