This title consists of two words which are braided together: SISU + Kotekan. The first is the name of the percussion trio that commissioned this piece. The second is a musical term in Balinese gamelan music. Kotekan is melodic ornamentation in which 2 voices are braided together in interlocking patterns. In the piece Sikoté Sukán, I have developed a form of kotekan with 3 voices. Other than that, there is no relationship to gamelan music except for the fact that I have been influenced by its mood and quality of expression.

I had already been fascinated by gamelan for many years when my wife and I, in 1994, traveled to Indonesia. During a 10-day sojourn in a village named Ubud, we became enchanted and overwhelmed by the power, imagination, and beauty of the traditional Balinese culture.

Seeing a gamelan orchestra in real life was a landmark experience for me: Not only what they played, but how. The words ensemble, precision and speed took on new dimensions. For us, many intricate kotekan patterns, typical for gamelan, would be considered completely unplayable at the tempos that Balinese musicians are used to. With each concert I heard, my wonder, at how this could be possible, grew.

Lessons with a young Balinese composer gave me many answers. Balinese gamelan musicians never read music, not even while learning a new piece. This is remarkable considering the music’s complexity, formal scope and richness of detail. When learning a new piece, the composer teaches the musicians their respective parts and leads the rehearsals. This often requires months of daily rehearsal. But, gamelan is something that involves the entire local society, since it is essential in traditional ceremonies and religious rituals. Therefore, each village proudly supports its gamelan orchestra and provides it with proper working conditions.

In our musical world, there is increasing pressure on performers to be able to learn ever more complex music in shorter time. This has influenced our methods of learning and performing music. Performers get used to having to play without the feeling of assuredness that comes when all have insight into the music and time to develop a common musical will.

I have become fascinated by what seems to be possible when a composer transmits his music directly to the musicians, who learn by ear, by heart, and slowly, over a long period of time. I asked SISU if they were willing to try to work this way with a new piece, and they answered immediately and unanimously - YES! Already in the spring of 1995, we began experimenting with a 3-voiced SISU-kotekan.

I completed the composition in 1997, but realities here at home, far from village life in Bali, have made it difficult for the musicians to reserve the time needed for such a comprehensive process. The whole structure of our society forces us to make efficiency a priority, and we meet resistance when we wish to dwell longer on things. Therefore, I am deeply grateful to SISU for their courage and great effort in connection with the realization of this music. The first performance took place during the Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival on the 2nd of October, 1999.

Rob Waring