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Indonesian Music - Part One


Lewis E. Peterman Jr., Ph.D.

The html code, hyperlinks, and linked knowledge webs associated with this chapter are not part of the original chapter cited above, and are authored by Jack Logan, Ph.D.

Gamelan is comparable only to two things: moonlight and flowing water, It is pure and mysterious like moonlight, it is always the same and always changing like flowing water. It forms for our ears no song, this music, it is a state of being, such as moonlight itself which lies poured out over the land. It flows murmuring, tinkling and gurgling like water in a mountain stream. Yet it is never monotonous. Sometimes the sounds flow faster and louder, just as water also sometimes speaks more loudly in the night only to sink back again quietly.

--Leonhard Huizinga (Dutch Writer)

Indonesian Music

Click on this map to go to a "clickable map" of Indonesia. Once there, click on a place of interest to learn more about Indonesia.

To students of world music here in the United States, Indonesian music generally means gamelan music, especially those various related types found on the two neighboring islands of Java and Bali. Partly because of the availability of this type of Indonesian music, and partly because of the sustained interest by Western-trained ethnomusicologists, Javanese and Balinese orchestral gamelan traditions have been heard and studied by Americans over the past half century as much as have other related high art musical traditions of Asia, such as China, Japan, and India. Therefore, since there exists an abundance of available materials (recordings, books, and ensembles--there are more than 200 Indonesian gamelan groups -- e.g., Gamelan Sekar Jaya -- in the United States today), the gamelan music of Java and Bali will form the focus of this chapter. For the especially intrepid student of world music, it is possible, with considerable research, to hear and read about music from other islands of the archipelago, particularly the large islands of Borneo, Sulawesi, and Sumatra.

Background: Geography, Culture, and History

A Brief History of Java and Bali

Before discussing the gamelan music of Java and Bali, a brief survey of the wider context of this music will be useful for the student of Indonesian cultures.

The Indonesian archipelago is the largest and mightiest island chain in the world: a total of 13,677 islands are spread over some 3,200 miles of tropical seas, lying directly on the equator between the Australian continent to the south and mainland Southeast Asia (the modern Islamic country of Malaysia, specifically) to the north. If superimposed on a map of the United States, Indonesia would stretch from Bermuda to Oregon, and on a map of Europe, from Ireland to the Caspian Sea. Approximately four-fifths of the modern Republic of Indonesia is ocean, with many islands tiny and unpopulated. However, about 3,000 of the islands are inhabited: the Batak people and Minangkabau people live in Sumatra, the Toraja in Sulawesi, the Dayaks in Borneo, the Sundanese in West Java, the Javanese in Central and East Java, and the Balinese in Bali, to name only a few.

Jakarta is the capital city of the Republic of Indonesia. It is a special territory having the status of a province, consisting of Greater Jakarta (picture of Jakarta at night), and covering an area of 637.44 square km. It is located on the northern coast of West Java; it is the center of government, commerce and industry and as such has an extensive communications network with the rest of the country and the outside world. The group of islands in the Jakarta Bay known as Pulau Seribu offers a haven away from the bustle of city life. There are golden beaches fringed with coconut palms.

Historically known by Europeans as the celebrated "Spice Islands of the East," this tropical archipelago constitutes one of the most varied and diverse corners of the world. Spectacular rain forests, dormant and active volcanoes, exceptionally fertile ricefields, savannah grasslands, and even snow-capped mountain peaks are part of the geologic and biological features of Indonesia. An astounding variety of aromatic and hardwood trees may also be found: clove, nutmeg, sandalwood, camphor, ebony, ironwood, and teak, for example. Unusual exotic fruits, seldom tasted by Europeans and Americans are common: durian, rambutan, lengkeng, salak, nangka, manggis, and jambu are the local names of a few examples. The world’s largest lizard (the Komodo Monitor), the largest flower (Rafflesia), the Sumatran orangutan, the Javan rhinoceros, and the world’s best talking minah bird (from Java), too, are all indigenous to Indonesia.

The Republic of Indonesia represents a modern third-world nation with a veritable kaleidoscope of peoples, languages and cultures. Over 100 different ethnic groups, speaking more than 300 different languages, rigorously maintain different cultural traditions while communicating with one another through a relatively new national language called Bahasa Indonesia. Local languages are spoken in the home, while Bahasa Indonesia is used as the official language for public places. The Balinese language, for example, is normally spoken in informal gatherings in Bali, while Bahasa Indonesia is used on the radio, on television, and in the large public market places. Many words that comprise the vocabularly of Bahasa Indonesia reflect the historical influence of various foreign cultures that have passed through the archipelago; there are, for example, Indonesian words borrowed from Indian Sanskrit, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese, Dutch and English.

