Synesthesia Record Release / by Joel Mellin

An afternoon of Balinese Gamelan in a rare split performance with New York’s Gamelan Dharma Swara and Richmond’s Gamelan Raga Kusuma, in celebration of the release of Joel Mellin’s composition for gamelan,Synesthesia.


"One sense informs another —automatically and involuntarily. Letters have color. A is orange and B is mauve. What's beyond Z? Numbers have distance. 2 is farther than 1 and 3 farther still. Tuesday is uncertain and Wednesday hopeful. One sense imbues another. Instruments together pass somber kinetic energy. A rest is a light breath with weight — heavy and pregnant. The gamelan is purple lava slowly reaching its boiling point. Synesthesia is not an affliction. It is a blessing.” - Joel Mellin

Synesthesia Album Cover

Synesthesia Album Cover

Synesthesia is a contemporary work for Balinese gamelan semara dana by composer Joel Mellin. Traditional Balinese compositional paradigms and performance techniques meld with Western melodic structure, harmonic choices, and directed improvisation.

"I've always been fascinated with the idea of synesthesia," Mellin says, "One sense involuntarily sparking an experience in another. As a composer, I wonder what people see when they hear my music. What color is in it? What movement do they see? Is it what I see? The experience of hearing gamelan live can be fairly altering - like nothing you've ever experienced. I highly recommend it."

The recording, released as a limited edition 12" vinyl recording(180g) and in downloadableformats  also features "Dapple Grey," an improvised piece for cello, violin, and bass clarinet by Dharma Swara member Mara Mayer's Trio, Mayer / Kuehne / Molinaro. "The inspiration for this piece," Mayer states, "is the subject of visual perception; specifically how context changes one's perception of an unchanging object. The object is represented by the low drone, and the shifting textures color how we interpret this one sound."

And it's not just the music itself that is the subject of perception: Mellin is printing each unique cover by hand in a process he designed to demonstrate cymatics, the visual study of sound.

Gamelan Dharma Swara is New York City's village Balinese gamelan ensemble. The group studies and performs Balinese performing arts, including traditional, contemporary, and original works for Balinese gamelan. They are a community ensemble whose members come from a variety of artistic, professional, and academic backgrounds.

For over a decade, Gamelan Dharma Swara has performed around New York City and throughout the tri-state area, and in 2010 became the first non-Balinese group to compete against professional Balinese ensembles in the annual "battle-of-the-bands" concerts at the Bali Arts Festival. At Fat Cat, they will play traditional and recent works for gamelan semara dana and gamelan gong kebyar, including Mellin’sSynesthesia.

Gamelan Raga Kusuma is central Virginia's premiere Balinese gamelan. In residence at the University of Richmond, VA, under professor Andrew McGraw, Gamelan Raga Kusuma is a diverse, community-based ensemble dedicated to the study and performance of traditional and contemporary Balinese orchestral music and dance. At Fat Cat, they will perform pelegongan, seven-tone semar pegulingan and gong kebyar material drawn from classical gamelan literature and contemporary works, as well as gender wayang.