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(iii) Gamelan ensembles - Iacobus Leodiensis [Iacobus de Montibus, Iacobus de Oudenaerde]

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(iii) Gamelan ensembles.


Palm leaf manuscripts (lontar), bas-reliefs on temples and stone and copper inscriptions from Java and Bali (some dating back to the 10th century) comprise the evidence for historical study. Two lontar address the subject of music directly: the Prakempa and Aji Gurnita manuscripts (anonymous, probably 19th-century) discuss suara (sound or voice), pelog and slendro tuning systems and courtly ensembles. Many other lontar also contain useful information about gamelan.

Based on this evidence, Balinese scholars group gamelan and repertory according to certain lineages of ensembles that are linked historically and musically. The many diverse ensembles share fundamental elements and have exerted mutual influences upon each other over time, so it is very difficult to date them precisely. Scholars such as I Nyoman Rembang and I Wayan Sinti group Balinese ensembles chronologically into three rough periods: tua (‘old’, considered to be indigenous Balinese), madya (‘middle’, probably from the Kadiri and Gelgel periods, beginning with the emulation of Hindu-Javanese court life in Balinese courts) and baru (‘new’, beginning with the creation of gong kebyar in 1915; see Gold, 1998).

Theoretically, there is a progression in function of ensembles in these categories analogous to the wali, babali and balih-balihan categories (see §(i)(c) above). ‘Old’ ensembles are rare (except for gender wayang and angklung), highly sacred, and generally associated with priestliness; ‘middle’ ensembles are revered and ceremonial, associated with courtliness; and ‘new’ ensembles tend to represent secular culture and accessibility to the general public. The specific time periods, narratives and languages with which the ensembles are associated link them to certain rituals. However, the actual function these ensembles may fulfil in rituals is not fixed but dependent on local preference, availability and the repertory played. For example, gong gede is often considered wali; gender wayang may be played for babali or balih-balihan activities and gong kebyar may play sacred lalambatan pieces in the wali context.

Instrumentation is one major distinguishing factor: most ‘old’ ensembles do not include drums, or accord them a colotomic rather than agogic role, whereas in the ‘middle’ category drums are essential for controlling the ensemble and delineating form; and in the ‘new’ category, drums have the additional role of featured soloist. Rebab and suling do not appear in ensembles of the ‘old’ category, whereas they play prominent roles in some ensembles of the ‘middle’ category, perhaps indicating Javanese influence. In the ‘old’ category four sacred ensembles are distinct from other Balinese gamelan due to their materials: gamelan selonding is made of iron and gamelan gambang, luang and caruk combine bronze with bamboo instruments, resulting in a timbral similarity to some Javanese ensembles. These four are linked in other ways (see below) and are distinct from ‘middle’ and ‘new’ ensembles that show clear influence from either gambuh or gong gede, although they share some musical elements and techniques.

(a) Pre-Hindu Balinese instruments. (b) ‘Old’ ensembles. (c) ‘Middle’ ensembles. (d) ‘New’ ensembles. (e) Bamboo ensembles. Indonesia, §II, 1(iii): Bali: Gamelan ensembles

(a) Pre-Hindu Balinese instruments.


Nekara, bronze kettledrums from the Dongson culture (4th century bce to 1st century ce) of southern China, spread to what is now Vietnam (Tonkin and Annam) and are considered the precursor to gamelan. Bali possesses one of the most important specimens in the temple, Pura Penataran Sasih (sasih, ‘moon’), at Pejeng (Intaran) (see Bronze drum).

There are only two examples of Gong beri (bheri) gamelan in south Bali: in Renon and Semawang. It accompanies the rare baris cina (‘Chinese baris’) trance ritual. Featuring a flat bossed gong, the origin of the instrument is the subject of several legends. It is associated with China because of the dance and the design of the gong itself, and is considered to be highly charged with spiritual power (Rai, 1998).

Indonesia, §II, 1(iii): Bali: Gamelan ensembles

(b) ‘Old’ ensembles.