The four great religions of the world--Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity--are widely practiced in Indonesia, with Islam (over 140 million followers) regarded as the official national religion. (Islam is the main religion in Java, while Hinduism is primary in Bali.) Modern religious practices, however, are strongly influenced by local beliefs and traditions known as adat (i.e., "custom"). Central to adat ceremonies are ritual sacrifices and communal feasts, during which offerings are presented to the spirits of departed ancestors whose essence lives on somewhere near the community and who may exercise influence over the still-living members of the village. Also central to the frequent and periodic religious observances associated with adat are the rich and varied performing arts. Music, dance, and theatrical genres are used (1) to create a liminal state between the reality of the mundane secular world and the transcendental reality of the cosmic world of deified ancestors, (2) to provide suitable entertainment for the ancestors, (3) to lend spiritual solemnity to religious occasions, and (4) to provide pleasant and provocative entertainment for human worshipers.

Comparison of Western and Indonesian Music

The main types of performing arts on the neighboring islands of Java and Bali are very closely related, since, in the 15th century when Islam overtook the entire island of Java, the royal courts of East Java fled to the island of Bali, bringing with them their music, dance, and dramatic theatrical arts (especially the shadow-puppet play and the dance drama). Consequently, today in both Java and Bali gamelan music is used to accompany closely related types of dance dramas as well as various types of aesthetically related puppet-theater traditions. As orchestral traditions, Javanese and Balinese gamelan music share several similarities with the orchestral symphonic music of the West. Both the Indonesian gamelan orchestra and the symphony orchestra, for instance, consist of a large instrumentarium of standard instruments: they perform highly structured sophisticated compositions, and they use the manipulation of dynamics (i.e., volume) for expressive purposes. However, aside from these few fundamental similarities, the two types or orchestral traditions have many differences, particularly in terms of aesthetics, playing techniques, and musical styles. The Western orchestra, for example, is essentially an audience-oriented, bowed-string ensemble played by professional musicians who "read" from notated music, while an Indonesian gamelan is essentially a performer-orientated, struck-percussion ensemble played by amateur musicians who "perform" from memory. In addition, the conductor of the Western orchestra is the designated "leader" of musical compositions of nearly unlimited melodic diversity but considerable restricted rhythmic range, while the drummer of the gamelan orchestra is the "leader" of compositions of limited melodic diversity but great rhythmic range. Whereas Western symphonic music is typically an indoor, virtuosic, secular art form reserved as an elitist activity, Indonesian gamelan music is generally an outdoor, nonvirtuosic, religious art form designed ideally for Everyperson.

Indonesian Musical Instruments

There are six basic instrument types shared by the principle kinds of gamelan in Java and Bali. The first is a large vertically suspended gong, sometimes over three feet in diameter, which is used to punctuate the ends of long musical phrases (i.e., it is used like a period in a sentence); smaller suspended gongs are used for shorter internal phrases (i.e., they are used like a comma in a sentence). A second instrument type found in both Java and Bali is the gender type--an instrument that has thin, metal (usually tuned bronze) keys suspended over sympathetically tuned tube resonators; it is played with either one or two mallets (two are used for playing polyphonically). Another instrument type common to both cultures is the rebab, a two-stringed bowed fiddle, which is a relatively new instrument of the gamelan--one that was imported along with Islam from the Middle East. An end-blown bamboo flute, the suling, is another important instrument in both Javanese and Balinese gamelans: in Java it characteristically plays melodic phrases only intermittently, while in Bali it plays the main melody continuously throughout long sections of music. A fifth shared instrument type is a gong chime of tuned metal kettles. Called bonang in Java, it comes in two sizes, each played by one player; called reyong in Bali, it is played simultaneously by three or four players sitting side by side. (The even larger Balinese trompong, like the Javanese bonang, is played by a single musician, however.) The last and most important--since it is generally the "leader," that is, the conductor of the gamelan--of the six instrument types shared by Javanese and Balinese gamelan types is the drum. The kendang, a double-head, barrel-shaped, laced drum is normally played with bare hands and thus produces a wide range of different sounds, depending on precisely how it is struck.

