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Bow Gamelan Ensemble: Great Noises That Fill The Air

Cooper Gallery, Dundee
Four stars

There’s a crash and a clang in the front foyer of the Cooper Gallery, where a deceptively stately-looking contraption of percussion instruments and junkyard detritus greets those attending this first retrospective of the Bow Gamelan Ensemble, the east-London sired trio of performance artist Anne Bean, sound auteur Paul Burwell and sculptor Richard Wilson, who throughout the 1980s, built instruments from rubbish found in skips, used them to make primal symphonies and performed them as post-industrial multi-media spectacles that lit up the landscape. The pan-global reverberations continue upstairs, where, in the main room, sheets of metal occasionally clatter into mechanical life to shake up the formalities 

Last sighted (and sited) in Scotland at the Third Eye Centre and in 1986, making an epic intervention in St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, the Bow Gamelan Ensemble’s surviving members Bean and Wilson have reunited to show off their essential archive. Videos, posters, scores, images and other ephemera highlight what now looks like a golden age of similarly inclined assaults on culture. Although not mentioned here, BGE operated in parallel with the likes of Welfare State theatre company and Test Dept, who later morphed into NVA.  

In this sense, as the Cooper Gallery’s latest crucial counterblast to prevailing orthodoxies,
Great Noises That Fill The Air is both historical retrospective and instructional call to arms for a new generation of social and sonic explorers. This was evoked through the exhibition’s run by way of a series of events and performances, with Bean and Wilson’s current incarnation as W0B opening things up to a new generation of kindred spirits. Working with fire and steel to transform the world around them before the developers destroyed it, Bow Gamelan Ensemble’s seismic revolutions are being felt still.

The List, December 2018


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