The four sacred ensembles gambang, selunding, luang (also known as saron) and caruk have some unifying features: they share contextual function and seven-tone tuning; some are associated with Bali Aga (‘original Bali’) communities (villages that resisted Hindu-Javanese culture, predating the Majapahit period); and their repertory (which is preserved in lontar) is linked to vocal melodies of sacred poetry (kidung). Kidung are no longer performed together with instrumental accompaniment (see §(iv) below), but some scholars have attempted to reunite them. Gamelan gambang. 60 of these rare ensembles are scattered throughout Bali, with 22 in east Bali. This ensemble is often associated with pitrayadnya and dewayadnya ceremonies. Depicted in temple reliefs in the East Javanese temple Pura Penataran (1375), it features the Balinese gambang, which has 14 bamboo keys that are not arranged in an ascending sequence from low to high, but rather in groups of three and four ascending pitches, and is played with two forked mallets, the tips of which span an octave on each mallet (for illustration, see Gambang, fig.2). The ensemble consists of four gambang, each starting on a different pitch, and one or a pair of large, bronze, seven-keyed saron, tuned an octave apart and played by a single player; some ensembles have two pairs of saron. Gambang is known for the saron rhythm comprising a 5+3 stress pattern or its reverse. The saron provides the pokok (often kidung-derived), and the gambang play a complex interlocking figuration called oncangan, a term derived from rice-pounding ensembles. The oncangan figuration follows the pokok but is based on an even rhythm. Each tone in the mode has a special oncangan form.

The repertory comprises 50 pieces in some areas, composed in one of seven pentatonic or hexatonic saih, which are linked to melodies (taksu) that accompany the dancing of specific deities and other temple rituals (ex.4).

Gamelan caruk (saron). This extremely rare, small ensemble, found around Karangasem and named after the bamboo-keyed xylophone (caruk or saron), is played by two musicians. One musician plays the pokok in parallel octaves on two bronze, seven-keyed saron tuned an octave apart, while the other doubles or plays simple figuration on the caruk. In some ways it is a simplified form of gamelan gambang and is sometimes substituted for it in pitrayadnya or dewayadnya rituals. For the most part the caruk repertory is shared with that of gambang; however, a few lontar of exclusively caruk pieces do exist. Gamelan salunding. There are two forms of gamelan salunding (also salonding, salundeng, selonding). One, now extinct, with wooden keys and coconut-shell resonators, is said to have been played by hermits meditating in the forest, whereas the prevalent form of gamelan salunding is a sacred ensemble consisting of two to ten iron-keyed, trough-resonated metallophones. The graceful resonance of iron keys, the absence of drums and gongs and the frequent slow-tempi are unlike any other gamelan. They are located in Bali Aga villages such as Tenganan and Trunyan, and in several non-Bali Aga communities, mostly in east Bali. Most salunding have their own legend ascribing their creation to a gift from the gods. The gamelan are the abode of the gods during temple ceremonies; in some cases it is forbidden to touch or even to see gamelan salunding when not being played for ritual. Most salunding have a documented ancient history: the set in Selat (near Besakih), for example, was first mentioned in 1181 in edicts (bronze plaques) in Klungkung.

Two eight-keyed gangsa, an octave apart, carry the melody. Figuration is provided by two other metallophones, each played by two musicians. A similar instrument, pitched an octave lower than the lowest gangsa, has an interpunctuating function. Sometimes a kempul and very occasionally a pair of ceng-ceng are added for punctuation. A fixed repertory of sacred pieces is played only for ritual functions. Some of these, called gaguron, may neither be recorded nor even recalled outside performance. Pieces are composed in one of three pentatonic modes. Many of the pieces were taken from the gambang and caruk repertories. Other pieces exist outside of the kidung-related repertory; a few new compositions are sometimes composed at STSI and in Tenganan.

