Gamelan Bike Bike

Gamelan Bike Bike (BC / Bali)

While the musical tradition and the instruments of gamelan – the gongs, drums, assorted percussions and flutes – date back centuries in Indonesia, and the music is intimately entwined with community gatherings and spiritual rituals in the Hindu and Muslim cultures of Java and Bali, Gamelan is practiced and played all over the world. The process, performance, and communal music-making of gamelan is dynamic and constantly evolving, with devotees and appreciators everywhere. And that’s where Vancouver’s Gamelan Bike Bike comes in.

The ensemble’s unique and wonderful story began in 2012 as George Rahi and Robyn Jacob, then members of UBC’s Gamelan Gita Asmara, were experimenting with various materials for an art installation. George is said to have picked up a bike frame that he’d cut up and discovered it sounded great. From there, they began collecting discarded bicycle frames from local bike stores around the city, discovering that certain bikes were better sounding than others. Rahi says, “We did start getting a little bit picky once we figured out that bikes from the ‘60s and ‘70s were just heavier. They were clunkier bikes, but they sound better because the metals that were used were high tensile strength steel.” (from Discorder Magazine). Their bell-like sounds inspired the creation of Gamelan Bike Bike. 

Today Gamelan Bike Bike is a dozen-or-so-member ensemble that presents and records (Hi-Ten, 2017) new music for gamelan on the west coast. Not only do they make beautiful sounds, but most of their instruments – the old bicycle frames, gear parts and even pots and pans – are drawn from the scrap metal bins of Vancouver, and colourfully and beautifully hand-crafted by instrument maker George Rahi.