Electric Junkyard Gamelan is "something
[most people] have probably never seen before," Terry Dame,
41, says of the musical group that the composer, saxophonist
and instrument maker organized in 1998.
That state of ignorance will not endure much longer.
On May 9 and May 11, the five-piece ensemble will be at DUMBO’s Superfine restaurant performing the original music Dame has composed for instruments she makes in her Williamsburg studio.
Dame makes her instruments from found and modified objects. Many of them look as unique as they sound.
"I’ll build an instrument, then start exploring the sounds it makes," Dame told GO Brooklyn. "Then, based on what sounds are organic to that instrument, I’ll compose music for it."
She describes the resultant music as "rhythmic, melodic and a bit quirky." She said she first became interested in building instruments when she was a graduate student at the California Institute of the Arts. But her musical inspiration came from "traditional gamelan music, which comes from all over Indonesia."
Dame was particularly interested in the music of Bali.
"Music from Bali is percussion-based with lots of gongs and other metal-to-metal, xylophone-type instruments that are tuned to create a ringing chorus of overtones," she said.
In addition to playing sax for film, video and theater, as well as for Jennifer Miller’s New York-based Circus Amok, Dame is also a member of Gamelan Dharma Swara, the traditional gamelan ensemble based at the Indonesian Consulate in Manhattan. At the May 11 Mother’s Day performance, Terry Dame’s Electric Junkyard Gamelan will share the bill with Gamelan Dharma Swara (appearing with dancers in traditional costumes), and Dame will play with both.
Gamelan is a traditional Indonesian orchestra consisting largely of tuned percussion instruments. Dame and her four Electric Junkyard Gamelan musicians, Lisa Frisari, Robin Burdulis, Julian Hintz and Mary Feaster, play instruments like the "rubarp," a rubber band harp; the "sitello," an electric cello-sitar combo that can be played with rubber mallets or like a sitar by pressing down on the strings to "blend" the notes; the "clayrimba," a four-octave, clay pot, marimba-type instrument played with yarn and plastic mallets; copper pipes turned into horns with the addition of a saxophone mouthpiece; and a "percussion arsenal" fashioned from metal basins, coffee filters, turntable platters, large truck springs, hubcaps, pots and pans.
The "kacapitar" is similar to the sitello, only higher pitched, like a zither. And mason jars with a little water in them can be played like drums, changing the pitch by tilting the jars. Another kind of drum, the sifter drum, is made from a metal flour sifter covered with a goatskin drumhead.
"I’ve always enjoyed building things. I’m a bit of an inventor," Dame explains.
And she seems to enjoy recycling people as much as objects. Frisari and Feaster have both performed with Circus Amok. Hintz graduated from the California Institute for the Arts with a bachelor’s in music composition. And Feaster has worked with Dame’s other band, the modal jazz group Monkey on a Rail, for which Dame is the musical director, composer and saxophonist.
Dame’s Electric Junkyard Gamelan has played at the Knitting Factory in Tribeca and at P.S. 122, also in Manhattan. Last spring, the group recorded its first, eponymous CD, available at cdbaby.com ($10). The songs have names like "Domestic Music," "Garden Music" and "Mason Jar Jam." But don’t be fooled by these tame-sounding titles. Dame’s music is truly innovative and unique. It also has a way of getting to you.
This doesn’t mean songs like "America the ... Everything is Beautiful" will have you humming along. But after a while you just may find yourself tapping your foot.
Electric Junkyard Gamelan will perform at Superfine restaurant, 126 Front St., between Pearl and Jay streets, on May 9 at 8 pm. Admission is $10. The Mother’s Day, May 11 concert at Superfine with Gamelan Dharma Swara begins at 4 pm and admission is $18. For more information, call (718) 384-1629.