Javanese Musical Instruments (Gamelan Gong Ageng)

There are some twenty-five different types of instruments used in a complete modern Javanese gamelan orchestra: (1) vertically suspended and horizontally mounted tuned gongs of six or seven different basic sizes, (2) tuned wooden and metal (normally bronze or iron) xylophones of four different sizes struck with wooden or felt-covered beaters (tabuh), (3) stringed instruments (two plucked zithers and one bowed fiddle), (4) two end-blown flutes with different tunings, and (5) laced or tacked barrel-shaped drums of four different sizes. In addition, there are two important vocal parts, the female pesinden (often a solo singer) and the male gerong (normally a chorus of a half dozen unison singers). Although they render classical poetic texts, the singers are not often featured as soloists, but are treated, as are all the other instruments of the gamelan, as merely an additional tone color or just another melodic strand in the intricate warp and weft of the complex orchestral fabric. Along with their descriptions, the instruments of the most common type of gamelan heard in Java today, the Gamelan Gong Ageng, are listed categorically below.

Suspended tuned gongs: 1. gong ageng/gede (the largest gong), 2. gong siyem/suwuk (second largest gong), 3. kempul (set of medium-size gongs);

Horizontally mounted tuned gongs: 4. kenong (set of medium-size gongs), 5. ketuk (1 medium-size gong), 6. engkok/kemong (2 small slendro gongs), 7. kempyang (2 small pelog gongs), 8. bonang barung (set of 2 parallel rows of small gongs), 9. bonang panerus (set of 2 parallel rows of smallest gongs);

Tuned xylophones: 10. gambang (wooden), 11. saron demung (largest saron), 12. saron barung (medium-size saron), 13. saron peking/panerus (smallest saron), 14. gender barung (medium-size gender), 15. gender panerus (small gender), 16. slentem (large gender);

Stringed instruments: 17. clempung (large plucked floor zither), 18. siter (small plucked floor zither), 19. rebab (bowed 2-stringed vertical fiddle),

End-blown flutes, 20. suling pelog (6-holed bamboo ring flute), 21. suling slendro (4-holed bamboo ring flute);

Drums: 22. kendang gending/gede (large double-head laced drum), 23. ketipung (small double-head laced drum), 24. batangan/ciblon (medium-size double-head laced drum), 25. bedug (very large double-head tacked drum).

In actuality a complete Javanese gamelan consists of twice as many instruments as those listed above, since in such a full set there are two completely different tuning systems, pelog and slendro. Accordingly, each musician sits cross-legged on the floor between two instruments of the same type, one that is tuned to a 7-tone pelog scale and one that is tuned to a 5-tone slendro scale. If a particular gending ("composition") is to be rendered in pelog tuning, then all the musicians must turn to face and play the instrument of the pair that is tuned specifically to that scale. Similarly, if slendro is desired, all the musicians turn 90 degrees in order to face the slendro-tuned instrument of the pair. A complete pelog/slendro gamelan, then, consists of two instruments for each type (i.e., two demung, two gender, two gambang, etc.). Sets of instruments are also doubled, such as the set of kempul, the set of kenong, and even the set of bonang (one pelog, with 14 kettles, and one slendro, with 10 kettles). Both tuning systems, however, share three characteristics: (1) they both share a common pitch, often pitch 2 of the two scales (with all the other pitches of the two scales being different and thus musically incompatible, that is, the pitches of the pelog scale cannot be mixed musically with the pitches of the slendro scale in the same composition), (2) they both share the four drums, and (3) they both share the largest gong, particularly if its pitch is too low to produce a specific and identifiable musical sound.

