Paul DeMarinis’s Pygmy Gamelan February 14, 1974

Paul DeMarinis exhibited a fascinating electronic instrument which he calls the Pygmy Gamelan at WBAI’s Free Music Store on February 6. DeMarinis is a 25-year-old composer-technician from the Bay area, who studied at Mills College with Robert Ashley. He has been designing electronic circuits only for a couple of years, but his work is already quite sophisticated, and he has a good ear too.

The Pygmy Gamelan display consisted of four little units, all of which were beeping out little electronic melodies. The total blend was soft and attractive, and it did sound a bit like a distant gamelan orchestra.

Each unit contains its own little synthesizer, amplifier, and loudspeaker, with which it cranks out endless five-note melodies. The five pitches and the basic pulse remain constant, although the notes keep changing their orderings, and there are many sporadic silences. DeMarinis explained that these variations depended on radio signals and other waves that happened to be passing through the atmosphere at the moment.

Another remarkable thing about DeMarinis’s invention is that the whole system is powered by a single 12-volt battery. It was designed this way so that units could be installed in automobiles, which strikes me as a fascinating idea, although I doubt that General Motors would share my enthusiasm.