Jay Arms

  • Visiting Teaching Assistant Professor
  • MUS 0690 — University Gamelan


Ethnomusicology; experimental music; music of the United States; music of Indonesia; improvisation studies


My most recent research examines the intersection of ethnomusicology in the United States and American experimental music. Focusing on the proliferation of Indonesian gamelan ensembles in the United States, I examine how local practices of experimentalism contribute to an increasingly global network of artists brought together by their common interest in gamelan. My approach to scholarship often blends archival and ethnographic approaches, drawing on personal interviews with interlocutors in collaboration with materials in their personal archives.

Music performance is an important component of my life and work here at Pitt, where I teach the University Gamelan Ensemble. Focusing on the West Javanese salendro and degung styles, this group also performs contemporary music by international artists. As a classical guitarist, I maintain an active performance schedule performing contemporary and traditional works for that instrument. I often integrate my performance practice with my scholarship by performing the music at the core of a given research project, whether its gamelan music, collective improvisations, or solo guitar related.

I earned three degrees from the University of California, Santa Cruz (BM, Classical Guitar Performance; MA, Music; PhD, Cultural Musicology). Before starting at Pitt, I taught courses in guitar at Gavilan College in Gilroy, CA, as well as courses in West Javanese Gamelan, Music Theory, World Music, History of Western Art Music, and Twentieth Century Music (from Ives to Zappa) at UC Santa Cruz.

Courses Taught

Introduction to World Music

Music and Society (Improvisation in Cross-Cultural Perspectives)

University Gamelan Ensemble

Selected Publications

"A Portrait of William Hellermann (1939–2017)," contextual essay for the edited collection American Composers in Conversation: Barney Childs in Interview, ed. Virginia Anderson. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, Forthcoming.

"A Process of Refinement: The Integration of Gamelan Building and Musical Composition," liner notes for the recording Daniel Schmidt, Abies Firma, Recital Records, Forthcoming.

Notes and musical arrangement for the critical edition of Barbara Benary's Mostly Slendro Passacaglia for gamelan ensemble, in Balungan 13 (2018/2019): 15–19.

“Compositions for Gamelan by Lou Harrison” (with Jody Diamond) in Balungan 12 (August, 2017): 37–38.

Selected Conference Presentations

"Tuning in Dialogues: Towards a Biographical Approach to Tuning Systems." To be presented at the Northern California Chapter Meeting of Society for Ethnomusicology, Merced, California, 2019.

"The Social Life of an 'American Gamelan.'" Presented at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology, Denver, Colorado, 2017.

"Where Indeterminacy Meets Improvisation: Cornelius Cardew's Guitar Piece For Stella." Presented at the conference Improvisation and the Politics of Everyday Sounds: Cornelius Cardew and Beyond, Montréal, Québec, 2014.

"Composition No. 355 and Anthony Braxton's Creative World Music." Presented at the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the American Musicological Society, Tempe, Arizona, 2014.

"'Sound as a Physical Reality': Malcolm Goldstein with the Judson Dance Theater." Presented at the annual national conference for the Society of American Music, Little Rock, Arkansas, 2013.

Education & Training

  • PhD University of California, Santa Cruz

Faculty Groupings

Core Faculty
Ensemble Faculty

Main Department Affliliation

Lecturer of Ethnomusicology