1. As both a gamelan player (I’ve studied and performed Balinese gamelan angklung, gamelan gong, gamelan gendèr wayang & Central and West Javanese gamelan in the U.S., Bali, and Java) and a (sometime) rave participant, I am willing to consider the structural or textural similarities between much traditional gamelan music and music played at raves, and to speculate for a moment on the connection between the roles and contexts of each. The structure of what is believed to be "transformational" music in rave is described by David Roberts as containing a minimum of melody and vocals, "substituting a mesmeric, repetitive beat as the central element" (cited in Redhead 124). Dance ethnologist Georgiana Gore describes rave music as "minimalist with a relentless 4/4 beat," reputed to drive ravers into a state of frenzy (Gore 58). Numerous sources detail the structural aspects of traditional gamelan music (both Balinese and Javanese) which often (though certainly not always) involve seamless repetition of rhythmic and tonal patterns over a steady beat. Ethnomusicologist Margaret Kartomi, in describing the required musical elements in Javanese gamelan accompaniment to folk trance, states that music must be "mesmeric in effect," and contain a steady regular pulsation with repetitive tonal patterns based on a restricted number of pitches (Kartomi 166). Balinese psychiatrist Luh Ketut Suryani discusses the hypnotic effect of traditional Balinese ceremonial gamelan music on Balinese gamelan players, and describes the music as having a basic, relatively unchanging pattern, repetitive, rhythmically steady, and tending toward monotony in volume and intensity (Jensen and Suryani 123). Suryani reports that Balinese ceremonial gamelan players feel "as though they are floating above the ground, ‘nearer to the gods’ and ‘in another world’" (Jensen and Suryani 123).29 In both gamelan angklung (and very commonly in other types of gamelan music) and techno, there are simultaneous layers of musical complexity playing themselves out at different levels of tempo and "busy-ness." Although rave music is much louder than gamelan music, often the emphasis (in both musics) is on the creation of a kind of endless "ground" through minimalistic repetition of instrumental "bytes" which tends to entrain the mind of the listener.30

  2. How is this musical texture related to gamelan angklung? Colin McPhee, in his landmark documentation of Balinese instrumental music (Music in Bali, written in 1966), distinguishes between two general forms or textures of traditional gamelan angklung compositions. In the first form, which he designates as type A, the melody line is played by the largest bass sounding metallophones in the ensemble (called jegogan) while the higher pitched instruments play a continuous accompaniment of closely interlocking figuration patterns. In the second type of orchestration, type B, the melody is played by the smaller, higher metallophones (called gendèr) and the horizontally mounted gong row (réong), while the jegogan "underline" the melody (McPhee 246).

    Listen to type A
    Listen to type B

    I find the texture of the type A composition for gamelan angklung, with its rather hypnotic, minimalist figuration over a slow moving melody and metronomic tempo, to be most similar in "aural feel" to certain types of techno music.

    Listen, for example, to this excerpt from the Orb classic "Little Fluffy Clouds."

  3. Coincidentally or not, types of techno and gamelan music, and their respective musical textures, are both present in communal gatherings where dance and altered states of consciousness are the intention of at least a subgroup of participants. Institutionalized occasions for entranced dancing (with gamelan orchestra accompaniment) in Bali include the Kris dance (male, group trance ritual involving dancers who turn knives on themselves yet remain unharmed) and the Barong/Rangda ritual (protector dragon vs. monstrous witch in a showdown between the forces of good and evil). Both dances are part of the sixteenth century Calonarong ritual play (Tenzer, 83). The larger 5-tone gamelan pelegongan orchestra, with 13-15 keyed gendèrs, accompanies these dramas involving trance. The repertoire of this gamelan again involves intricate, closely interlocked figuration played by the higher instruments in the ensemble, as well as complex stratified polyphony. Although the dramatic accompaniment requires sudden changes in tempo and dynamics at times, repetitive clichéd figurations over ostinatos and stretches of metronomic tempo remain characteristic of the music. McPhee describes the interlocking figuration occurring in certain slow moving passages:

    A very different kind of musical training is required for the syncopated, percussive kotèkan figuration, performed at high speed by a group of eight or ten players. Composed of two rhythmically opposing parts which, like the rèongan of the gamelan gong, interlock to create a perpetual flow of sound, the kotèkan adds sheen and intensity to the music, and calls for the utmost rhythmic precision. (McPhee 162)
  4. While the gamelan angklung is not the particular gamelan ensemble associated with rituals involving trance in Bali, its textural characteristics are in many ways idiosyncratic to much gamelan music in general, including those ensembles that are present in trance contexts. This has led me to speculate about the connections between events that employ similar musical textures and whose participants intend to achieve extraordinary consciousness. At Hyperreal’s Trance List Archives the trance subgenre of techno is plainly characterized as a means to altered states of consciousness: "Through the use of repetitive and extended beat patterns and/or rhythms, this music often induces trance-like states in those who listen or dance to it."

