Bow Gamelan Ensemble performed around the world at festivals and venues including Perfo 2 Festival (Rotterdam), New Instruments Cibeal ’85 (Kenmare, Ireland), Festival Nieuwe Musiek (Middelberg, Holland), Festival Beelende Muziek (Belgian), Festival Den Haag (Netherlands), Antwerp Festival (Belgian), St Jean De Braye Festival (France), Sitges Festival (Spain), Cervantino Festival (Mexico City and Guanajuato), Earth Celebration, international percussion festival (Sado Island, Japan), Toga International Festival (Japan), Creative Time Inc. (New York) and Nordland Fyleskommune Festival (Melbu Island, Norway).
In several locations including Japan, Mexico, New York and the island of Melbu in Norway, Bow Gamelan created new orchestras from scratch, working with the detritus that each culture discarded.
In 1988, for Earth Celebration international percussion festival on Sado Island, Japan, Bow Gamelan found a scrap yard which had multitudes of metal ladders, galvanising a performance that happened on many levels as they climbed high to play instruments. Huge containers were cut and welded to become vast resonating chambers and megaphones that blended in with the scale of the shipping at Ogi Port, Sado Island.
Also, in Japan, for the Toga International Arts Festival, BGE worked for several weeks in an onion packing factory in a rural village. They were influenced by the mix of country and local sounds, such as cicadas and frogs, hanging bells and chimes, as well as the particularly Japanese industrial materials. About a hundred helium balloons fitted with small whistles shrieked like wild insects to start the show and ‘bagpipes’ hung up high, made from lorry tyres with reeds inserted, played by foot pumps created flapping fierce birds crying loudly and then retreating into melancholic calls to each other across the space. The height as well as the water behind the staging area allowed for experiments such as huge hefty dense metallic forms swinging to hit each other and cause ongoing resonances between them. The water behind the stage allowed for floating oil drums with a tray of fire and another oil drum welded above to create buoyant steam whistles, steaming, whistling and floating across the water.
Bow Gamelan were in residence for three weeks on Melbu Island, as part of Nordland Fyleskommune Festival working with the discarded metal machinery and objects from various fishery enterprises. A redundant and empty 20m high steel fishmeal storage tank, totally dark inside, with deeply resonant acoustics, became the main space for the performances. When the audience were inside the tank, Bow Gamelan burnt a hole with oxyacetylene and then cut their way into the venue kicking the metal cutaway section which sent it crashing into the space from outside. They had noted the exact point where the sun hit the tank for the beginning of the performance and this hole was aligned with that point, thus allowing a thick beam of light to shoot into the total darkness inside. The trio then clambered down ladders into the space through the hole that they had created, as the harsh drilling sound and huge crash, gave way to a long silence for contemplating this concentrated beam which had almost a solid feeling, in the surrounding pitch blackness. The performance ended with them resonating the whole chamber with a 4m hanging ‘beater’ pulled by all three of them outside the space, creating a low level visceral boom for the audience inside. Many audience members commented that the bodily sensations and sound fused and they couldn’t tell where one began or ended.
Whilst working towards the Cervantino Festival in Mexico, Bow Gamelan met El Diablo, the local shaman of fire, a pyrotechnician living in a remote village. His highly volatile varying mixtures of chemicals that he created especially for the group to emphasise sound, whizzed, whirred, crackled, sizzled, whistled, fizzed, hissed and banged throughout the performances. An oil drum, one of the first items that the group usually would seek out in countries to start constructions, turned out to be rare and expensive in Mexico, as they were used for many things including in houses for water storage. Walking around Mexico City Bow Gamelan began to hear piercing whistles and bells on the streets. These came from camote (sweet potato) street vendors who would push carts with a metal ‘pressure cooker,’ which was often an oil drum. These had a small fire underneath and a drawer for the camotes. To release pressure and to attract customers, they would pull a lever on the attached whistles and an ear tingling whistle would resound through the streets, heard from blocks away. The Bow Gamelan spoke to several camote sellers about paying them to do an overture for the events in the university grounds of Mexico City, instead of purchasing oil drums. Various restrictions meant there were finally only three camote vendors but nevertheless the sound reverberated through the campus grounds and the group worked with the vendors to get as much nuance as possible from the whistles. They also found a huge pile of broken pitchforks which were constructed into many instruments with their literally different pitches. Also, Mexican trucks used ornate lighting and unusual horns and hooters which became a big part of the Mexican ensemble. After each performance the audience would joyously invade the stage and chaotically animate the entire orchestra until asked to move on by security after half an hour.
The huge height of the footing of Brooklyn Bridge in New York, a week-long event for Creative Time Inc., 1987 was particular and dramatically emphasised by placing electric fans in the ceiling which whirled luminescent liquids in spirals into the space covering the instruments as well as the three Bow Gamelan members. The three also each held a string attached to a paper bird whirling high into the space fizzing and flying into the dark depths, which was an adaptation of an unusual firework that they had found in Chinatown.