Two Sundays in a row, this month, I was able to attend an open rehearsal sesssion of a gamelan orchestra, followed by an Indonesian lunch, followed by a workshop on Indonesian shadow puppetry, the wayang kulit.
The workshops were held at Merlin's Sun Theatre, a tiny theatre in the home of Tim Gosley, a puppeteer who worked with the Muppets, among others. He was hosting, in this case, with the demonstration and teaching done by Sutrisno Hartana, a wayang master and gamelan teacher.
I knew a little bit about wayang--I have a small shadow puppet of Hanuman--but next to nothing about gamelan music. (I hope I have enough space to put up a couple of videos, so I don't have to spread this out over two or three posts).
The orchestra was a mix of Sutrisno's family, from wife Anis, able to sing after recovering from throat surgery, to immensely cute preschooler son. His older daughter demonstrated dance while the younger played the bells. Other members were from the university, faculty or students (oddly, I don't recall any of them being music students, but I may have missed that in the introductions).
Gamelan orchestras are fairly informal. They may not practice together, but rely on players showing up to fill in various parts, and it seems to be loose and jazz-like, allowing improvisation.
The shadow puppets are made of untanned buffalo hide, elaborately pierced, painted and gilded.
You're looking at the performer's side, here. The audience would be on the other side of the screen, seeing only the shadows.
Performances start at sundown, originally lit by lamps, and run all night. There may be one puppeteer or several, and besides the gamelan orchestra, the puppeteer provides sound effects by holding a sort of knocker between his toes and rapping it against any hard surface (like a box of puppets).
The strips of blue foam at the bottom of the screen serve for jamming the puppets' base sticks into, so that the arms can be operated more easily, or a second character manipulated. Originally banana trunk would be used (I asked).
This pic is of the phoenix flying through a forest, with both puppets in fluttering motion.
But here's what the audience sees.
Pretty impressive anyways, and more of the colour comes through than you might guess. You see the really intricate images you can get with the thin strong buffalo hide. Both the forest and the palace details can be clearly seen, with some bonus shadows from the puppets beside, waiting their turn for action.
Throughout the demonstrations, a little crowd of students would collect on the audience side of the screen, just watching the show, and having to be chased out so they could practice the art and see how the master performed it.
This video is a demonstration of two 'clown' characters conversing, showing the characteristic brusque motions and rough or squeaking voices. Lower-class characters usually stand lower on the screen, feet below the red border that signifies the earth. If characters lower themselves so, it suggests that they're sitting down or kneeling before a superior.