All the instruments of the complete pelog/slendro Javanese gamelan orchestra can be arranged into six different basic categories according to their musical responsibilities, that is, according to their musical roles in the formal organization of a musical composition (a gending): (1) the colotomic layer, (2) the drum layer, (3) the fixed-melody layer, (4) the elaborating layer (loud style), (5) the elaborating layer (soft style), and (6) the vocal-tone layer. Normally the largest instruments, those in the colotomic layer, function to define the musical form of a composition which is organized into a series of several repeated rhythmic cycles of various lengths called gongan. Each instrument in this first category is seldom struck, but when it is it punctuates the course of the main melody, thus imparting context and meaning. The various types of drums play stereotypical rhythmic patterns--patterns that are closely associated with the different musical forms punctuated by the colotomic layer. The drums also give acoustical signals to the other members of the gamelan--signals to speed up, to slow down, to play a new melody, to change to a different style of interpretation, or to end a composition. Together in strict unison, many of the instruments play a basic fixed melody (a nuclear melody); that is, they play the same musical part, the so-called balungan. This part forms the melodic basis for the entire composition, and it is punctuated by the colotomic layer, controlled by the drum layer, and paraphrased through different types of melodic variations by the elaborating layers and the vocal-tone layer. The elaborating layers are two, one suitable for a rigorous and rhythmic loud-playing style and one for a more subtle and refined soft-playing style. Each of the elaborating instruments, loud style or soft style, paraphrases the fixed melody by rendering different melodic variation--variations that are idiomatic to each instrument type. The vocal-tone layer consists of those voices and instruments that may sound pitches from outside the main tuning system of a particular composition, borrowing pitches, for example, from pelog to add melodic variety to a gending in slendro. A list of the specific instruments associated with each of these six basic categories is provided below.

1. Colotomic Layer: a. gong ageng (marks the end of a cycle), b. kempul (secondary, internal emphasis of gong cycle), c. kenong (secondary, internal emphasis of gong cycle), d. ketuk (marks time units within gong cycle), e. kempyang (secondary, internal emphasis of gong cycle), f. engkok/kemong (secondary, internal emphasis of gong cycle), g. bedug (secondary emphasis of gong cycle);

2. Drum Layer: a. kendang/ketipung (rhythmic patterns that scan the gong cycle), b. ciblon (complex rhythmic patterns for dance accompaniment);

3. Fixed-melody Layer: a. saron demung (balungan or variations), b. saron barung (balungan or variations), c. saron panerus/peking (variations), d. slentem (balungan);

4. Elaborating Layer (loud style): a. bonang barung ("melodic leader," variations), b. bonang panerus (variations of bonang barung);

5. Elaborating Layer (soft style): a. gender barung (variations in 2-part polyphony), b. gender panerus (fast variations of passagework), c. clempung (variations in 2-part polyphony), d. siter (variations in 2-part polyphony);

6. Vocal-tone Layer: a. rebab ("melodic leader," variations), b. suling (stereotypical figures that preceed punctuation), c. pesinden (variations with poetic text), d. gerong (variations with poetic text).

Javanese Gamelan Types

In addition to the most common type of Javanese gamelan just described, the so-called Gamelan Gong Ageng, there are a variety of other types found in Java today: some old and rarely played, some made from bamboo, some made from iron, but most made from bronze. The most important, especially those that can be heard on recordings in the United States, are listed and described below. 1. Gamelan Munggang (a dozen instruments tuned to a 3-tone scale), 2. Gamelan Kodok Ngorek (a dozen instruments in 3-tone pelog), 3. Gamelan Sekati (a dozen instruments in 7-tone pelog), 4. Gamelan Carabalen (a half dozen instruments in 4- or 6-tone pelog), 5. Gamelan Klenengan (a kind of "chamber gamelan," without bonangs or sarons), 6. Gamelan Godon (a kind of "chamber gamelan"), 7. Gamelan bumbung (a bamboo gamelan), 8. Gamelan Wayangan (a small slendro to accompany wayang kulit), 9. Gamelan Calung (a bamboo gamelan).

Balinese Musical Instruments (Gamelan Gong)

There are a variety of different types of instruments used in a complete modern Balinese Gamelan Gong orchestra (the most common kind of over two dozen different gamelan types currently found in Bali), many of which are similar to those used in the Javanese Gamelan Gong Ageng: (1) vertically suspended and horizontally mounted tuned gongs of five different basic sizes, (2) tuned metal (bronze) xylophones of six different sizes struck with wooden or padded beaters (called panggul), (3) one stringed instrument (a small rebab), (4) two or more end-blown flutes slightly out of tune with one another, and (5) two drums of roughly the same size. Vocal parts are not as common in the Balinese gamelan as in the Javanese gamelan. The instruments of the Balinese Gamelan Gong are given below.

