Culture

The Gamelatron: Merging Indonesian Gamelan Music into Sonic Kinetic Sculpture (Interview)

Merging his life with art in a remarkable, Aaron Taylor Kuffner has created an instrument that breeds environments that envelop human beings into further alignment with both themselves and the world around them. Spending years in Indonesia studying Gamelan Music and taking components of his research into his artistic practice, the vision behind the Gamelatron has since been brought to life and served as a multidimensional and ever-expanding world of sound, connection and introspection. I caught up with the visionary behind it all, Aaron Taylor Kuffner, to chat about the Gamelatrons infinite array of healing components, the universal effects of resonance, his current and upcoming endeavors and more.

First and foremost, for those who are unaware, tell us about the Gamelatron.

I have derived that it is a Sonic Kinetic sculpture. I am essentially reinterpreting Indonesian Gamelan instruments and then retrofitting them with mechanical mallets and then building sculptures in which both the mechanical mallets and gongs can live inside of. From there, I create a physical computing network where I can write songs that get translated into electric pulses which actulates the mallet to strike the gong. It is similar to a piano, yet instead of actuating hammers that hit the strings on the inside of a piano, this is a mallet which plays these augmented and ancient gongs.

 

Did you originally have the intent of inducing tranquility within listeners when you first began the project?

I have been working on the project for ten years, but I did about five or six years of research prior to it without knowing exactly how I was going to use that research. I believe that over time, I have learned through the process of making and doing and how people have responded to it, and that has helped inform me on its potential, which has helped me steer the project in different directions.  

After studying Gamelan music for many years in Indonesia, I realized that it didn’t have as much cultural concept, even in Indonesia. It really wasn’t part of people’s lives anymore. Therefore, I began thinking in ways in which the resonance of these gongs are important and somewhat universal to peoples sense of God and Spirituality, and that’s why the gongs were co-opted to be used within religious ceremonies by Hindus and Muslims and people for thousands of years. We have some kind of tradition, music and resonance associated with most religious practices or any kind of spiritual and ceremonial practices, therefore, I asked myself how could I translate this into a piece of life that is useful for individuals and where they are in their world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mkbc7TeuYhQ

 

I do perceive that the Gamelatron doesn’t necessarily fit into a societal category. I mean, the music and the instrument itself. The multiple pieces of it’s puzzle seem to be very universal and accepting of diversity.

Right. If you went to a Gamelan show, it would simply be a show. People would be on stage and you would be in the crowd, and could potentially connect to it or find it to be interesting. But, it is still this exotic other. The same thing if you went to a religious ceremony or something of that caliber; you are either in it or you’re not. And even if it is part of your culture or something that you have been raised to or accustomed to, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a personalized experience.

Therefore, I was trying to think about how the universal thing is that resonance is important, and acoustic resonance and its effect on the body and psyche seems to happen for everyone. Yes, it happens in different ways and it is perceived differently, and I don’t want to tell one person what’s right or wrong, it’s more so about the fact that human beings feel it. I asked myself how I would create a methodology and a situation in which I can expose people to these powerful experiences without having to attach myself to the dogma and the history that goes along with most other traditions.

I was in Amsterdam recently. I am working on a project with a museum that is now founded in the oldest building in Amsterdam, it’s this giant cathedral in which they have contemporary art pieces. They have an old organ there and I was talking to the organist. The Netherlands in general is pretty agnostic, incredibly agnostic. The organist was saying that he held onto religion the most because of the organ. He said that he could feel God within the vibration of the sound. He said that he realized that it wasn’t necessarily a Christian God and that’s when he left the church, but he would never leave the organ. Therefore, I connected with him and that’s what this show is going to be about. The connection with spirituality, essences of God and the things that all of us can universally feel. Creating artwork, sound and other things in order to help people connect.

Exactly. An alternative path to connection. I would assume that the Gamelatron has served as a tool that has enhanced your human connections.

