'The Birth of Kala'


'The Birth of Kala' for Balinese gendér wayang ensemble

By Nicholas Gray

The Birth of Kala' was composed for a concert at SOAS on 19th March 2012, which wove together storytelling and action with new and traditional gendér wayang music.


Birth of Kala part 1

Birth of Kala part 2


Tim Jones (narrator), Paula Friar, Emily Garland, Nicholas Gray, Rachel Hewitt (‘Segara Madu’ Balinese gender wayang group)

Main research questions:

  1. How to use composition as an analytical tool.
  2. How to compose idiomatically and innovatively for this technically and compositionally complex ensemble (see Gray 2011:202).
  3. How to integrate these elements to appeal to a contemporary audience outside Bali.
  4. To explore ways in which such a process of investigation might be applied to future projects (systematic investigation) with the potential to make an original contribution to knowledge (creative musicology).


The research method has some parallels with Neil Sorrell’s use of his piece 'Missa Gongso' (Sorrell 2007). The performative elements owe much to the work of composer Ida Wayan Oka Granoka in Bali and movement artist Suprapto Suryodarmo in Java.


The composition itself, both as a process and a final sound/performance event, became an exploration of the mythology, the abstract concepts raised by it, the action elements, the carefully chosen pieces which surround it and in particular the traditional piece “Sudamala” with which the concert ended. The piece itself is a kind of analytical commentary on the other elements. I describe this in more detail in a forthcoming article in the online journal Analytical approaches to world music.

A practice-based composition-as-research approach seemed the best way to explore these areas, enabling me to explore intuitive areas not reached by conventional musicological/analytic methods. The methodology has potential for further collaborative projects in Bali and dissemination (performances, CD/DVDs, and written outputs).


Gray, Nicholas (2011) Improvisation and composition in Balinese gendér wayang: music of the moving shadows. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Sorrell, Neil (2007) 'Issues of pastiche and illusions of authenticity in gamelan-inspired composition.' Indonesia and the Malay World, vol. 35, no. 101 (March 2007): 31-48.


Thanks to: my teacher, the late I Wayan Loceng; Ida Wayan Oka Granoka for inspiration; Ni Made Pujawati for the offerings; Jeremy Glasgow of the SOAS AV technical department for the light and sound.