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A collaboration between the JACK Quartet and the Lightbulb Ensemble combining new music, new instruments, and American gamelan.

The Latest Update

Lightbulb Ensemble at Roulette, Brooklyn, November 20th

Posted on November 3, 2016 by Brian Baumbusch

Dear New York Friends, 

The Lightbulb Ensemble will be coming to the east coast to premiere an 80-minute piece at Roulette, Brooklyn, based on the Five Pillars of Islam for a chamber gamelan, electric organ, guitar, narration, and live video. The concert information is as follows:

Location: Roulette Intermedium, 509 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217
Date/stage time: November 20th, 8 p.m.
Cover Charge: $20 – students/seniors $15

Please come and check out our performance. It promises to be quite a lively and colorful experience. Below is some more information on the piece:

Project Description:
An allegorical story of a beggar’s perplexing dreams offers a compelling and original perspective on the Five Pillars of Islam. The performance features music by Brian Baumbusch, director of the Bay Area’s trailblazing Lightbulb Ensemble, and a libretto by Paul Baumbusch. Playing on Balinese gamelan Semar pegulingan, the members of Lightbulb are joined by organist Brett Carson, guitarist Ramon Fermin, narrator Christina Stanley, and South African video artist Chris Bisset. In Hamsa,the gamelan becomes a vessel for realizing musical symmetries built on interlocking fragments woven together in a tessellation, and fractal-like colotomic structures inspired by Islamic geometry and tile-work mosaics. The concert-length piece follows a storied narrative based around the Five Pillars of Islam in which each movement meditates on the moral principle embodied in each pillar, becoming a narrative coloring, in which musical renditions are designed like tile-work tessellations and shape-shifting kaleidoscopes. The music draws inspiration from various sources including Balinese music, early-minimalism of the 1960’s, progressive rock, and many others. The Lightbulb Ensemble (LBE) is a new music percussion ensemble that champions experimental music, instrument building, and contemporary gamelan. Their

“refreshingly innovative performances challenge conventional notions of how gamelan music should sound” (SF Classical Voice), and they are “as cutting edge as cutting edge gets, exhuberantly complex, maddeningly beautiful, and as intoxicating as a drug” (The Washington Post). The ensemble emerged from the culture of new music at Mills College and the longstanding artistic exchange between Indonesia and the US that permeates the Bay Area. LBE performs on steel metallophones, wooden marimbas, and other instruments designed, tuned, and built by Brian Baumbusch, LBE founder and director. Performing only new repertoire, the group presents in-house compositions and collaborates with other artists of the new music community, including the Paul Dresher Ensemble, the JACK Quartet, Jessika Kenney and Eyvind Kang, and The Center for Contemporary Music, among others.



More Updates ▼

Washington Post Review of “H(2)O”

Posted on April 2, 2016 by Brian Baumbusch

As cutting edge as cutting edge gets – The Washington Post

As cutting edge as cutting edge gets

By Stephen Brookes October 30, 2015

A neo-gamelan orchestra teamed up with an avant-garde string quartet, to play music of cosmic scope and ear-bending sonics? Not for every taste, maybe, but for adventurous music lovers, Thursday night’s concert at the Freer Gallery was an all-too-short wonder.

Spread across the stage was a collection of handmade metalaphones, gongs, marimbas and o other gamelan-inspired instruments — all unique and tuned like no other instruments on earth — manned by the San Francisco-based composers collective Lightbulb. And at their heart sat the illustrious JACK Quartet, whose godlike stature in the contemporary music scene is beyond all serious dispute.

In other words, it was about as cutting edge as cutting edge gets. But when Lightbulb launched into the first work of the evening, “Mikro k kosma,” by the group’s B Brian Baumbusch and Wayne Vitale, it felt as if the Freer had suddenly dropped into some ancient world — absolutely strange and absolutely familiar. The work is rooted in Indonesian gamelan music and Hindu cosmology (it’s inspired, Baumbusch says, by “the turning of the universe”), and it came across as ritualistic and almost incantatory, a vast, shape-shifting universe of rhythmic patterns and pungent intonations.

Cosmic revolution also was the subject of John Cage’s “String Quartet in Four Parts” from 1950, whose movements correlate with the seasons. The word “enigmatic” barely begins to describe the work — quiet, spare, utterly tranquil and detached. There’s no fist-shaking or thundering, no grappling with the cruel Fates, no tragic despair or inspired soaring. Shorn of the usual emoting, the music takes on a sense of immense and transcendent grandeur. The JACK players turned in a superb performance of a piece that, so simple on the surface, seems to float over infinite depths.

If the Cage was simplicity distilled, the next work — Baumbusch’s “Hydrogen(2)Oxygen,” in its world premiere — was exuberantly complex. Bringing together Lightbulb and the JACK Quartet, the piece built from an ethereal opening into a raging torrent of asymmetrical rhythms, phase-shifting patterns and beautifully strange harmonies, all driven by “an aesthetic of molecular crystallizations,” as the composer puts it. And, in fact, it sounded elemental at every level, as if Baumbusch were trying to track the motion of each drop of water in a massive tsunami. Bewildering at first, even overpowering, it turned maddeningly beautiful and — to these ears, at least — magnificent, and as intoxicating as a drug.


