Bayu Sabda Idep

("Energy Voice Idea") 2007, 27' for Gamelan and String Orchestra

Commissioned by the New Philadelphia Classical Symphony, Karl Middleman, Artistic Director, as part of its 'Gateways to Global Music' series,made possible through the generous support of the Philadelphia Music Project, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, and administered by the University of the Arts.

First performance: April 20, 2007, Trinity Life Centre, Philadelphia, PA - Gamelan Galak Tika, Evan Ziporyn, director; and the New Philadelphia Classical Symphony, Karl Middleman, Artistic Director

Recording: Gamelan Galak Tika, Evan Ziporyn, director; and Signal, Bradley Lubman, conductor - live rehearsal, New York CIty, October 2010 - not released


  • Pelog Balinese trompong or reong (in approximate ISI tuning, notated C#-ding D-dong E-deng G#-dung A-dang)
  • 8 custom designed 'Beta Gamelan' gender (2 kantil, 2 pemade, 2 jublag, 2 jegogan, notated F#-dong A-deng B-dung C#-dang E-ding, designated ‘high/low’ for pengisep/pengumbang divisi)
  • Balinese gong set: wadon, lanang, kempur, kenong
  • Balinese kendang kebyar
  • Strings (minimum 4-4-3-3-1), tuned approximately to A=443 (i.e., 12 cents sharp)

Bayu Sabda Idep ("Energy Voice Idea") comprise the Balinese concept of tri premane (3 life forces), which together distinguish humanity from plants (who have life-energy but no voice) and animals (who have energy and voice but no abstract thought).  The ability to control, balance, and project these forces is understood by the Balinese to be the distinguishing mark of great performers, particularly the great shadow-puppet masters or dalang. This piece is in three large sections, each in turn emphasizing one of these forces.  The first movement, Idep, builds on an exoskeletal formal architecture; the second, Bayu, is propelled by rhythmic motion; the third, Sabda, simply sings.  I wrote the piece in the wake of the death of my teacher, the great gender wayang master Wayan Loceng, with whom I studied in the late 1980s.  An unrelentingly demanding teacher, Pak Wayan's musical virtuosity was matched by his knowledge of the wayang (shadow play) itself, and it was said that he had had a hand in the training of all the great dalangof Sukawati Village, the center of puppetry in Bali, where he lived his entire life.  A dalang is a revered, quasi-religious figure in Bali; his musicians 'follow' him for a fraction of his wages and little or no personal recognition.  Pak Wayan thus spent much of his performing career in the shadow of his own students, but more importantly in the service of an ancient art-form that was far more important to him than renown or wealth.  I began this piece around the same time I learned of his death, and I felt his presence continually, not in a literal sense but in a compulsion to compose a work that would reflect his human and artistic values.

Most of the Balinese instruments in this piece were custom-made for this project and are non-traditional in tuning and design.  Traditional Balinese instruments are tuned in distinctive, non-tempered scales which only match western tuning by coincidence.  I have written for these wonderfully unwieldy bi-cultural combinations for many years, but in this piece I wanted something else: a tuning that would allow for the possibility of harmonization and consonance with western instruments while still having a distinctive, non-tempered character.  The tuning I designed is an attempt to 'square the circle' - combining the basic structure of the Balinese slendro scale with principles of just intonation, that is, simple intervallic ratios, and centering the tones on a more-or-less precisely tuned 'A'.  (I say more-or-less because the end result was slightly different than that which I had specified, but it sounded so good that we retained it!).  Thus the melodies and harmonies constantly move in and out of the realm of the recognizable over the course of the piece. The instruments were built by Pande Made Sukerta of Blahbatuh.  The project as a whole is the brainchild of Karl Middleman, who called me out of the blue and bravely went along with the whole scheme.