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Gamelatron Padma Bhuwana

Date: December 2011

Description: Red oak panels, water and oil-based wood stains, handcrafted bronze Balinese gongs, black patina steel mounts, handcrafted wood mallets actuated by hand-milled anodized aluminum robotics parts. Original compositions created in Ableton Live triggered by a custom-made arcade button MIDI controller.


Several centuries ago on the island of Bali, holy men placed Lokapalas (large effigies of guardian deities) on the highest points in nine cardinal directions in order to protect the region from spiritual disturbances. Collectively, the Lokapalas formed a lotus-like mystical diagram of the universe known as the Padma Bhuwana Mandala.

The Padma Bhuwana Mandala featured here innovatively integrates robotics and MIDI composition technology with instruments from the extraordinary indigenous music of Indonesia: Gamelan. Aaron Taylor Kuffner, the co-creator of the world's first fully robotic gamelan orchestra (featuring up to 117 instruments in a full ensemble), developed this piece for the 2012 TED conference.

As a sonic and kinetic sculpture, Kuffner's Padma Bhuwana Mandala displays and plays with the cosmological correspondences and oppositions that exist between notes, cardinal directions, colors, deities and symbols. This little-known but essential foundation of the traditional music not only underlies and energize all compositions but also places the experience of sound itself within a total vision of the universe. Kuffner discovered these roots to the music through extensive research during his years of study in Indonesia and is especially indebted for this sculpture to the work of Dr. I Made Bandem, one of the world's foremost scholars on Balinese Arts.


Left: Traditional drawing of the Padma Bhuwana Artist Unknown, Right: Diagram of the Pangider Bhuwana from Prakempa by I Made Bandem

The traditional Padma Bhuwana Mandala declares 9 cardinal directions: The center, North, Northeast, East, Southeast, South, Southwest, West and Northwest. Each direction is assigned a presiding deity, a color, a weapon, a syllable, and a place in the body. In his paper Prakempa: Sebuah Lontar Gamelan Bali (ASTI Denpasar 1986), Dr. Bandem draws on ancient texts scribed on borassus palms to further delineate how the tones in the scales of Gamelan music configure into this cosmology and correlate with the creation of the universe in a mandala arrangement called the Pangider Bhuwana.