The gamelan music of Central Java is one of the world's great orchestral traditions. Its rich sonic texture is not based on Western-style harmony or counterpoint, but revolves around a single melody. The nature of that melody, however, is puzzling. In this book, Marc Perlman uses this puzzle as a key to both the art of the gamelan and the nature of musical knowledge in general.
Some Javanese musicians have suggested that the gamelan’s central melody is inaudible, an implicit or "inner" melody. Yet even musicians who agree on its existence may disagree about its shape. Drawing on the insights of Java’s most respected musicians, Perlman shows how irregularities in the relationships between the melodic parts have suggested the existence of "unplayed melodies." To clarify the differences between these implicit-melody concepts, Unplayed Melodies tells the stories behind their formulation, identifying each as the creative contribution of an individual musician in a postcolonial context (sometimes in response to Western ethnomusicological theories). But these stories also contain evidence of the general cognitive processes through which musicians find new ways to conceptualize their music. Perlman’s inquiry into these processes illuminates not only the gamelan’s polyphonic art, but also the very sources of creative thinking about music.