The Gamelatron Jalan Jiwo

September 18  - December 18, 2012

The Gamelatron Jalan Jiwo

Curated by Alanna Heiss, Joe Ahearn
The Gamelatron Jalan Jiwo installation at the Clocktower Gallery, 2012, photo by A Taylor Kuffner
The Gamelatron Jalan Jiwo installation at the Clocktower Gallery, 2012, photo by A Taylor Kuffner

The Gamelatron Jalan Jiwo is a robotic network of vibraphones, drums, chimes, bells, and resonating bronze gongs site-specifically installed for the Clocktower Gallery. The installation completely envelops the viewer in the polyphonies developed by A Taylor Kuffner for his mechanized orchestra. Drawing inspiration from the Clocktower's own historic bell overhead, the piece functions both as a time-keeping device throughout the day, and as an interactive sound installation, triggered by any visitor to perform a variety of compositions, from short and dramatic bursts of activity and melody to longer form storytelling orchestrations that allow the audience to sink into the pristine gallery space and leave the music to take them over.

The Gamelatron Jalan Jiwo
Notes by Aaron Taylor Kuffner

In Bahasa Indonesia, Jalan is the most common word for a road or street. It also can mean a way, a course of action or procedure. Jiwo in Javanese and Balinese (Jiwa in Bahasa Indonesia) is the soul, or spirit, the part of the self that is separate from the body. Jalan Jiwo could literally be the name of a street in a small town, or it could refer simply to destiny. In this context it is the path of the life force.

The Gamelatron draws upon the thousand-year-old Gamelan music tradition of Indonesia and robotic technology to create magical, viscerally powerful, performances. As a site-specific contemporary artwork, it is a kinetic sculpture that uses Balinese Gamelan instruments and robotic mallets to create an immersive sound installation. Compositions range from solitary reverberations of massive gongs and singing chimes to full ritual or storytelling orchestrations. Whether compositions are created live or pre-programmed, the instruments are always live, tuned, as they have been for centuries, to uniquely impact the human body. The Gamelatron utilizes innovation to both preserve and revive the legacy and culture of Gamelan for future generations beyond the shores of Indonesia.

Aaron Taylor Kuffner is a Brooklyn-based conceptual artist, composer, Indomusicologist and architect of new media and intermedia performance. He specializes in creating multi-point sound environments and is the co-creator of the Gamelatron. For several years he studied under master teacher I Wayan Senen at the Institut Seni Indonesia di Yogyakarta and premier musician I Wayan Sadera in Tegas, Bali at the Yaysan Polosseni, performing with professional groups in Java and Bali. Since its debut in 2008, The Gamelatron has been featured in concerts, at festivals and as the centerpiece in extended installations in Russia, Europe and the United States.

About the Installation
In this installation the North, East, South, West and Center of the space are delineated by the colors black, white (off white shade), red, yellow, and purple derived from an 8-petal lotus flower mandala called the Padma Bhuwana. Each cardinal direction corresponds with a color, a weapon, a syllable, a place in the body and presiding deity. In the north, east, south and west there are shelves made of solid maple on steel brackets where offerings are made. These shelves are actually seats for the divine to inhabit. The offerings of fruit, and the offerings of music, are made to entice the presence of the presiding deities to their seats.

The gongs in this installation were fabricated by the Pande I. Made Rindhi in Blahbatu Bali. They are tuned in a 5-note non standard relative scale called Pelog (Pelog Nem 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 in Javanese) featuring the Trompong (10 pot shaped bronze gongs) and Reyong (12 pot shaped bronze gongs) from the Gamelan Gong Keybar, accented with Kopyak and Ceng-ceng cymbals, Gong Agung, Gong Suwuk, Kempur Agung, Kempur Suwuk, Kempli and Klentong. 7 gongs in the Trompong and Reyong play the same principle notes. The male voices of the Trompong are detuned slightly lower so that when the notes are played together with the female counterpart of the Reyong gongs, a phasing effect occurs called ombak which produces unique overtones. These “doubled” notes are spaced opposite each other in the room to accentuate the ombak.

Aaron Taylor Kuffner created the spatial design, compositions and lighting scheme, and hand fabricated the entire gong mounting systems and robotic mallets and the steel brackets. The source design for the robotic beaters, as well as the co-creation of the beta Gamelatron and MIDI decoding microprocessors are by Eric Singer at the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots (

The Clocktower projects of A Taylor Kuffner and The Gamelatron are made possible by a grant from the The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

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