Yes. These are things that I have discovered along the way while actually working on this project with intention more and more as I built and grew and collected more experiences within the sculptures and the exhibitions that I do. It is all part of the fabric.

What are you currently working on in the studio?

Today, I am working on this piece for the Renwick Gallery which is right across the street from The White House. There is a show called ‘No Spectators’ which opens in March and goes until January 2019. It is a major contemporary art exhibition inspired by Burning Man. The curators have chosen a selection of different artists who are a part of the Burning Man ethos and cultures and have shown work there, and they basically commissioned all of us to do different presentations. They have a variety of different artists. They have eight or nine different rooms and there is one or two artists within each room. For instance, David Best has a big contemporary gallery space. They gave me a room in which I am presenting a triptych Gamelon that is made into four parts. The space will have benches and seating in which people can come and congregate and be at one with the art.

You speak of congregate and my mind leads into a space of musing upon how this project is near The White House. The dynamic between the two worlds and the creation of an artistic space that induces healing within such proximity is a gift within itself.

Every time that I show work without being literal for a certain outcome, my goal is for the work to edify. My goal is for the work to put gas in the engine in order to allow people to evolve, get deeply tuned into themselves and the world around them, and for the work to be a part of a progressive diet in order to make us all better people. I mean, the mere fact that these pulsations are within earshot is something else. Hopefully this can be a space where people can come together to connect to each other and to the experience. There is no greater subversive act to someone who tries to divide than to bring us together in a harmonious way with the dedication to become better people.

Indeed. You also just finished staging a massive show in Chelsea, correct?

Yes. It has six Gamelatrons within it and thirteen artworks. It opens on Thursday, January 18th and it is showing until April. It has three rooms and I have the same Gamelatron that I had within the Man this year at Burning Man, and it’s really great because you can feel it intimately within this space. I also have this giant new experiment where I have these five-foot gongs that people sit between, below 40 hz frequencies, and you can really feel your face move. It is a meditative and simple pulsation composition in which the vantage point to experience them is actually inside of these two massive five-foot gongs. It’s a tactical experience.

 

It sounds like an immersive experience that will lead human beings inward.

Yes. That piece creates its own universes and invites you to come inside and be a part of it.

What is your idea of a life of happiness?

My idea of a life of happiness is when at every moment, you feel that you are doing exactly what you feel that you are supposed to be doing. Whenever I feel happiness, it is within moments that I feel in harmony with my energy, and when my energy is being put in the right place. It is those moments in which I feel that my energy feeds others and gives back. Harmony for me is when you have this positive feedback loop in which all of the energy that you’re putting in is serving others and serving the world around you, and that in itself is supporting you to be able to continue to give. If that cyclic balance is happening, that is where I experience my happiest moments.

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Gamelatron:

Sonic Kinetic Sculptures by Aaron Taylor Kuffner, Solo Exhibition

January 18th – April 8th

Opens Reception: Thursday, January 18 at 6 PM – 9 PM

Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 6pm, Free

Crossing Collective Gallery

559 West 23rd Street (@11th Ave.) 10011

Crossing Collective is thrilled to present Aaron Taylor Kuffner, Gamelatron: Sonic Kinetic Sculptures. The exhibition is a dialogue with the emerging field of robotics, sound resonance and its effect on the psyche. This is Kuffner’s most extensive exhibition of Gamelatron artworks to date.  Within the gallery’s various spaces he is presenting seven Gamelatrons including Gandaberunda that he exhibited in the Man Base at Burning Man this past past year as well as six single tone mindfulness sculptures including his newest work Body Phones featuring two human sized super sub-base gongs that you sit between.  

The show features over 80 robotized gongs and six never seen before artworks. There is seating with benches, rugs, and pillows. Kuffner has transformed the gallery into a urban sanctuary, internationalizing the exhibition as an offering.

Crossing Collective is a Shanghai based gallery that opened a ground floor space in Chelsea in the Fall of 2017.

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