Among questions regularly asked to me are these ones by a graduate student in Yale. There is no easy answer, but I will try however. He asked :
... what I am really interested in is what your reaction is when you hear gamelan music. Do you have an emotional connection to themusic, even though it isn't 'current'? Does the sound of gamelan conjure up particular associations for you? And can you compare it at your experience of any kind of western music - like listening to aBeethoven Symphony or a Miles Davis recording?Also, how do you think your education in music shaped the way that you experience music - both when listening to gamelan and when listeningto any other kind of music?
My answer : Of course I have a STRONG emotional connection to gamelan. Not only because of memories of childhood, but also due to the fact that I know it is a culture which is dying, for lack of government (and popular) support. If you love someone, you love him/her more if you know that time is running out, right ? And funny enough, now the music of gamelan penetrates strongly to my mind if I am composing ; hence some "gamelan" sections in my most recent music (maybe because my recent music deals with Indonesian poets and issues and way of thinking). Those gamelan "sound" just appears, and of course I have to work it out in integrating it with my own musical language, which has, I have to confess, nothing to do with Indonesian traditional music but more with Stravinsky or Britten or Bach. So, that sound comes in and out, sometimes explicitly, sometimes just being there without being noticed. Perhaps I can compare my music (although far more inferior in quality !) more with David del Puerto's "Nusantara" Symphony or Sir Michael Tippett's Triple Concerto than to Britten's Prince of the Pagodas or Poulenc's Concerto for two pianos : in del Puerto's, Tippett's or mine there are no clear "gamelan sections" (in fact, many Indonesian non-music lovers cannot really detect the gamelan influence in our music ; yet they can immediately recognize when the "gamelan section" arrives in Britten's or Poulenc's music.)
Yes, I feel differently when listening to gamelan as to other kinds of music, but it is as different as listening to Beethoven compared to Oscar Peterson to Ravel to Copland to Scottish ballads to Elton John . What do I feel ? Ooops ... I can't say it with words . It's even beyond happy and sad.
But funny enough, I don't feel closer to gamelan than to other kinds of music. I think because I listened to different kinds of music when I was a kid : Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Queen, gamelan, Rachmaninov, even avant-garde music (not anymore after I realized that most of them are just faking due to the lack of compositional techniques and musicianship) . But one thing is the music I love, and the other thing is the music that influence my thinking and my composition. I love Chopin, Rachmaninov and the romantics, but one cannot find their traces in my music, no romantic whooshes and big emotional expressions. I hate most of twelve-tone music, but I realize that something good has come out of it ( I am talking only about the music of its inventors : Schönberg, Berg & Webern : what happened afterwards was just monkey-ing and photocopying what has been done before), and I am fascinated by how Berg treated the row ( note the word "fascinated", not "like") . One can use whatever method he likes, but first and foremost he must be a "real" composer with high musicianship and accomplished technique.