for Javanese gamelan & mixed ensemble

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Transmigration is a work for seven performers based, in structure, on a seven stage mystical journey through consciousness. It was composed to accompany and set the structure for a dance/movement performance that took place after a semester of research and discussion about possible means of expressing a universal mystical journey in performance. As a composer, I felt that the only way to truly express such a journey that had the potential to appeal to any audience was through music and musical development rather than linear narrative. My line of research followed this thought, which resulted in the production of a seven-stage scenario. This was then translated into a musical format - this composition. Although the research I have done has resulted in a composition influenced by many different "journeys", and therefore the musical styles and texts that accompany them,the basis for the musical scenario was that the audience would not require any background information to be able to experience the journey.


The composition uses a cyclic improvisory structure that I first used in a composition for Indonesian gamelan called Project-2. This format has the work in a constant state of transformation as the performers (who are sitting in a circle) one by one change their mode of performance as they hear the player before them change. This constant metamorphosis is important to the success of the work, and thus the performers must be highly in tune with what the other performers are doing and when they will be cued to change their own performance. I decided to pick this method of composition largely because of the nature of a journey, which is never set in stages - once you reach one stage you are just beginning your journey to the next. When a new stage is reached, musical elements from the last stage can still be heard, and musical elements from the stage to come are introduced before the stage is actually reached. Also, within each of the stages there is actually a number of cycles around the ring of performers and emphasis is on the feeling of gradual development and learning. In each of the stages mantras are chanted to signify movement into a new stage or completion of an old stage, and each of the stages represents a new development on the basic melodic and rhythmic material.


Influences on this composition include all the different mystical journeys researched this semester, from the ten "ox-herding" stages of Zen to The Phenomenology of Hegel, a relatively modern philosophical document. However, I will only list here in detail influences that directly affect the musical development of the composition.




It was decided by the performance workshop after a semester of discussion and research that a "universal" mystical journey should have seven stages. This was my primary musical connection, and thus the composition is divided into seven stages and is for seven performers. Also, it was initially envisaged that each of the seven stages would last seven minutes . The number seven also affected the musical development within the composition. Indonesian gamelan has two major scales which its traditional music uses, slendro and pelog. My intention at all times was to use the gamelan instruments in the piece, and I decided to use the pelog scale, as it has seven notes. My initial intention was to use the kundalini yoga chakras in the composition to show movement between the stages of the journey, but this changed when I learnt that the Indonesian note names of the pelog scale are actually thought to be derived from the Shiva/Buddhist chakra system, and have direct relation to parts of the body like the Kundalini Chakras. The last syllable of the pelog names are used by gamelan performers as a sort of solfege system as an aid in remembering melodies, which produces syllabic sounds surprisingly similar to the kundalini mantras. In this composition they are chanted in the stages corresponding to their number, and are chanted at the same pitch as the note itself, which in effect produces a gradual journey up the scale. Below is a list of the names of the pelog notes, and the mantras used in the composition which are derived from them:


1 - SIJI "gee"

2 - LURO "row" (with a rolled 'r')

3 - TYLU "loo"

4 - EMPAT (there is no chanting in stage four)

5 - LIMA "mar"

6 - ENEM "nem" (sounds 'nm')

7 - PITU "tohm" (combined with final kundalini chakra 'ohm')


As well as in the chanting of the mantras, the composition uses the pelog scale in a variety of different ways. Much of the musical material is played on instruments from the gamelan orchestra, and are used in ways varying from improvisation to the traditional Javanese systems. It is designed to present a constant state of development between the two extremes, although there is some sudden changes in the piece. The western instruments used in this composition (flute, alto flute and 'cello) use a scale based on my approximation of pelog . If it is performed with instruments from another gamelan orchestra, the tuning of the notes may very well be different, in which case the instrumental parts can be adjusted accordingly. Gamelan music is notated using numbers from one to seven, and overleaf is a diagram of the approximate equivalents taken from the pelog instruments used, represented in western notation.

