Gamelan is in Our Blood. From Imitation to Internalization: How Appropriation and Assimilation of the "Other" Have Defined Impressionism and Minimalism Open Access

Sutherland, Ryan Andrew (2016)

Permanent URL:


This thesis argues that the gamelan has played a central role in creating a Western musical culture that seeks hybridity with non-Western musics as a means of creating novel soundscapes. I aim to augment the existing corpus of research concerning the influence of the Balinese and Javanese gamelan on contemporary Western art music and on the development of musical modernism, highlighting how hybrid aesthetics have come to not only influence but ultimately define many modern soundscapes. Composers whose works were influenced by the gamelan, such as Debussy, Bartók, Partch, Britten, and others, heralded the advent of modernism and signaled the end of the Common Practice era, emerging stylistically from beneath the shadow of Romanticism. And the influence of the gamelan on Western music is still evident today: its impact is palpable in the minimalist writing of composer Philip Glass, the intricate percussion compositions by set-theorist Iannis Xenakis, and in a variety of new-age ambient, punk, and electronica albums. Thus, this thesis provides a broad-based analysis of the widespread impact the gamelan has had and continues to have on composers, specifically highlighting the movements of Impressionism and Minimalism by analyzing pieces by Claude Debussy and Steve Reich, among others. Global interest in the genre known as "world music" has further popularized the gamelan sound, yet the rich local history and syncretic religious practices associated with this musical lineage remain largely unknown outside academic circles. And even within academic circles the relevance of the gamelan is often questioned. Thus, the significance of this project is multifaceted: it will serve to inform about the impact that Balinese and Javanese gamelan traditions have had on the stylistic development of contemporary Western music, on the establishment of the field of applied ethnomusicology, and on the creation and popularization of the world music genre and its offshoots among global audiences, and will establish an archive of gamelan karawitan (traditional repertoire). Furthermore, this thesis will draw on a wide array of interdisciplinary research, citing anthropologists, ethnographers, historians, ethnomusicologists and musicians, and will record cross-cultural perspectives, discussing themes of appropriation, historical practice, and notions of musical development.

Table of Contents

Introduction. 1

Relevant Terminology and Discussions. 3

Methodology. 39

The Javanese and Balinese Gamelan. 63

Satie, Debussy, and Stravinsky: Impressionism and Neoclassicism. 99

Reich, Glass, and Górecki: Aesthetic and Holy Minimalism. 160

Conclusions. 212

Bibliography. 222

About this Honors Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files