Recording of “H(2)O” premiere from the Smithsonian

Posted on April 2, 2016 by Brian Baumbusch

Here is a link to the recording of our premiere of Hydrogen(2)Oxygen at the Smithsonian last fall. This performance was at the Freer Gallery in the Meyer Auditorium on October 29th, 2016. We are looking forward to our west coast performances coming next January, both in Santa Cruz, CA, and at REDCAT in LA!



Hydrogen(2)Oxygen is new work combining contemporary music, newly created instruments, and American gamelan, which will premiere on October 29, 2015 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. The piece represents a collaboration of the 12-member Lightbulb Ensemble (LBE) “whose refreshingly innovative performances challenge conventional notions of how gamelan music should sound” (SF Classical Voice), and the JACK Quartet, the acclaimed new music string quartet that has electrified audiences worldwide with “explosive virtuosity” (Boston Globe) and “viscerally exciting performances” (NY Times). Hydrogen(2)Oxygen is a three-movement work lasting roughly 30 minutes composed by Brian Baumbusch, LBE’s founder, director and instrument builder.

We plan to present the West-Coast premiere of this piece in mid January, 2017 with two California performances, one is Santa Cruz and one is Los Angeles. The Los Angeles will be presented by John Schneider’s “Microfest” at REDCAT, and the Santa Cruz performance will be presented through the help of the record label Indexical, a composer-run experimental music label that has wired a collaborative current running from NYC to the Bay Area. Indexical will present the concert at the Tannery Arts Center, where they have an ongoing series, and with these concerts, we hope to generate publicity and media through hi-fi recordings and videos documentation, which we will use to secure future commissions and performances for the combined instrumentarium of LBE and JACK (one such piece is already in the works by composer Wayne Vitale).

This project will have a positive impact both on the immediate future of LBE’s and JACK’s audience reach, as well as the nascent future of the new music community in Santa Cruz. For LBE, working with JACK has presented an opportunity, because of JACK’s commanding respect as a group, to reach pockets of the new music community who are unaware of the new wave of innovations in the contemporary gamelan world. For JACK, the collaboration presents an opportunity to work alongside extremely virtuosic musicians who are versed in different methods and traditions of learning and composing music, and also opens doors to concert circuits that are otherwise unreachable to them (for example, the Freer Gallery agreed to premiere our performance because LBE met their requirement to “fulfill their mission to celebrate the arts and cultures of Asia and their influence on the West,” (from our letter of invitation). This project marks the second large-scale collaboration between JACK and Baumbusch, but would be the first opportunity to present a performance together on the west coast.

As for the new music community in Santa Cruz, with the arrival in the past few years of leading contemporary composers including Larry Polansky and David Dunn, Santa Cruz is on the brink of becoming a hotbed of new music. It already hosts the popular Cabrillo Festival during the summer, but has few large-scale offerings during the regular performing season. With the help of Indexical and the presentation of this performance, we hope to bolster the enthusiasm for new music in Santa Cruz, and encourage future projects of similar impact.

Project Media

Bali Alloy Overture (JACK Quartet and Gamelan Makaradhwaja)
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A video of the 2012 premiere of “Bali Alloy”filmed live at the Bali Arts Festival in Denpasar. The piece was composed by Brian Baumbusch, and the performance features the 25-musician Gamelan Makaradhwaja from Singapadu, Bali, joined by the JACK Quartet, fusing the musical practice and tuning paradigms of the two traditions.

“Mikrokosma” premiere (excerpt)
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Features: Brian Baumbusch

This video shows raw footage from the world premiere of the hour long suite,”Mikrokosma” on May 1st, 2015, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. “Mikrokosma” was co-composed for the Lightbulb Ensemble by Brian Baumbusch and Wayne Vitale, and this video shows an excerpt composed by Baumbusch, with live video by Ian Winters. This piece was commissioned by the Gerbode-Hewlett Foundations 2013 Commissioning Award, and the East Bay Fund for Artists, and was also funded in part by private donors.

Hydrogen(2)Oxygen Notation (Performance notes and partial score)

This document includes a mostly complete score and performance notes for Hydrogen(2)Oxygen. The 12 parts of the newly created instruments are listed as pairs of Sopranos, Altos, Tenors, Baritones, and Basses, which all refer to steel and wood keyed instruments in different registers, as well as three “percussion” notated as Pencon 1&2 and Gong. We are now several months into rehearsals on this piece, and are just around the corner from the premiere on October 29th.

Start and End Dates



Santa Cruz/Los Angeles, California

3 updates
Last update on November 3, 2016

Project Created By

Santa Cruz, California
Brian Baumbusch is a composer and multi-instrumentalist based in Oakland, California, whose “harmonically vivid… intense… simmering” (NY Times) compositions push the boundaries of new music. He has spearheaded projects of both western and non-western music which are considered a “cultural treat” (Maryland Gazette). He has headlined performances at the Bali Arts Festival in Denpasar, The…

In Collaboration With

Performing Ensemble
New York, New York
Santa Cruz, California


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