Jonathan Besser




Commenting on Dave Lisik's The Curse of the Queen's Diamond, William Dart said that the album is 'the perfect vindication of Rattle’s philosophy that they are not interested in musical barriers'. The same could be said about Campursari.

Campursari takes its title from an Indonesian musical term used to describe music that combines Western and gamelan instruments. While Jonathan Besser has worked frequently with gamelan, this is the first time he has written specifically for them, rather than using them (as has been his practice over the years) in improvisational settings.

Gamelan instruments were originally developed as a way of calling upon the gods. I first encountered them in Bali, when travelling overland from New Zealand to New York in 1972. It was a revelation. I had never heard anything like it. I stayed at Kuta Beach, a simple village with no high-rise hotels or tourists. I spent the evenings listening to this beautifully evocative music in the village, or going to temples to watch more refined performances with dance. The first thing I did when I arrived in NYC was to buy an album of Balinese Gamelan. I played it endlessly.

26 years later, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with these experiences through collaborations with a very special musician. Violinist Miranda Adams is the assistant Concert Master of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, an accomplished orchestral musician, and a talented improviser with exceptional instincts. After studying in Indonesia, Miranda returned to form a group of enthusiastic gamelan players. She commissioned various works for them, one of which was a piece I wrote entitled Fossil Bay, which was performed at Jack Body’s Asia Pacific Festival in Wellington, 1999.

In 2009, I set about writing a series of compositions that would explore the possibilities of combining gamelan with Western instruments. While gamelan instruments are tuned differently to Western ones, the differences in pitch add an intriguing and dynamic component. With this project I set out to produce music with an open, atmospheric spaciousness, full of subtle pulses and layers of deep, complex resonance. The use of vibraphone was crucial. It essentially takes the role I would normally have ascribed to piano, but its beautiful tine-like tonality made it the perfect link between Eastern and Western instrumental systems.

It was an enormous pleasure making this album. I am particularly grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such highly creative individuals, each of whom contributed with inspirational generosity and openness. The vision and encouragement of Keith Hill was pivotal to the early development of the project, and I am especially indebted to Steve Garden for realising the potential of this music and producing a work of such great beauty.

- Jonathan Besser, 2011




Miranda Adams (violin, gamelan, rebab, voice)
Chris O'Connor (drums)
Peter Scott (bass)
John Bell (vibraphone)
Nigel Gavin (guitar)
Robert Ashworth (viola)
Tatiana Lanchtchikova (accordion)
Andrew Pask (soprano saxophone)
Jim Langabeer (flutes)
Jon Segovia (pedal steel)
Caroline Lynn (voice)
Jonathan Besser (electric piano)



RAT-D024 (September, 2011)

This project was made possible with the generous support of Creative New Zealand

Produced, recorded and mastered by Steve Garden
Executive production by Keith Hill
Artwork by Max Gimblett and Jonathan Besser
Poems by Chris Price
Photography by Sarah Guppy and Steve Garden
Design by UnkleFranc

 Jonathan Besser

  Campursari (23:56)
   1        The sweet perfume, the mysterious air  (12:42)
   2        Five candle boats  (6:03)
   3        Forever, unrequited  (5:11)

 Featherless Wings (23:31)
   4        The mourning tree  (6:13)
   5        Longing for the near horizon  (5:46)
   6        The day becomes what you are  (4:50)
   7        … and the hills will start their chanting  (6:35)

 Secretos (29:26)
   8        Shine  (4:57)
   9        Miriam’s dance  (4:48)
  10       We go without language  (7:19)
  11       To remake the night for fish  (12:22)

   Total running time  77:00

All music composed by Jonathan Besser (© 2011)

To all of the musicians who contributed so freely and creatively to this project – Chris O’Connor, Miranda Adams, Peter Scott, Nigel Gavin, John Bell, Robert Ashworth, Andrew Pask, Tatiana Lanchtchikova, Jim Langabeer, Jon Segovia and Caroline Lynn – I am extremely thankful and forever grateful.  I am also indebted to Steve Garden for realizing the potential in this music, and for producing a work of beauty.  Special thanks to Max Gimblett, Peter Simpson and Holloway Press, Matt Steindl at the Alexander Turnbull Library, Chris Price, Keith Hill at Attar Media, Carolyn van Hoeve, Sarah Guppy, Creative New Zealand, and the Gow Langsford Art Gallery. - JB



"This is a disc that takes a measured approach across all its styles and moods; pensive yet not lost in thought; reverent yet playful; enigmatic but very approachable. Its standout opening piece takes me back about three decades to Brian Eno's Ambient 4: On Land, with its evocations of the overlapping of emotional and physical landscapes. The album's title, Campursari, is a Javanese word used to describe music that mixes gamelan with Western instruments. I find Besser’s infusion into the gamelan stockpot to be more of the flavor of 70's progressive rock and jazz fusion with an ambient predilection. Besser has assembled an array of first-rate musicians, most notably APO Assistant Concertmaster Miranda Adams on gamelan, rebab, and violin. It's also worth mentioning vibraphonist John Bell, whose presence is all over this disc, bridging the gap between Western and Eastern intonation. Campursari is sincere, haunting, and thoroughly listenable music that sticks to the ribs of your aural memory long after the CD has stopped playing. It's one of those discs that truly shows the scope of New Zealand music, as well as the canny instincts of the Rattle Records brand."