Balinese Gamelan

In Indonesia, gamelan music has always been the sound of everything civilised.

The term gamelan derives from gamel, an old Javanese word for handle or hammer, as most of the instruments in the orchestra are percussive. The interlocking rhythmic and melodic patterns found in gamelan music are said to originate in the rhythms of the lesung – the stone or wooden mortars used for husking rice.

Others ascribe the patterns to the chanting of frogs in the rice fields after dusk or the cacophony of roosters crowing at dawn.

No one knows exactly when the first gamelan orchestra came into being.

Metallophones (bronze, brass or iron percussion instruments) date from prehistoric times, and the manufacture of bronze gongs and drums is associated with the Dong Son bronze culture that is thought to have reached Indonesia from Indochina in the 3rd century BC.

Balinese gamelan instruments (Picture:

Balinese gamelan instruments (Picture: Google images)

Since then, large bronze gongs have formed the heartbeat of this distinctive music, with a deep and penetrating sound that can be heard for miles on a quite night.

Balinese gamelan

In Bali (paradise island on Earth), located in Indonesia, the gamelan exhibits overwhelming variety.

Dozens of completely different types of ensembles exits, some of which are found all over the island, others of which are restricted to isolated areas. But on the whole, Balinese musical performances are noted for their capriciousness, stridency and rhythmic vitality – parornament the theme, and the reyong (Bali´s version of the Javanese bonang) is played by four musicians producing a rippling stream of visceral, syncopated figurations.

A pair of kendhang drums is generally also the leader, teacher and composer for the ensemble. A set of shimmering cymbals (cengceng) and several bamboo flutes (suling) complete the orchestra.

kendhang

Kendhang – balinese gamelan drum (Picture: Google images)

Gamelan musicians were traditionally trained by other musicians in their spare time, without any reference to written scores. In the central Javanese palaces, a system of notation was developed. Some court musicians began to teach outsiders at the beginning of the 20th century.

Since independence, however, several government music academies have been founded and students now learn in a more formal setting.

Gamelan musician (Picture: balispectacular)

Balinese gamelan musician (Picture: balispectacular)

At the village level, it is often difficult to distinguish amateurs from professionals. Many village artists are experts in the music of their region but no special status is assigned to them nor are they paid sizeable fees for their services.

Balinese gamelan orchestra (Picture: southkutabali)

Balinese gamelan orchestra (Picture: southkutabali)

Some gamelan musicians are itinerant, making the rounds of traditional performances, be they theatrical or ceremonial or both, including the ever-popular shadow play or wayang kulit circuit.

There are many famous artists who lead this precarious lifestyle, which come with minimal financial rewards.

Indeed, even though expert musicians are not recognized as they could be, they are still being a strong important part to build Indonesian traditions and maintain it over time.

Check out a Balinese gamelan orchestra and its marvelous rhythms

Source: Video from Tiffany Nicely youtube´s playlist.

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