Cork Gamelan Ensemble: The Three Forges | Album Review

The Three Forges
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Artist: Cork Gamelan Ensemble
Genre: World Music
Label: Diatribe Records

Every now and again, an album wends its way into the ether than shakes up our sense of the known musical world. Cork Gamelan Ensemble do just that with this spine-tingling, spirit-rattling collection rooted in the Javanese orchestral instrument, the gamelan. UCC Professor of Music, Mel Mercier has long championed the gamelan, whose percussive energy introduces a fresh force field to the Irish soundscape.

At Cork Gamelan Ensemble's core is an appetite for collaboration, and a trust between musicians to let the music take them where it will. Guided by the seven-tone pelog scale from Indonesia, the songs on The Three Forges will test the listener's preconceptions like few other contemporary collections will, but the rewards to be reaped from repeated exposure to their hypnotic rhythms are rich and varied. Whether it's the remote lyrics of Iarla Ó Lionáird on the title track (inspired by the 17th-century Bardic poem Aonar Dhomsa Eidir Dhaoinibh) or the delicate, almost unbearably light Parabé Sang, which exploits the shared tones of the gamelan and the ukulele (with the joyous participation of the West Cork Ukulele Orchestra), there's so much wide-eyed wonder at play here.

Percussive dancer Colin Dunne brings a particularly joint-challenging dimension to the mix, his steps tracing the telephone-numbered rhythms of Telephones and Gongs with equal parts clinical precision and zen-like restraint. Duke Special's Heart of the Mountain shimmers in the heat of a pirouetting dance between the vocalist and the otherworldly tones from the gamelan.

Contributions from Julie Feeney, cellist Kate Ellis and saxophonist Nick Roth add further subversive colour to a palette that gets richer with every listen. Mercier lends the subtlest of guiding hands at the tiller, and his real genius is in enabling such a diverse gathering of musicians to realise their potential in a manner that never sounds forced.


This is not a collection for the casual listener, but for those in search of an elastine sound that winds its way into the subconscious with sinuous ease, this is an unmissable collection.

Siobhán Long

Siobhán Long

Siobhán Long, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about traditional music and the wider arts