Gong Chime Cultures


GAMELAN – refers to large orchestras (or bronze gong ensembles) of Indonesia


Based on 2 tuning systems


Pelog – 7-tone

Slendro – 5-tone with equal intervals


Stratified texture:






Cyclical - Big gong marks off longest unit (gongan)


--“Colotomic structure” – (clock-like) – periodic punctuation of cycle



Bonang – rows of melodic knobbed or “kettle” gongs. Embellish melody


Saron - keyed metallophones over trough resonator. Provides skeletal melody.


Gender - keyed metallophones (keys suspended over tubes)


Hanging gongs


Other Miscellaneous instrument types:


Large plucked zither

Rebab (spiked fiddle)

Suling (flute)


Wayang kulit – Shadow plays (shadow puppetry)


dhalang – puppeteer





INDONESIA – Southeast Asia

Formerly known as “Dutch East Indies”. Regional diversity throughout (archipelago)

--National language is Indonesian.

--Java is most densely populated region in the world


Music of Java and Bali

The music culture of Southeast Asia has been described as a “gong” culture because so many of the traditional, large ensembles of the area consist mainly of tuned metal gongs. But no single homogenous Indonesian style.

The Javanese word, gamelan, refers to a set of instruments unified by their tuning and often by their decorative carving. Gong ensembles of different regions have specific names. Literature suggests that gongs may have been used in Indonesia as early as the 9 th century. Gong ensembles also in the Philippines and in Malaysia. Forged successfully, the gong becomes the abode of a spirit. (A rigidly orthodox Muslim might find it to be idolatry—the Gong Ageng should be singled out for silencing on the Sabbath). Offerings of incense and flowers are made to please the spirit of the gong.


The gamelan ensemble consists of a number of single gongs often played in interlocking patterns to produce a single melody line. In many cases, the gongs are communally owned (by a village, temple, club, wealthy family or royal court), housed together as a unit and given a name. The largest gamelans of the royal courts may have as many as 75 instruments beautifully crafted and set in ornate, colorful racks.

The structure of the music is based on gong cycles (gongan), phrases marked off by the sound of the gong (like punctuation), and referred to as “colotomic” or “clock-like”--Reflects Hindu-Buddhist conceptions of time introduced during lst Century A.D. not completely eliminated by the adoption of Indonesia’s majority religion, Islam.

CD 3/3 – EX.. Sounding of gong is takeoff point for another CYCLE. The skeletal Melody played by large-keyed saron is called balungan. Higher pitched keyed instruments (gender) and knobbed kettle gongs (bonang) elaborate it.

Java and Bali Split

In the 14 th Century, people from the Middle East introduced the religion of Islam leading to the fall of the famous Majapahi empire. Those who wished to remain Hindu were exiled to Bali, where they remained relatively isolated for hundreds of years.

Originally, gamelan was played in outdoor temples for religious rites, to inspire trance and to invite ancestral spirits. But in Java it was redirected to royal courts and the old Hindu and Buddhist temples were left to decay. This gave rise to aesthetic differences between Balinese and Javanese musical styles. Music was moved from open-air temples, mallets were softened, forms were slowed down and elongated to take advantage of new acoustics and lend austerity to the court. Music became largely a cerebral pursuit of the aristocracy and musicians became servants of the court.


As in other parts of Asia, music in Southeast Asia is related to ceremonies connected with religion, the state, community festivals and family affairs. There is a strong theatrical tradition that involves music and dance, and probably derives from religious rituals. Many popular plays are based on the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata.


Wayang Kulit - Shadow Puppet Theatre

--All-night performances of shadow puppetry using carved, painted flat leather puppets made of water buffalo hide. ( Ancestors are thought of as “shadow souls”). More prestige is given to plays based on the Hindu epics, particularly Mahabharata..

The dhalang or puppeteer has a command over the knowledge of epics, music, archaic language and latest political events. He manipulates the puppets, creating dialogue while directing the music and adding percussive effects with a mallet (between his toes) against wooden box, (as you saw demonstrated by I Nyoman Sedana of Bali).


Characteristics of Javanese Music


Characteristics of Balinese Music (that differ from Java)




While the instruments are exactly the same as six centuries ago, the music has changed as every generation of musicians in Bali puts their personal stamp on the music. Also, we cannot talk about Bali without talking about tourism. (See below--Ketcak, etc.) The music is flashy, dazzling, and unpredictable, unlike the classical elegance of Java.




Kebyar – meaning “flash”, “dazzle”, “the striking of a match” which fits the dramatic dance that interprets the sudden changes of mood expressed by the gamelan.

--The most popular ensemble in Bali today. Developed in the 1920’s and has continued to exert strong influence on many styles of Balinese music. It is the style of music most known and appreciated by visitors to Bali. The music exploits the particular capabilities of the instruments in the ensemble. It employs sharp contrasts in dynamics, tempo, orchestration and rhythm. Requiring not only great virtuosity of the players, it is a consummate sense of “ensemble”—the ability of many to play as one.

--Episodic in structure. Some sections are cyclic repetition, others not.


KECAK – “Monkey Chant”


A style of male chorus whose performance includes some theatrical aspects. Its history is very short—the form it takes today was first presented in 1933. A German painter, named Walter Spies, who resided in Bali had an impact on the work of Balinese painters, many of whom took up painting scenes of everyday life instead of traditional mythological themes. Spies was impressed by the talents of Limbak, a dancer, so, based on the religious trance dance of Bali performed by young girls as a prayer for healing, they created this form to tell the story of Ramayana in a new way. To incite the state of trance, a male chorus sings in a style called “gamelan suara” (voice gamelan). By using their voices in imitation of a gamelan, chanting “chak-chak” in brusque staccato interlocking patterns, while twisting in writhing motions, they evoke the atmosphere of combat as they try to catch and imprison the evil spirit with sheer ferocity of sound.—waving their arms as they shout to attract the demon, who can only move forward in a straight line. They halt the incursion of evil spirits with their whole bodies.

Kecak is now being accepted by the Balinese themselves as part of “traditional” culture. It is a well-known form of entertainment for tourists; it has also been recorded as being performed before a general election as a safeguard to ward off evil spirits and trouble


Dangdut – a mixture of Western rock, Indian film music, and Islamic themes. Dangdut draws its audience from Muslim youth of the lower and middle class. Texts, in the national language, not only speak to this group, but also for them, expressing their resentment of the inequalities of modern life. One of the most distinctive instruments in the ensemble is a double drum that looks like bongos, but sounds like tabla; the onomatopoetic sound of the drum, “dang-dut” perhaps suggests the origin of the genre’s name. Dangdut became the predominant pop music of the 1980’s.

Introduction to Central/North Asia & Tuvan music * Introduction to Japanese Music *India/South Asia *Japanese Theatre * Indian pop & classical Dance * Indonesia: Java & Bali


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