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Gamelan, Indonesian Traditional Ensemble

October 10, 2008

Gamelan stands out as intriguing and intricate symbol of nature and human creativity collaboration. Gamelan refers to any one of several types of instrumental ensembles found on the islands of Java and Bali in Indonesia.  Indonesian traditional music that played using Gamelan called gending. It is the main element of the Indonesian traditional music. Gamelan has always existed in its instrumental form as well as in a supportive role when combined with dance, wayang kulit, wayang orang,  but there is no ‘concert tradition’ for gamelan music in Java.

In Indonesian traditional thinking, the gamelan is sacred and is believed to have supernatural power. Both musician and non-musicians are humble and respectful to the gamelan. Incense and flowers are often offered to the gamelan. It is believed that each instrument in the gamelan is guided by spirits. Thus, the musician have to take off their shoes when they play the gamelan. It is also forbidden to step over any instrument in a gamelan, because it might offend the spirit by doing so. Some gamelan are believed to have so much powers that playing them may exert power over nature. Others may be touched only by persons who are ritually qualified. In Javanese gamelan, the most important instrument is the Gong Ageng. The Javanese musicians believe that Gong Ageng is the main spirit of the entire gamelan.

Each gamelan is slightly different from the other; however, they all have the same organization, which based on different instrumental groups with specific orchestral functions.  The instruments in a gamelan are composed of sets of tuned bronze gongs, gong-chimes, metallophones, drums, one or more flute, bowed and plucked string instruments. Gamelan orchestras also feature a sinden or singer.  In some village gamelan, bronze is sometimes replaced by iron, wood, or bamboo.  The most popular gamelan can be found in Java, and Bali.

The word gamelan is derived from the low Javanese word gamel, meaning a kind of hammer, like those used by blacksmiths. True to its name, most of the instruments are made of beaten metal and are played with mallets. The ensembles can vary from small village groups comprised of a handful of instruments to the grand court emsembles with as many as 75 bronze instruments in addition to the rebabs, drums, and singers.

Gamelan originates from Indonesia but, as this is one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world, it is hardly surprising that there are many different types of gamelan ensemble.  The gamelan offers a rich experience for all the senses. Beaten bronze instruments glow softly in frames of intricately carved wood. The honey-like smoothness of the tones and the intense rhythm intertwine to produce a mood that is at once tranquil and dynamic; the music’s complexity encourages meditation. A tradition with a long history, the gamelan still thrives as an art form today in Java, Bali, Madura, Surinam, and other areas influenced by Indonesian culture.

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