Instrumentation and Performance






This is a study score for listening to or planning a performance and is descriptive of what goes on within the composition. The actual instrumental parts for the performance take the form of simple instructions, small melodic phrases and most importantly, cues. Cues come either from performer 1 (who can cue the entire group to change simultaneously) or from the preceding performer. The logic in this case is that when the performer preceding you changes their playing in some way (e.g. starts chanting, changes their repeated melodic sequence or stops playing an instrument) you know that you can move onto the next level in the piece. It is important to note that in this case performers have an option as to the amount of time they wait before they change; change does not have to be simultaneous. Exceptions to these guidelines can be easily distinguished in the score. An example is the entrance into stage five which is brought about by performer 7 who slows the rhythm being played by the group and brings about a sudden simultaneous change. The diagram opposite shows the position of performers within the group, and the direction of cyclical flow.


Below is a list of the instruments that performers will require:


1 - Flute, Gong and Kempul, Kendang

2 - Saron, Slentem, Tibetan Singing Bowl

3 - 'Cello, Kenongs

4 - Demung, Tibetan Singing Bowl

5 - Flute, Alto Flute, Tibetan Temple Chimes

6 - Saron, Gong and Kempul, Tibetan Singing Bowl

7 - Saron, Pekin, Kendang, Tibetan Singing Bowl




Most of the instruments are taken from the Indonesian Gamelan orchestra, and some knowledge of these instruments as well as the traditional forms of Javanese gamelan are required to perform this piece. Most of the music for the gamelan instruments is notated in the traditional numerical format. Performer 3 requires two kenongs, one tuned to A (tone 5 in pelog) and the other tuned to B flat (tone 6). Performers are to know that unless otherwise stated on the score, when they are told to stop, they never stop suddenly, but always fade out their playing gradually.


It is important to note that the top line of the score (labelled "time") contains time values that can be changed in performance. The values written on the score are approximations of those used for the first performance. However, the one element of this composition which is freely structured is the amount of time the composition takes. The time intervals used in the score can be used as the basis for a performance, but incrementally adjusted (creating a longer or shorter performance), or they can be totally ignored allowing a free flow. If time values are used, it is the responsibility of performer 1 to ensure that the composition is progressing at the correct pace. Performer 1 should be holding a stop watch, and if the composition progresses too quickly the work can be halted from further cyclical development until the correct time is reached. If however, the composition progresses too slowly, performer 1 can give the cue to bring the composition into the next stage. Many of the approximate time intervals can be worked out by the performers during rehearsals to ensure this does not have to happen.


The Journey


1 - Primordial development


Represented by long, earthy vocal sounds and atonal improvisation.

2 - Discovery of path


Characterised by the gradual introduction of an ascending and repeated melodic sequence in its simplest form.


3 - Discovery of the completeness of the world


Characterised by the introduction of mellifluous flute melodies in 5/8 rhythm.


4 - Searching for completeness through duality


Music based on traditional Javanese gamelan is formed by rhythmic transformation from the 5/8 metre. Duality is represented by the fusion of gamelan and western instruments.




5 - New dualism achieved


Rhythm slows to new speed, and the melodic instruments change to new form (based on techniques of Javanese rhythmic development).

6 - Beyond dualism


Characterised by the performance group clapping rhythms that have developed from stage five, but are a deliberate contrast.


7 - Realisation and return


Ethereal improvisations both vocal and instrumental, resolving again in silence.





Final Notes


This work was first performed at the Boya Quarry Amphitheatre on the 9th of November 1991. The performers were as follows:


1 ~ Zachàr Laskewicz

2 ~ Roger Murphy

3 ~ Alia-enor Bath

4 ~ Matthew Dean

5 ~ Justine Thornley

6 ~ Fiona Tholet

7 ~ Romola Brennan


I would like to thank these performers for their enthusiasm in performing this work, as well as David George and David Williams for the informative workshops which resulted in the composition of this piece. I would also like to thank Mike Burns for letting us use his gamelan instruments, and particularly for helping me with the pelog scale names and other important factual information. Finally, thanks to David Pye and Jane Prendergast for lending the group the Tibetan singing bowls and the Tibetan temple chimes.


Zachàr Laskewicz




May 2008 Nachtschimmen Music-Theatre-Language Night Shades, Ghent (Belgium)
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Last modified:
May 30, 2008