One of the most striking components of Kena: Bridge of Spirits is its soundtrack, which features the music of standard Balinese artists in new structures. It’s the result of a collaboration in between author Jason Gallaty and the ensemble group Gamelan Çudamani. We spoke with Jason, along with Gamelan Çudamani starting director Dewa Putu Berata and associate director Emiko Saraswati to discover how this musical collaboration happened.
Gallaty says that he was listening to Çudamani’s music for motivation, so he chose to see if they would be interested in collaborating on Kena’s soundtrack. “I felt like with something that the music comes originally from Bali and Indonesia and all these instruments come from Bali and Indonesia, I wanted to approach it respectfully and asked to work with them.” He sent them an e-mail, and hoped for the best.
“I’ll be totally honest, I told the guys this, but my first reaction was like, ‘No,’” Saraswati remembers. “No Gamelan in video games. Dewa and I are traditional artists, right, so this gets into more complex problems, but sometimes there’s a sense from traditional artists that things like video games are things that we’re working against all the time.” She says that Gallaty’s e-mail was convincing, nevertheless, so she accepted talk with him on the phone and hear himout
“I was like, ‘Oh wait, this kind of sounds cool.’ I very, very quickly realized that I had my own prejudice that I was working with, and that I needed to allow this team to explain what they were doing,” Saraswatisays “The themes are so beautiful and so resonant with our culture and our values and philosophy. And you know, it’s exciting to see that.”
After a worthwhile recording session in California, Gallaty and Cinder Laboratory’s primary imaginative officer Mike Grier went to Bali for a more in- depth series of sessions. The bamboo instruments are too large to quickly carry globally, which’s where the bulk of the artists lie, so it made sense to make the journey. “It was my inspiration, but I wanted to make sure that people were aware that this was cultural music at its heart that I was being inspired by, and I wanted that platform to be shared,” Gallatysays “Things developed from there.”
Berata had the ability to create original structures based on video footage of the game in action or from descriptions of the minutes or sensations that Gallaty wanted communicated musically. After his artists created new songs, Gallaty would then take those and use them for his own structures. Working carefully with the standard artists enabled the team at Cinder Laboratory to avoid risks that other game developers have actually fallen under, such as when The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time unintentionally included Islamic prayers into one of itssongs
“Jason had samples of beautiful music that was sacred music, and we were like, ‘Uh, we can’t use that piece,’ so then Dewa would make a piece that had the same feeling to it but it wasn’t the sacred piece that would be really inappropriate for a video game,” Saraswatisays “It was really cool to see that kind of thing happen, where it’s actually something that’s very new that was composed last year, but it has that same sense of spiritual power and mystery.”
“It’s a pretty common thing in Western music, where they go in and think, ‘Oh, this is a really cool sound from this culture,’ but to them it’s just a sound,” Gallatyadds “I’ve learned so much from this collaboration. It’s really not just a sound at all. It’s instrumental to the spiritual nature of the Gamelan music. The way that Gamelan is treated, these instruments are treated like people. They’re respected like people; you do not step over an instrument. It’s like if you were having a play date with another parent and you stepped over their child. You wouldn’t do that. You would never step over a child. That’s the way the instruments are treated.”
Gallaty says the experience of teaming up with Berata and the rest of the artists was exceptionallyrewarding Despite the fact that she wasn’t at first hot on the concept, Saraswati ended up being just as pleased and enthusiastic with theresults “So many things in the media or culture that we see today have so little to do with what our own family values are or what our cultural values are or what our parents have taught us,” shesays “It was exciting to see a project, and to be honest, we didn’t realize that it was going to be this big. Now my kids are super excited, and everyone in Çudamani is really excited.”
“It was really a life-changing experience,” Grier says, showing on the collaboration. “I don’t want to just throw that around, but I think it was for me. It really opened my eyes to how other people around the world are doing stuff that’s similar to what we’re trying to do, in their own way.”