Founded by Brian Baumbusch in 2013, The Lightbulb Ensemble (LBE) is a new music percussion ensemble that champions experimental music, instrument building, and contemporary gamelan. Their “refreshingly innovative performances challenge conventional notions of how gamelan music should sound” (SF Classical Voice), and they are “as cutting edge as cutting edge gets, exuberantly complex, maddeningly beautiful, and as intoxicating as a drug” (The Washington Post).They have performed to critical acclaim at venues from the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, and collaborate with groups across the map of new music including the Paul Dresher Ensemble, and the JACK Quartet, among others.
Performing only new repertoire, the group presents in-house compositions and commissions from composers of both the new music world and gamelan world to present diverse and compelling programs. 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 Ensemble which premiered alongside Gamelan Sekar Jaya at 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. 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 (Bavarian Public Radio Center).
LBE performs on steel, aluminum, and bronze metallophones, wooden marimbas, and other instruments designed, tuned, and built by Baumbusch. These instruments are “all unique and tuned like no other instruments on earth” (Washington Post) and draw inspiration not only from the world of Indonesian gamelan music, but also from American mavericks such as Harry Partch, Henry Cowell, and Lou Harrison. These instruments were built with the help of long-time American gamelan composer and instrument builder, Daniel Schmidt, and world-renowned metal sculptor, Bernard Hosey.