Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bow Gamelan Ensemble - Great Noises that Fill the Air (Klinker Zoundz, 1988)

Way back in 1983, percussionist Paul Burwell, artist Anne Bean, and sculptor Richard Wilson pooled their interests and abilities in a great mass they called the Bow Gamelan Ensemble, named after their residing section of London. On first introduction, I took issue with their claim of this as a gamelan, with only the slightest similarities being the tinkering of the Javanese and the bombast of Bali. Their approach incorporated an unholy din of clanging junk and various instruments of their own design, coupled with a pyrotechnic prowess that would strike fear in the heart of any fire marshall. If nothing else, their overall impact certainly rivals that of the finest from Bali. Now I see the name as more of a convenience than anything--catchy as it might be, the Bow Junkyard Orchestra Trans-Media Exhibition and Firework Display demands a few more breaths than most would allow.

Their recorded output is scant. Great Noises that Fill the Air was their second and, as I best I can tell, final full length. It unravels as a series of events dedicated to the soundings of various items: the three flail on a pair of marimbas, set off a rapid succession of snap-n-pops followed by a chorus of car horns. Saws, whistles, hubcaps, sirens all make their way into the trio's hands. With help from students from Bretton Hall, they conjure on "Massed Percussion" what could easily be mistaken for a Balinese orchestra. What I found most exciting was their use of self-designed pyrophones, instruments that sound off when fire is emitted. Without the visuals, I'm baffled as to what apparatus when combined with a flame would produce this deep swell.

Great Noises that Fill the Air

I'd be remiss not include some visual material from the group, as sound was only a portion of their aim. This video is of a reunion performance in 2002, with the three performing on Richard Wilson's tugboat portion, the Slice of Life.


  1. wow thanks for this. really exciting to find something else on klinker zoundz. i've got the "aberration" lp by birdyak, a great find from these records in london (really miss that shop).

  2. Reminds me of Savage Republic's fiery percussion.


  3. comes up as "not a rar file". useless. bummer.

  4. I just downloaded the file and it opened and unpacked just fine. Why don't you try again?

  5. A-MAZING! just wish i could have been there.
    so good!
    thank you thank you.x

  6. I was there as I organised the event at Bretton Hall College within the School of Inter-arts. Wilson set fire to the curtains in the Music School Lecture Theatre and one of the audience was hit by shrapnel from one of Paul Burwell's incendiary devices! Filmed by Sheffield Film Co-op only one of the cameras worked on the day as the rostrum camera was faulty. Happy days!

  7. I was at the Bretton Hall event too, I was a drama student who was just watching, I recall an event at the back of the main mansion house. I agree Happy Days, weird but Happy...