  5. In Rouget’s oft-cited work Music and Trance: A Theory of the Relations between Music and Possession, the author states that although music "does play a part in triggering and maintaining the trance state, it does not owe its effect to the properties of the musical structure, or if it does, it does so only to a small degree" (Rouget 96). Becker applauds Rouget for "putting to rest" the idea of a causal relationship between types of music and types of trance (Becker 41). It is generally understood that the entire trance context as a package—including all sensory stimulation, in addition to the culturally-situated belief system and expectations of the participant—is responsible for inducing altered states of consciousness. Becker suggests that the musical component of trance, acting as a "physiological metonym," "invokes" an entire "mythology" to which certain emotions and behavior are attached (Becker 45). In Bali, other deeply sensual "cues," such as incense, strongly scented flowers, and brightly ornate costumes, accompany ritual. It is likely that in the rave context the volume of the music, the bombardment of visuals, the physiological excitement of dance, the desire for an altered state, and the other elements of rave described earlier, heighten the "transportative mechanisms" of the music. However, the musical contribution (or "universal" relationship of music) to trance states remains debated amongst scholars, and I am hard pressed to take issue with the commonly expressed experiences of many people who feel entrained, "transported," or experience some other hypnotic-like effect when exposed to the musical textures described above, even in a sterile concert hall. Another significant issue here, perhaps a topic for another paper, concerns exactly what ravers mean when they use the term "trance" and speak of the "trance experience." Perhaps clarity lies in a distinction between rhythmic entrainment, trance, and other forms of altered consciousness.

  6. I’ve suggested that one possibility for the appropriation of Balinese gamelan by the rave scene is a similarity in musical structures typically accompanying settings/venues associated with altered states of consciousness in both contexts. Now I’ll explore the implications of a second possibility. I propose that it is part of the ideology of a segment of rave participants to associate themselves with icons of a generic "ethnic-ness"—perceived as synonymous with "primitiveness," and the
  7. s an "exotic entity" affords this association. Note one raver’s ideas about how the gamelan might function at an event:

    I think it would be REALLY cool to have a couple of Balinese dancers dance to the last gamelan piece, and then have the dj start back up with something similarly exotic, maybe Middle Eastern, that the dancers could also dance to. Then bring up the music again slowly, to help tie the different pieces of the ceremony together. (posted to sfraves 27 March 2000)
    A further exploration of this ideology will illuminate the seemingly contradictory techno-primitive aesthetic of the San Francisco rave scene.

  8. Another rave participant explains, "What the gamelan was doing was the same as what rave was doing. That it’s all tapping into the same roots" (Personal interview, 21 May 1998). This comment, alluding to "the same roots" of a common, pre-industrial ancestry, emphasizes the valued connection between raving and ancient ritual—a connection which serves to distinguish ravers ideologically from what they perceive as industrialized, "mainstream" society. What is especially interesting in the ravers’ worldview, is that hi-technology (the ultimate product of industrialized society) and especially technologically produced music, are seen as a means to accomplish this goal of reconnection with the primitive in us all. Far from contradictory, combining hi-technology with perceived "tribal values" is viewed as the ultimate tool of collective transcendence and self-actualization. This vision is clearly expressed by the following characterization of the rave process that appears on the hyperreal.org website:

    There is a pulsating awareness of sharing archaic understandings, reviving lost traditions…which are all invested with new technological innovation. The sounds are the new epic poetry of this century… The knowledge is beyond consumerism and materialism, and associated disaffected, alienated and generally self-destructive style of the industrial being…The sounds and rhythms produced by tekno artists seem to be more and more profound in their ability to communicate the most… deeply resonating primal understandings. It’s the re-discovered language of transcendence… Here is the ‘coming of age’ ritual which Western culture has long forgotten…
  9. Within techno-primitivism then, technology is paradoxically embraced in an attempt to regain the very thing which mechanization is denigrated for taking away—our basic human-ness. Reynolds asserts that digital music "abandons all the elements of feel" (Reynolds 44). While revering a music that codes a value for the "less than human," could becoming concurrently attached to "the primitive" be perhaps an instinctual effort to resist the dehumanizing aspect of the music being embraced? An effort to reclaim or hold onto the human element in the face of pervasive technology, while reveling in the hedonistic aspects of both? This construction, within which participants worship both technology and the primitive, perhaps keeps the Vibe in balance, allowing technology to have its way, but at the same time quelling the anxiety produced by the threat of ever increasing mechanization.

  10. I don’t mean to suggest that all ravers have the same experience, or share the same philosophy of raving. As Gore states, "Rave is multiple" (Gore 65). In fact, there have been complaints recently amongst participants (particularly from more seasoned ravers) that the scene is not what it used to be, and that many "newbies" don’t understand or don’t care about the ideals that raving was founded upon. A mere 24-hour subscription to the sfraves discussion list will reveal multiple layers and levels of experience, meaning, and engagement, ranging from the flaming and name-calling of a community member for posting a naked photo of someone’s girlfriend on the list, to the deeply philosophical and ecstatic expressions of transformational experience. Some ravers go to parties get high, others to dance, others just to listen, and the same raver may experience different levels of engagement at different events or at the same event. Likewise, the presence of the gamelan at the rave undoubtedly means different things to different people, ranging from "this is boring and weird and I don’t know what it’s doing here" to "the gamelan is doing what rave is doing." Amongst the "multiplicities," I have chosen to examine the experience through the lens of techno-primitivism because this ideology/aesthetic is most prominent in self-representations of the San Francisco scene in cyberspace, as well as in the literature about San Francisco raving.

