John Oliver, composer

News Archive

Oliver premiere: Gamelan Alligator Joy, June 20, Western Front

Oliver’s “Balonmix”, inspired by 6 bars of Balinese Gamelan music and originally written for a mix of non-gamelan instruments of the world (workshopped by the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra a few years ago) comes to Vancouver’s own Javanese gamelan Alligator Joy. The full press release is included below.


 Where: Western Front, 303 E. 8th Ave., Vancouver            When: Friday June 20, 2014, 8 pm
Tickets: $15/$12 students & seniors                                         Reservations: 604 876-9343
Tickets available at the door (cash only)

More info/photos: Tony Reif,, 604 737-1632
Or Michael O’Neill,, 604 253-0542                                                   

Gamelan Alligator Joy, the chamber ensemble incarnation of Gamelan Madu Sari, returns after a one-year hiatus with a varied program of new works, “Branching Out, Branching In”, composed by members of the group and Vancouver composers John Oliver and Jon Siddall. The whole program will illustrate the wide range of sounds, forms and approaches that a creative engagement with the wonderful instruments of Javanese gamelan can lead to.
It’s 24 years since Gamelan Alligator Joy (named after the reputedly gun-running freighter that hauled it over from Indonesia) came to Vancouver. Since then we’ve performed many new as well as traditional pieces on it, but this is the first time we’ve commissioned two composers from outside the group. 
Jon Siddall of course is himself a vastly experienced gamelan musician: he co-founded Toronto’s Evergreen Club in the early ‘80s, and for many years has taught Sundanese gamelan degung at VCC and led their student ensemble, Gamelan Si Pawit. His modular, partly improvised piece “The Gabriola Tidepools” aims to evoke the half-hidden life-rhythms of a typical BC shoreline environment.
John Oliver is prominent in many areas of contemporary composition and performance, including works created for the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra. In fact his piece “Balonmix” is a reworking of a composition originally created for VICO, inspired by Balinese gamelan music but not intended to be performed on gamelan instruments. Bringing it home has been an intriguing process.
Our own composer-performers continue to mine their unique stylistic approaches with fascinating results. Mark Parlett's "Dice Over Easy" investigates ideas of musical option and surprise, as performers constantly make small choices based on fixed figures. Incorporating cello, and reworking and altering the instruments and traditional scales, he evokes a state of dark melancholia.
Andreas Kahre’s “Let N = N” is a cheerfully quirky work that plays with orchestral timbre by dispensing entirely with mallets and beaters. Using only fingertips and nails, the ensemble explores the instruments at very low volumes, in an experimental balance of instruction and freedom – as players become familiar with the work they may substitute any pitch (N) for any other. The title is a nod to Laurie Anderson's play on mathematical instructions in her O Superman suite.
With “96 Tiers” Sam Salmon has created another of his process pieces referencing the minimalists, one of his great loves in music (not to mention ? and the Mysterians).
And Michael O’Neill, known for his compositions for Balinese and Sundanese gamelan as well as Javanese ensembles, is developing a new medium-length performance work for gamelan and western puppet, “Ventriloquial Investigations”, that will premiere in 2015. We’ll be previewing some of the music for it.
Gamelan Alligator Joy is also touring this program to Victoria (Open Space, June 6) and Gabriola Island (Gabriola Community Hall, June 7).