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The Instruments of Aloysius Suwardi

Composer, instrument-maker and gamelan expert Aloysius Suwardi presents his Planet Harmonik project for the first time outside of his native Indonesia. We spoke to Suwardi to learn more about how he made a concert out of an ancient Greek theorem and some of the instruments he has invented to achieve his desired sound.

‘When I first read about the Pythagorean theory of music of the spheres, my imagination was ignited. He suggested the cosmos consisted of separate spheres, one each for the planets, moon, and sun, which moved around the earth at different velocities, producing different sounds.

‘The concept inspired me to make instruments capable of producing strong harmonics or overtones, to represent the music of the spheres.

‘When I’m making musical instruments I have two starting points: firstly, I aim to make an instrument based on my mental picture of its shape, without considering the resulting sound. Secondly, I aim to make an instrument to obtain a specific sound that is derived from a sound imagined in my head.

‘I decided to make a new ensemble to explore the possibilities of obtaining a series of harmonics produced by the instruments. The clearest and loudest harmonics are used for the pitch to be arranged as either slendro or pelog gamelan tuning scales.’

The instruments Suwardi built include giant gambang xylophones and hydraulic bamboo flutes – you can hear them played in the resulting work for the first time at this concert, the first time it has been played in the UK.

Here, Suwardi shares some archive photos from his instrument collection.

Vibrandèr: a modification of a Javanese traditional gender and vibraphone (1983)

Gambang Dholog: Log xylophone inspired by traditional instrument of Uganda, Africa (1988)

Jalênthir, a suling that the sound has been modified by altering the air from the player to a water can in order to produce a bubble before passing thrugh the whisle (1988)

Gamelan Gentha: Consists of: Klunthung, Klonthong, Klonthang, Klinthing, and Gong (2001)

Gamelan Planet Harmonics: consists of: Glendhung, Glendhang, Klenthar (2007)

Aloysius Suwardi: Planet Harmonik is performed on Thursday 18 January at Milton Court Concert Hall

Interview by James Drury. Originally published in the January 2018 Guide