  11. When viewed from a techno-primitive perspective, the appropriation of the gamelan by the San Francisco rave scene seems like a logical process. The gamelan is successfully integrated into the rave, in part on the basis of its perceived homogenous ethnic-ness, otherness, or primitive associations—in other words, for what it represents. This representation is effected through the "exotic" appearance of the gamelan instruments—intricately carved and painted, sitting amongst carefully prepared offerings, burning incense, and other miscellaneous Balinese "paraphernalia"—and the "otherworldly" sound of an orchestra of bronze gongs and metallophones. I propose that information about where this ensemble comes from, its history, its "authentic" performance practice, who usually plays it, or even what it is called, is irrelevant in the context of the rave. It is not necessary to possess such in-depth knowledge. What is important is that the presence of the gamelan affirms the somewhat romantic, self-perceived identity of the rave collective as part of something "primal," and as something that resists the mainstream. I am suggesting that the "exotic" = the "primitive" which is associated with the roots of humankind and the right living to which ravers wish to return.

    There are many developments in technology however, that have the potential to create an electronic re-tribalization of society and help humanity remember our place on this sacred sphere.31
  12. Yet, in the very act of interacting with the surfaces of entities in this way, it may be argued that ravers are engaging in a very mainstream kind of behavior. In Life on the Screen, Sherry Turkle describes a current psycho-social operative mode in which representations—rather than transparent entities—are sufficient for interacting with the world. It is often claimed that there is an increased tendency within postmodern industrial culture to be satisfied with surface-only knowledge of relationships with cultural items that make up one’s "idioverse" (Schwarz, cited in Turner 80) and help construct one’s identity. Without—I hope—appearing to accept wholesale a totalistic concept of postmodernism, I suggest the gamelan’s appropriation into a context (rave) in which it functions as a more or less origin-free entity speaks somewhat to this claim. Additionally, this same mode of "surface-only" (or maybe "surface-dominant") relationship with the gamelan finds a parallel in another behavior that is central to the rave experience; that is, interaction with sample-based music in which sonic images are divorced from their original context.32

  13. Although this article has focused on one regional manifestation of rave, examining the values and operative modes of this late-twentieth-century musical subculture allows us to conceptualize the idea of expressive forms arising as artifacts of technoculture. Additionally, this examination brings into relief a now commonplace mode of navigation through a world that often seems overladen with extraneous stimuli and on the verge of producing human perceptual overload. It has been noted that we as members of postmodern industrial societies must increasingly become able to sift through the glut of information and "separate the wheat from the chaff" in order keep our brains from shorting out. Maybe "satisfaction with representation/surface knowledge" is a way of filtering through the glut of cultural things. Instead of weeding out "the incoming" for lack of psychic/perceptual space, an alternative strategy, perhaps, is to reduce the depth of incoming things. (Analogous to maintaining space in your hard disk by reducing the k in your files rather than deleting them?) Whether this alternative mode of navigation through the "stuff" of "the postmodern experience" is ultimately more or less taxing sociologically, as well as psychologically, is another question.

  14. To summarize, via technologically produced sensory experience, community in virtual space, attributing cosmic significance to technology, and interaction with technologically disembodied entities, raving in San Francisco is firmly located in the technocultural present. My intent for this project was to consider how and why a Balinese gamelan could have possibly made its way to the foothills of the Sierra mountains in the summer of 1997, and to make a contribution to the discussion of rave as a subculture in the U.S. along the way. To date only Mireille Silcott has focused on rave as a phenomenon in the U.S. Most (off-web) contributions focus on raving in the U.K., where the subculture originally developed. However, there is a wealth of information on U.S. raving on the web, predominantly insiders’ personal accounts of the subjective rave experience as well as abstractions and philosophies of the culture. Apart from my personal attendance at events in the Bay Area and interviews with participant-friends, rave’s own literature in virtual space served as a primary ethnographic site as this paper unfolded; a happenstance that could not have more aptly designated this expressive genre as an artifact of technoculture.33

  15. Finally, as technology and technoculture are by definition in a constant state of change, so the space in which the rave event takes place is always a temporary and transient one. The actuality of each event, in all it uniqueness, simultaneity, and dynamism, seems to be constituted by its temporary and therefore elusive nature. Referring back to the "one cacophonous sonic utterance" of the total rave, I might characterize this underground utterance as a loud, defiant, powerful, ritual claim to space. There’s something about the transitory, yet very "proactive," rave event that reminds me of the driver of an over-amped car stereo that drives through your neighborhood, staking out a piece of "aural territory," moving along, thereby avoiding apprehension. She knows you hear her—she has forced herself on your aural space through sheer volume. She wants to be heard, yet remains aloof and perhaps separate. But there is autonomy and power in the transitory nature of his actions; she knows you won’t come out looking to silence her, because you know in that time she’ll be gone.

    Gina Andrea Fatone
    University of California, Los Angeles

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