saw the Bow Gamelan Ensemble a few times in the late Eighties -- if memory serves, once at the ICA (incredible) and once outdoors at this kind of backwater of the Thames somewhere in the West of London (pretty cool)
via the Wayback Machine:
Bow Gamelan Ensemble (1983 - 1990) See also In C and Air (1986), Concrete Barges (1986), Offshore Rig and The Navigators (1987-88), A Damned Near Run Thing (1988), Worldwide (1985-89).
The Bow Gamelan Ensemble was founded in 1983 by Anne Bean, Paul Burwell and Richard Wilson during a boat trip up Bow Creek. Over the next seven years they created a dynamic experience using sound, light and performance which went beyond the conventional definitions of music event.
Since their first (intended to be their only) performance at the London Musicians Collective, the Bow Gamelan Ensemble made dozens of performances, events and specially commissioned works throughout Europe, America, Mexico and Japan.
The name Bow Gamelan derives from the area of East London where they lived and worked and from the Indonesian metallophone ensembles. Their instruments were all specially constructed, mostly from scrap metal, electric motors and glass and produced a wide variety of sounds ranging from the deep, organ like sounds of the pyrophones through a gamut of percussive timbres and dynamic range. Both the sound sources and the musical structures generated were unusual because of the physical relationship between the way instruments work and how they had to be played.
The unique sensibilities of the individual members combined with their long experience in the areas of performance art, drumming, sculpture, environments and multi-media made the collaboration remarkably creative and fruitful.
The Bow Gamelan grew from intimate indoor performances to large outdoor events which created new orchestras out of discarded materials around the world. They developed relationships with pyrotechnicians such as Wilf Scott, le Maitre Fireworks and El Diablo in Mexico and entered into a range of working relationships with artists and groups such as the sound poet Bob Cobbing, the American percussionist z’ev, Simon York of Miraculous Engineering, Tom Leadlay of the Thames Steam Launch Company, Eel Pie Marine, Ballooning World, historic re-creation societies and remote control helicoptor enthusiasts.
In their seven year history, Bow Gamelan received enthusiastic accolades and worldwide press coverage :
They serve up adventures in music, sculpture and performance that dazzle the eyes, astonish the ears and stimulate the imagination of viewers with an unorthodox magic.
Time Out Performance Award
The Bow Gamelan Ensemble… is the most stunning cross media project of the decade. Gloriously inventive, riotously funny and completely accessible.
The sheer scale of the thing is a delight to behold… the smoke and light constantly changing creates a strange beauty where you would never have expected to find it.
The Sunday Times
Yes it was at the ICA, in fact I reviewed it for Melody Maker (see below)
In C and Air (1986) Bow Gamelan Ensemble
IN C and Air included working with the sound poet Bob Cobbing who wrote several poem-songs for the commission. We used a complex arrangements of pulleys to animate the entire stage as a percussive instrument, a re-enforced glass tank of water to facilitate sounds ‘bent’ by being played in water as well as waterfalls created by buckets on pulleys, an entire hinged stage full of instruments that suddenly fell down around us and a light sensitive screen on which we could flash and ‘catch’ momentary shadows of instruments thrown and played in mid air.
There’s a flying car that thinks it’s Ornette Coleman’s drummer... veering from beauty to horror, the spectacle is utterly, and at one point literally, stunning.
Brilliant! The dingy ICA theatre has been transformed with the pickings from a hundred East London skips - the wreckage comes alive… That car starts to float across the stage, headlights and doors flashing and slamming, starts to dance. Brilliant. You can’t believe your eyes. And then the stage turns out to be all trapdoors which open and gape luridly, then slam in deafening symphony. How do they DO that? There’s underwater percussion, music from welding, prepared and invented instruments, automatic music, a symphony of fire alarms…Tonight was a wealth of stunts and japes aural and visual,… Bliss… Brilliant
If you’ve never experienced the extremes of fear and fascination in the same five seconds, you’ve never had the pleasure of a ringside seat for the Bow Gamelan Ensemble. Put simply it is the most stunning cross media project of the decade - sonic choreography meets visual drama. Shattering glass, a free fall of rhythms, klaxon horns, the drone of what sounds like a bagpipe but looks like an octopus revolving from the ceiling, the rattle and roll of tin plates in tumble dryers: the instruments are oddments of industrial and domestic waste, some are nicked from skips, some fished out of the bottom of Bow Creek, recycled with an eye for sculpture and an ear for sound. John Cage, the Dadaists, ‘80’s noise groups like Test Department, they are all kindred souls of a kind: as for straight forward comparisons, there are few if any at all. Their ICA season is specially commissioned…. Me, I can’t wait.
I’ve never seen the ICA stage so crowded….truly the art of noise/noise of art.
And this must be the thing in West London me and Stubbs went to:
Offshore Rig and The Navigators (1987-1988)
Bow Gamelan Ensemble
London International Festival of Theatre
Both these commissions from LIFT gave scope to the potential that our familiarity with the Thames allowed. Both required working around the tides to facilitate movements of vessels before and during performances.
Offshore Rig on the Thames island Lots Ait included using high pressure air to produce bubbling water under the seats of the audience built on scaffolding in the river as well as high pressure water with analine dye to create a bright red waterfall. Aware of the dynamic Indian presence and culture in the local area of Southall, we invited the Treveni Kathak Dance Troupe whose delicate bell sounds and colourful presence contrasted wildly with our aluminium beer barrel ‘carillon’ and the dark industrial enormity of the site.
For The Navigators we collected a flotilla of vessels to make performances between Bow Creek and Richmond. We spent several weeks living on the river and journeyed through London engaging different presences at various sites to suddenly extend and become part of the whole such as a giant hot air balloon rising up behind Richmond Bridge with people in the basket below playing foghorns.
The most spectacular piece in the London International Festival of Theatre is non-verbal… The Bow Gamelan Ensemble are joined in Offshore Rig by American artist and percussionist z’ev. The work is presented on an offshore island in the Thames. Using a derelict dry dock with three enormous sheds they stage their spectacle. Exploring experimental areas in sound, performance, light and sculpture, Bow Gamelan create a work of great elegance and originality that is accessible without being compromised. A stream of semi-rehearsed, semi improvised ‘music’ created from fireworks and industrial junk (chimes, steam whistles, long swinging ropes of firecrackers) is interwoven with a variety of lighting effects (spotlights, flares, searchlights, coloured lights and gases). Subtle changes, or sometimes bold and sudden ones, create changing vistas and aural perspectives and rich sculptural silhouettes.
Bow Gamelan Ensemble was the highlight of LIFT's first week… What they do successfully evades categorisation and amusingly blurs the highbrow-lowbrow distinction which dogs most performances. The sheer scale of the thing is a delight to behold, the unexpected explosions a regular cause of spontaneous laughter. The smoke and light constantly create a strange beauty where you would never have expected to find it. Offshore Rig is literally wonderful.
The Sunday Times
The packed banks of the River Thames have never been treated to tubes of smoke filled plastic erupting from a barge, miniature helicopters buzzing round like demented owls - you needed only to look away for a moment to miss firecrackers, giant mobiles of cymbals as high pressure fired water onto them, fire filled rusting jaws of baths opening and closing in crocodile like motion, or fleeting glimpses of a colourful hot air balloon, seemingly suspended amidst the traffic of Richmond Bridge.
Before the Pulp Music postpunk single at the top, Anne Bean had been in The Moodies, aka Moody and the Menstruators -- who were fellow travellers of Roxy Music, protopomo / proto drag king cabaret/panto/performance art troupe
what an interesting journey -- glam to postpunk to sound art