Suspended tuned gongs: 1. gong ageng/gede (the largest gong), 2. kempur (second largest gong), 3. kemong (small gong);

Horizontally mounted tuned gongs: 4. kajar (1 medium-size gong), 5. reyong (single-row set of 13 small gongs);

Tuned xylophones (gender type, "gangsa"): 6. giying (1, medium-size gender), 7. pemade (4, small gender), 8. kantil (4, smallest gender), 9. penyacah (2 medium-size gender), 10. calung (2, medium-size gender), 11. jegogan (2, largest gender);

Stringed instruments: 12. rebab (bowed 2-stringed vertical fiddle);

End-blown flutes: 13. suling (2, 6-holed bamboo ring flute);

Drums: 14. kendang (2, medium-size double-head laced drum);

Miscellaneous percussion: 16. ceng-ceng (small set of mounted cymbals).

Similar to the arrangement of the Javanese gamelan, all the instruments of the complete modern Balinese Gamelan Gong orchestra can be arranged into six different basic categories, according to their musical responsibilities: (1) the colotomic layer, (2) the drum layer, (3) miscellaneous percussion, (4) the fixed-melody layer, (5) the elaborating layer, and (6) the vocal-tone layer. Again similar to the Javanese gamelan, the largest instruments, those in the colotomic layer, generally function to punctuate musical sections that are organized into repeating gongan. The two drums play highly virtuosic interlocking rhythmic patterns intimately associated with different musical forms, while also providing important signals for the rest of the players in the gamelan, especially to coordinate frequent dramatic rhythmic breaks for pieces that accompany dance. The fixed melody, called pokok in Bali, is rendered by only two instruments in unison (the two calung), producing a slow-moving melody that is punctuated by the colotomic layer, controlled by the drum layer, and decorated by interlocking melodic variations (called kotekan) by the elaborating instruments. In Balinese gamelan music the vocal-tone layer does not sound pitches from outside the basic pelog tuning system, but is used for variety, contrast in timbre and the delivery of an occasional poetic text. The specific instruments associated with each of the six basic categories of the Balinese Gamelan Gong are given below.

1. Colotomic Layer: a. gong ageng/gede (marks the end of a cycle), b. kempur (secondary, internal emphasis of gong cycle), c. kemong (secondary, internal emphasis of gong cycle), d. kajar (marks time units within gong cycle);

2. Drum Layer: a. kendang wadon (rhythmic patterns that interlock with the kendang lanang), b. kendang lanang (rhythmic patterns that interlock with the kendang wadon);

3. Miscellaneous Percussion (various interlocking rhythmic patterns): a. ceng-ceng (small set of cymbals);

4. Fixed-melody Layer: a. calung (pokok), b. penyacah (pokok or variations), c. jegogan (punctuation or “stressing” of pokok);

5. Elaborating Layer : a. giying (“melodic leader,” decorates pokok), b. gangsas (fast, virtuosic, interlocking kotekan);

6. Vocal-tone Layer: a. rebab (paraphrase of giying), b. suling (paraphrase of giying).

Balinese Gamelan Types

In addition to the most common type of Balinese gamelan described above, there are numerous other types found in Bali today, some in pelog tuning (with a 7-tone scale, a 5-tone scale, or only a 4-tone scale) and some in slendro tuning (with either a 4-tone or a 5-tone scale). Some are old and rarely played, while some are made from bamboo, others from iron, but most from bronze. A complete list of the 27 different types of Balinese gamelan orchestras (many of which can be heard on commercial recordings available in the United States) is provided below.

Pelog Tuning: Seven tones (rare types): 1. Gamelan Gambang , 2. Gamelan Slonding, 3. Gamelan Saron/Luwang, 4. Gamelan Gambuh, 5. Gamelan Semar Pegulingan, 6. Gamelan Caruk; Five tones: 7. Gamelan Gong, 8. Gamelan Gong Kuno, 9. Gamelan Gong Gede, 10. Gamelan Pelegongan, 11. Gamelan Semar Pegulingan, 12. Gamelan Gandrung, 13. Gamelan Suling; Four tones: 14. Gamelan Bebonangan/Baleganjur, 15. Gamelan Jegog;

Slendro Tuning: Five tones: 16. Gamelan Gender Wayang, 17. Gamelan Batel, 18. Gamelan Joged Bumbung, 19. Gamelan Angklung, 20. Gamelan Genggong; Four tones: 21. Gamelan Angklung; Pelog or Slendro Tunings: 22. Gamelan Arja, 23. Gamelan Janger, 24. Gamelan Pencak, 25. Gamelan Gong Beri, 26. Gamelan Barong Landung, 27. Gamelan Barong Bangkung.

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