Geno Naughton – Playing Gamelan

Geno Naughton
I’m an archaeology finalist at St John’s college who plays guitar and was briefly in an Oxford youth orchestra playing double bass.

How long have you been playing gamelan? 
I started playing very early on in my first term at Durham after seeing a bizarre and intriguing stall at the 2015 Freshers’ Fair.

How did you first encounter gamelan music?
A friend of my brother’s was once the president of Oxford’s gamelan society and he explained elements of it to me. Even before this I had a minor interest in it and listened to it on Spotify. It’s on the syllabus for some GCSE courses but my music teachers weren’t crazy enough to attempt to teach it to a class where most of us didn’t even have Grade 2 ability!

What do you like about playing gamelan?
It’s both relaxing and very challenging. Some pieces are hypnotic but others really test your focus and ability. Some are both. Different pieces conjure up different atmospheres. Many are intended to accompany shadow puppet shows and deal with themes like battle, travel and love.

Has playing gamelan changed the way that you think about other kinds of music? Do you think it will influence your future
musical activities?

Completely. I’m constantly looking for parallels in modern electronic and dance music. It has a lot in common with 20th century minimalism. I’m fascinated by the people it has influenced like Lou Harrison and La Monte Young. La Monte Young even taught John Cale who went on to form The Velvet Underground and make probably the greatest and most experimental debut album of the 60s. I hope to keep playing after uni.

What have been your personal highlights during your time playing with the group?
Getting to know a nice group of people with a shared enthusiasm for music… and also a piece called ‘Gamelunk’ which had subtle elements of jazz and funk in it. It’s as weird as it sounds.

Do you have a favourite instrument to play?
Maybe the kenong, but that could be just because I enjoy the cushioned and reclusive corner that we nickname ‘the play pen’.