Tabuh-Tabuhan was composed in Mexico in 1936, and performed before the ink was barely dry by Carlos Chavez and the National Orchestra of Mexico City. It was written after I had already spent four years in Bali engaged in musical research, and is largely inspired, especially in its orchestration, by the various methods I had learned of Balinese gamelan technic. The title of the work derives from the Baliness word tabuh, originally meaning the mallet used for striking a percussion instrument, but extended to mean strike or beat - the drum, a gong xylophone or metallophone. Tabuh-Tabuhan is thus a Balinese collective noun, meaning different drum rhythms, metric forms, gong punctuations, gamelans, and music essentially percussive.
Although Tabuh-Tabuhan makes much use of Balinese musical material. I consider it a purely personal work in which Balinese and composed motifs, melodies and rhythms have been fused to a symphonic work. Balinese music never rises to an emotional climax, but at the same time has a terrific rhythmic drive and symphonic surge, and this partly influenced me in planning the form of the work. Many of the syncopated rhythms of Balinese music have a close affinity with those of Latin American popular music and American jazz - a history in itself - these have formed the basic impulse of the work from start to finish.
To transfer the intricate chime-like polyphonic figuration of the gamelan keyed instruments and gong-chimes, I have used a 'nuclear gamelan' composed of two pianos, celesta, xylophone, marimba and glockenspiel. These form the core of the orchestra.
In form, Tabuh-Tabuhan is more or less that of the classical symphony- there being three movements, Ostinatos, Nocturne, and Finale. There is no place here to point out all the purely Baliness motifs. The flute melody in the Nocturne is an entirely Baliness flute melody, taken down as played. The syncopated finale is based on the gay music of a xylophone orchestra which accompanies a popular street dance. This is heard in its most authentic form at the beginning of the work and given the grand treatment at the end.
-- Colin McPhee