The Bow Gamelan Ensemble was founded in 1983 by Anne Bean, Paul Burwell and Richard Wilson during a boat trip up Bow Creek. Over the next seven years they created a dynamic experience using sound, light, sculpture, installation and performance, which went beyond the conventional definitions of music event.
The name Bow Gamelan derives from the area of East London where they lived and worked and from the Indonesian metallophone ensembles. Their instruments were specially constructed using scrap metal, electric motors, glass, early warning systems, explosives, paraffin, gases, (including propane, helium and hydrogen), low and high pressure steam, compressed air, high pressure water jets, high-power wind and lightening machines, cranes, boats, barges, fire, tidal energies, acoustic pyrotechnics, often specifically commissioned. These instruments produced a wide variety of sounds ranging from the deep, organ like drones of the pyrophones played with propane, through a gamut of percussive timbres. Both the sound sources and the musical structures generated were unusual because of the physical relationship between the way instruments work and how they had to be played.
The unique sensibilities of the individual members combined with their long experience in the areas of performance art, drumming, sculpture, environments and multi-media made the collaboration remarkably creative and fruitful. Since their first (intended to be their only) performance at the London Musicians Collective, the Bow Gamelan Ensemble made dozens of performances, events and specially commissioned works around the world including the Cervantino Festival, Mexico, Earth Celebrations, Japan and Creative Time Inc, The Anchorage, Brooklyn Bridge, New York.
The Bow Gamelan grew from intimate indoor performances to large outdoor events which created new orchestras out of discarded materials around the world. They developed relationships with pyrotechnicians such as Wilf Scott, le Maitre Fireworks and El Diablo in Mexico and entered into a range of working relationships with artists and groups such as the sound poet Bob Cobbing, the American percussionist z'ev, Simon York of Miraculous Engineering, Tom Leadlay of the Thames Steam Launch Company, Eel Pie Marine, Ballooning World, Kathak dancers with their percussive bells attached to their bodies, historic re-creation societies and remote control helicoptor enthusiasts.
In their seven year history, Bow Gamelan received enthusiastic accolades and worldwide press coverage:
They serve up adventures in music, sculpture and performance that dazzle the eyes, astonish the ears and stimulate the imagination of viewers with an unorthodox magic. Time Out Performance Award
The Bow Gamelan Ensemble... is the most stunning cross media project of the decade. Gloriously inventive, riotously funny and completely accessible. City Limits
The sheer scale of the thing is a delight to behold... the smoke and light constantly changing creates a strange beauty where you would never have expected to find it.
The Sunday Times
Since Paul Burwell’s death in 2007, Bean and Wilson have carried on working together, in many contexts and modes, continuing to treat both sound and visuals as inter-relating sculptural forms in works such as Dark Haloes and Spooky Drums for Liverpool Biennale, the Red Jail, Iraq, the Maunsell Forts in Thames Estuary, London Contemporary Music festival, Shuffle festival, Bow and TAPS with Matts Gallery, which included over 100 other collaborators who embraced an improvisational ethos. Most recently, 2018, the performance NALEMAG 2 at Cooper Gallery, Dundee, was the opening event for their installation, throughout the gallery, Great Noises that Fill the Air, which included the fragmented but substantial remains, of press, scores, posters, images, films, correspondence and drawings of Bow Gamelan Ensemble from 1980’s. Gigantic thunder sheets, motorised and timed at random moments, rumbled and roared through the space.