Brian Baumbusch is a composer based in Alameda, 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). His 2015 composition, "Hydrogen(2)Oxygen" for the JACK Quartet and Lightbulb Ensemble is described by the Washington Post as being "exuberantly complex, maddeningly beautiful, and as intoxicating as a drug." He has headlined performances at the Bali Arts Festival in Denpasar, The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, The Clarice Smith Center of Maryland, and The Yerba Buena Center of San Francisco, among others. He has collaborated with musicians such as The JACK Quartet, I Made Subandi, Pauline Oliveros, David Behrman, Paul Dresher, and Larry Polansky.
Baumbusch has conducted extensive research and collaborated with a variety of musicians from around the globe. In 2009, he founded the Cacho Ensemble in Madrid, dedicated to reviving traditional Argentinean folk music, which has performed throughout Europe and the United States. In 2010, Baumbusch completed the first full English translation of Atahualpa Yupanqui's epic poem "El payador perseguido.” The translation was presented at the Embassy of Argentina in Washington D.C., sponsored by the cultural attaché of the embassy, Francisco Achaval, who describes Baumbusch’s playing as embodying “supurb technique which, while listening, took me back to the deep heartland of my country; he has found a way to sing zambasfrom the bottom of his soul.”
Baumbusch has also performed with many Balinese gamelan groups across the U.S., includingSekar Jayaof the Bay Area, Dharma Swara of New York, and Galak Tikka of Boston, among others. Dr. I Made Bandem describes Baumbusch as “a serious musician and composer whose profound understanding of Balinese music, dance, and culture has contributed a lot to the development of Balinese music.” He is currently the director of the U.C. Santa Cruz Balinese Gamelan ensemble, and he founded the Santa Clara University Balinese Gamelan ensemble in 2016.
In 2012, Baumbusch produced a collaboration with the JACK Quartet and Balinese choreographers Dr. I Made Bandem and Dr. Suasthi Bandem, together with Dr. Bandem's performing group Makaradhwaja. They premiered their collaboration at the Bali Arts Festival in June, 2012. The Jakarta Post described the premiere saying "Baumbusch's overture was a grand and rich musical epic and instantly drew the crowd’s amazement. Its patterns were intricate, a testament of Baumbusch’s virtuosity and his ability to push the musicians to reveal the astounding ability of their instruments." Additionally, Baumbusch’s arrangements of traditional gamelan pieces for string quartet caught the attention of David Harrington (violinist and director of theKronos Quatet) who describes Baumbusch’s work as “one of the finest attempts to bring the string quartet into the world of Gamelan music. For a composer so youthful to possess this expertise is a very hopeful sign.”
Lightbulb Ensemble/Instrument Building:
In 2013, Baumbusch founded The Lightbulb Ensemble, a neo-gamelan performing on instruments built and designed by Baumbusch. The instruments were built during a residency in the eastern foothills of the Cascades in Washington State alongside metal sculptor Bernard Hosey. Baumbusch later worked with Paul Dresher and Daniel Schmidt, veterans of the American gamelan world, to develop woodworking skills to build wood-keyed instruments and frames for the set. The instruments draw inspiration, but depart significantly, from gamelan instruments of Bali. Made out of steel and cedar keys, the instruments demonstrate an exploration in a new direction in tuning and instrument building theory that draws on models from multiple cultures and traditions. Recent research on the inharmonic partials (overtones) of metal keys and gong chimes were incorporated in the fine-tuning process, yielding a unique scale and sonic world that shimmers and pulsates “like no other instruments on earth,” (Washington Post). The sound of the instruments evokes not only the timbre of Indonesian gamelan instruments and Western percussion instruments, but also the music of American mavericks such as Lou Harrison, Harry Partch, Henry Cowell, James Tenney, and Conlon Nancarrow.
The Lightbulb Ensemble was highlighted in November of 2013 at the Performing Indonesia Festival at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., where they represented the advent of American experimental performing ensembles drawing heavy influence from gamelan music. In 2014, The Lightbulb Ensemble was awarded a major grant from the Gerbode Foundation in which Baumbusch collaborated with Wayne Vitale to compose an evening length work for The Lightbulb Ensemblewhich premiered alongside Gamelan Sekar Jayaat the Yerba Buena Center of San Francisco, in May, 2015. In November of the same year, The Lightbulb Ensemble premiered a 30-minute work by Baumbusch together with the JACK Quartet at the Smithsonian in Washington to great critical acclaim. The following year, the Smithsonian Institution commissioned Baumbusch to compose an evening length work for the Lightbulb Ensemble to present on their festival of “Islam in Indonesia.” The piece that resulted, “Hamsa,” based on the five-pillars of Islam, featured music by Baumbusch, text by his brother Paul, and video by South African video artist Chris Bisset, and was performed at the Smithsonian in Washington and at Roulette in New York City in November of 2016. In the summer of 2018, the Lightbulb Ensemble was the only American group featured on the International Gamelan Festival in Munich, Germany, and performed at the Bayerische Rundfunk (Baverian Public Radio Center).
In the beginning of 2017, Baumbusch was awarded the Gerbode music commission award as the lead artist to produce a new evening-length work for the Lightbulb Ensemble, The Pressure. For this project, he built a new set of seven-tone “gamelan” instruments using aluminum and bronze, and combined them with a set of two vibraphones that incorporating a twelve-tone temperament that Baumbusch created to fuse with the seve-tone gamelan tuning.
Remote Work With Click Tracks:
In March of 2020, Baumbusch was commissioned to compose Isotropes for the University of California (Santa Cruz) Wind Ensemble, a 25-minute piece that allows for each performer to record their part along to an individualized click track. This remote-learning piece allowed the ensemble to stay active during the shelter-in-place lockdown due to COVID-19. Learn more about Isotropes here.
Education, Teaching, Lecturing:
Baumbusch received his undergraduate degree from Bard College, where he studied microtonal composition with Kyle Gann, and received his M.A. in composition from Mills College, where he studied under various composers including Chris Brown, Fred Frith, Roscoe Mitchell, and Zeena Parkins, among others. Baumbusch received his DMA from U.C. Santa Cruz, studying primarily under Larry Polansky. Since 2014, Baumbusch has directed the U.C. Santa Cruz Balinese Gamelan ensemble. From 2016-2018, he taught composition, music theory, and music history on the faculty at Santa Clara University where he also directed the Balinese Gamelan ensemble. Baumbusch has lectured on composition and world music at the University of Maryland, The Smithsonian Institution, CalArts, Union College, Holy Cross, Bard College, Mills College, U.N. Reno, and the Escuela TAI of Madrid. He has additionally presented electronic music performances and lectures at UCSD, UCSB, CalArts, UNR and Mills College.