In writing a piece for gamelan and string quartet--traditional ensemble of the world's largest Muslim nation, Indonesia, and an ensemble which is perhaps the epitome of traditional European music--I wanted to thematize the very idea of combining the two.
Cultures, peoples, languages and so on, are not strictly defined or self contained wholes, but have always existed in constant flux, infiltrating and fertilizing one another, while expanding and creating new (or renewed) forms and ideas. Seen from this perspective, the world is not an aggregate of unbridgeable gaps and differences, but a web of connections, variations, and echoes.
My piece serves as a counterpoint for several quotes by Edward Said, the late Palestinian-American literary scholar. Said untangled some of the connections between orientalism and colonialism; between the Europe's view of the "Other" and hundreds of years of imperialistic endeavors which still continue today indifferent forms. Framing Said's quotes on how to move beyond this history, my piece is set as an imagined encounter, which results in an increased range of possibilities for everyone involved: the gamelan instruments are being bowed, while the string instruments become gongs. This idea of mixing and cross-fertilization was at the heart of Said's ethical project, and of his optimism: “this seems to me to be the most interesting human task; it's the task of interpretation; it's the task of giving history some shape and sense; for a particular reason – to understand my history in terms of other people's history. In other words, to try and understand, to move beyond, to generalize, one's own individual experience to the experience of others. And I think the great goal is in fact to become someone else. To transform itself from a unitary identity to and identity that includes the other without suppressing the difference”.