Gamelan luang. This ensemble is associated with pitrayadnya ceremonies in most areas, and with dewayadnya ceremonies in some. Some scholars believe luang to be a source for gamelan gong gede: its double-row bonang (and other features) resemble some archaic Javanese ensembles. The melodic interlocking figuration played on the bonang (also called trompong) are called sekatian, another possible link with the archaic Javanese gamelan sekatan; other similarities include the colotomic function of the kendang and the name of one of the modes (nyura, manyura similar to that of Java. Luang shares some pieces with the previous three ensembles, but for the most part it has its own repertory. The pieces, known as tembang, exist in seven modes known as jalan (‘ways’, ‘paths’), but usually only about four are in regular use. Slendro ensembles: gender wayang. This consists of a pair or quartet of ten-keyed metallophones (see Gendèr) played with a complex two-handed technique. A polos-sangsih pair (doubled at the octave in a quartet), play interlocking figuration in the right hand, set against a slower-moving left-hand melody and resulting in a rapid composite melody and a stratified texture. Sometimes each hand plays a different kotekan, resulting in a more active four-part texture; in slow pieces both hands play in parallel octaves or empat (the interval spanning four keys, approximately a 5th) with delicate grace notes and rubato (ex.5). Aesthetically, the ensemble is regarded as an emblem of refinement and complexity. It is considered to be a member of the sacred ensembles category due to age and function. The primary function of this ensemble is in wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre), which plays a central role in ceremonial and secular Balinese life (see §(v)(b)) accompanies the dalang (shadow puppet master), who sings and provides dialogue and puppet movement. Gender wayang is also used to accompany two forms of dance-drama, parwa (Mahabharata stories) and wayang wong (Ramayana stories), and is essential in certain rituals where it is played without wayang (fig.2).

Pieces used in the shadow play are classified according to their function in the drama: purely instrumental pieces, played as the audience gathers (pategak, ‘sitting pieces’), an extended multisectional overture (pamungkah), pieces for action, mood songs, background mood music, special character pieces, ending music and ritual music. Pieces accompanying action consist of a left-hand ostinato against a right-hand kotekan, which is repeated a number of times, followed by a transitional passage leading to a repetition in another pitch area. The standard repertory is based on pieces accompanying wayang parwa (stories drawn from the Mahabharata); however, the ensemble is also used to accompany stories such as the Ramayana, in which case the ensemble, called batel, is augmented by percussion and gongs shared by the gambuh ensemble. The batel ensemble also accompanies wayang wong (‘human’ Ramayana-based wayang). Pieces from the wayang parwa repertory are also used to accompany tooth filing ceremonies and cremation processions, when they are sometimes played on the tower carrying the corpse to the burning grounds at the Death Temple. The slendro tuning is said to guide the spirit of the deceased to the land of the deified ancestors. Regional and personal variation are expressed in many styles and versions of the repertory (see Gold, 1998).

Gamelan angklung. This ensemble is named after a bamboo shaken idiophone (Angklung) that was formerly part of the ensemble but is now rarely used. It is a delicate ensemble consisting of small, four-key gangsa, reyong with eight kettles, two jegogan and other instruments. Led by two tiny drums, the four-tone, slendro-derived tuning and the kempur tuned to a pitch outside of the four-tone slendro system give angklung a unique quality that connotes melancholy sweetness to a Balinese audience. It is often performed during cremation rites and temple and house ceremonies. Due to its small size and affordability, it is probably the most prevalent type of ensemble in Bali and a favourite for beginning and children's gamelan as well as virtuoso professionals. It can also be made portable and played in processions (ex.6).

The repertory includes pieces unique to angklung as well as standard repertory adapted from larger pelog ensembles, such as gong kebyar dance compositions and lalambatan. Characteristic of angklung are pangawak, in which the gangsa play a lyrical melodic line in unison without figuration, often with melodic syncopation, expressing the sweet mood associated with this ensemble, followed by pangecet with kotekan. The complex kotekan characteristic of this somewhat restricted tuning is an example of maximum use of minimal materials. As in gender wayang, phrases and gong cycles are frequently asymmetrical in length with flexibility of form, unlike structures found in larger ensembles such as gamelan gong.

Indonesia, §II, 1(iii): Bali: Gamelan ensembles


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