There are hundreds of low resolution MP3 copies of Alternesia making their way around the internet. Alternesia was created as an expression of love for the art of Gamelan. It was also recorded with care and an ear towards audiophile sound, so why not make it easy to download in a high quality audio format and see what happens?
In the late 1980s, Herb Masters and I were casting about with an atlas trying to find exotic places to ride our mountain bikes. I'm not sure who picked Indonesia, but once the country was set, we started to plan a path through as many islands as possible on a bicycle, in one month's time. We finally settled on Bali as a starting point (easy access, cheap airfares) and took off with only our bikes, plus a couple of T-shirts, a pair of shorts, and some tennis shoes.
We had arranged a place to stay the first night only, in a town called Ubud. After sleeping for a short bit, we headed out in the early evening, pedaling up Monkey Forest Road, where we spied a brightly dressed fellow selling tickets for an open-air show of music and dance.
For the next two hours, I was transfixed. It is no exaggeration to say that the gamelan music we heard changed my musical life. I'll never forget that eveningfrom the pageantry of the musicians in brightly colored, gold-threaded clothing and the finesse of the dancers, to the smell of clove cigarettes wafting through the air all around us. Sitting next to the musicians were local kids who would squeal with glee as they watched the dancers work through the musical stories with heroes, villain, and the occasional comic relief.
Even having traveled quite a bit in the South Pacific, I was totally unprepared for what we found. The Balinese culture and way of life captured my heart from the start, and the decision was made to remain on Bali for the entire trip.
Every night, somewhere, there were musicians playing on the island. Running into a gamelan competition in the coastal town of Candi Dasa was a bonus. Up until then it had always been groups of 20 or so men playing, but at this event, the women's ensembles came out in full regalia.
I was hooked and had to learn gamelan, showing up at local rehearsals, bribing my way in with cassettes of popular music (corrupting Balinese youth with Frank Zappa!), and slowly setting about learning the technique of hitting notes, then grabbing the plates quickly with the other hand to stop the sound as the next note is struck.
After a couple of weeks, a builder of quality gamelan instruments was discovered in Peliatan, a small enclave south of Ubud. Gongs were available from Klungkung. We spent hours picking out as many instruments as Herb's credit card could accommodate, and many more hours packing them in handmade wooden crates for the journey back to the US.
Shipped home was a ugal, an ornately carved wooden xylophone-like instrument (or metallophone) with 10 metal "keys" strung along the top with leather strips; a rather large gong; a small set of cymbals mounted on a carved wooden turtle's back, called the ceng ceng; several smaller gongs and cymbals of various sizes; a small selection of wooden suling, or flutes; a set of bamboo angklung (tuned bamboo rattles); several large bamboo jegogan (bamboo xylophone); a wooden kendang drum; several small hand drums; and a bamboo genggong (similar to a Jew's harp), and more.
Over the years I've picked up additional Indonesian instruments from various places, and thesealong with some homemade rattles and drums, as well as metal pans and abandoned metal turntable plattersare what you hear on Alternesia.
This music is not even close to traditional gamelan, but I think plenty of the Balinese style persists, even after filtration through my western mind. One night, sitting around a table, a group of us were trying to come up with a way to describe this music, when Brent Wilcox blurted out "Alternesia"! Seems to fit.Jon Iverson
By Wes Phillips, Stereophile Magazine
Alternesia is rooted in Jon's love of Balinese Gamelan. With the exception of a small amount of sampled bass "in just a couple of tiny spots," some flute (played by Robert Rich, who mastered the recording), and a smidgen of direct-injected bass guitar, all of the sounds here are percussiondrums and idiophonesrecorded directly to 2" analog tape on a modified MCI JH100 16-track deck.
The disc opens with a subtly swelling wash of gong overtones as fat as pillows, before embarking on a pulsing, relentless march through different percussive landscapesthink of Steve Reich's Drumming without the phased decay element and you'll be in the very general neighborhood, although Jon hearkens as much to Brian Eno's sonic explorations as to the rules of third world or classical music.
The sound is massivethat sampled bass is "small" only in terms of duration. In terms of sheer output, it'll get you out of any leases you'll ever need to break. Think rolling thunder. The delicate decays of the various chimes and gongs are rendered with extraordinary detail, however, so Alternesia is no one-trick sonic pony. However, since it was constructed one track at a time, it does lack the clangor between and abrupt collisions of overtones that result when playing untempered instruments simultaneously in the same acoustic. This might even be considered a plus, since such discords produce adverse physical reactions in some listeners; I find ;'em thrilling, myself. Would I like Alternesia better if it included them? I doubt it. That would have created a different sonic world, one that obeyed the physical laws of this one and, therefore, was ever so slightly less exotic.
I like traveling to Jon's world. I go there often, and look forward to taking many more trips with him.