How do Balinese know which gamelan orchestra to use for which ceremony?

A couple of treatises called Aji Gurnita and Pra Kempa which date to the 1800s detail a number of the main types of ceremonial gamelan orchestras, explaining their instrumentation and their function. Continue reading

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At what Age do Children in Bali start learning Gamelan? Part II

As I stated in my last article, many kids in Bali these days learn traditional music simply because their parents want them to. Continue reading

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At what age do children in Bali start learning gamelan?

Outside of Bali, a child who starts playing music at a kindergarten age is often considered naturally gifted, sometimes labeled a genius, a prodigy or similar. In Bali, however, this is not always so; and in fact it’s expected that children play music (and dance) from a very young age, basically as soon as they can walk. Why is this? Continue reading

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Gender Wayang – Bali’s Most Intimate Gamelan Ensemble

If you’ve ever been to a tooth filing ceremony in Bali, you would have heard the music of gamelan gender wayang. Instruments played by either by two or four musicians in pairs, a gender wayang ensemble is Bali’s most intimate gamelan ensemble. Continue reading

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How many Different Types of Balinese Gamelan are there in Bali?

In short, many! Gamelan experts the world over normally claim that there are anything between 25 and 40 types; however, so far I’ve counted 70 with the number increasing all the time as people create more different varieties. Continue reading

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Is any Balinese Gamelan Music Extinct?

Bali is world famous for its gamelan music, which, to the outsider who may have been fortunate enough to have witnessed a temple ceremony, seems alive and well even in the face of globalization. At least on the surface. Continue reading

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What is Angklung used for?

Across Bali, there are thousands of bronze angklung groups, perhaps as many as the ubiquitous and incredibly popular gong kebyar that originate in North Bali in the early 20th century. Continue reading

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What is Angklung?

Found on a number of islands in Indonesia, notably Java, Bali and Lombok, angklung is a type of gamelan with very ancient roots. There are many theories about the origins of both the instruments and the scale, but, after nearly 19 years of living in Bali and researching Balinese gamelan, I see angklung as having agrarian, village roots that are probably older than the courts of Indonesia. In Bali, there is literary evidence about angklung as early as 1022.

Angklung instruments in Bali have either a four or five tone scale, the most popular being the more ancient four tone. Angklung scales are generally more evenly tempered than other types of ensembles and seem to be related to or based on the types of melodies you hear sung to babies and young children as lullabies.

There are two main types of angklung instruments in Bali, which are both percussive: shaken rattles and keys made of bamboo, coconut wood or bronze which are hit with mallets. I think that hundreds of years ago there were only instruments and orchestras made of more primitive and easily accessible materials, such as bamboo, palm and wood. Over time, with the introduction of bronze technology and trading, Balinese started to replace them with more sophisticated, resonant instruments made of bronze.

Angklung ensembles with angklung rattles are still popular in Sunda (in this case, all of the instruments are rattles), East Java and Lombok. Today in Bali – bar a handful of ensembles in East Bali and one in Sayan, Ubud that was created by Collin McPhee – ensembles with bamboo instruments are on the verge of extinction. By far the most common angklung orchestras are ones made up of primarily bronze instruments – these are also known as klentangan which refers to a type of instrument with four pot gongs that has an unusual instrumentation and playing technique.

© 2016 Vaughan Hatch

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What are Gender Wayang?

One of the most intimate gamelan ensembles on the island, a gender wayang (gender for short) group consists of either two or four musicians. In the complete group of four, there are two medium-range instruments and two high-range.

The ensemble of four is most commonly used to accompany a nighttime puppet show, otherwise known as wayang kulit. The two medium range gender are used for tooth filing (mepandes/metata), cremation (ngaben), wedding, and sudamala (for people born in the week of Tumpek Wayang) ceremonies.

Gender are tuned to a particular tuning called slendro. It is thought that perhaps this archaic pentatonic scale originated in the Sailendra kingdom of Hindu Java (ca. 6th century), hence the name slendro. In contrast with other many other types of gamelan, the scale consists of fairly evenly spaced tones, giving the music a timeless, ethereal feel.

The repertoire of gender wayang is extensive and one legendary musician in Karangasem is said to know more than 150 pieces. The song titles are traditionally named after animals and their amusing movements, e.g. Dongkang menek Biu (Green Tree Frog Climbing a Banana) or Cerucuk Punyah (Drunken Chirping Bird).

A gender is played with two hands by a musician holding two wooden beaters called panggul. The left hand usually carries the melody and the right an often-complicated rhythm, but this is not always the case. Some songs even require musicians to play difficult rhythmic patterns in both hands, whilst moving in contrary motion and interlocking with the other musician’s patterns!

The pair of gender are tuned slightly “out” from each other, giving the music a indescribably beautiful shimmer.

The dexterous musicianship required to play the gender wayang is not something learned over night and may require years of intense training. Being the most difficult gamelan music on the island, gender wayang musicians are highly respected by the Balinese. Due to recent regional competitions as part of the annual Bali Arts Festival, more and more young people are becoming interested in studying this wonderful ancient artistic tradition.

© 2016 Vaughan Hatch

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What are Wayang Kulit?

Wayang kulit are two dimensional stick puppets made from leather with movable arms and sometimes jaws and legs. Wayang on its own simply means puppet and kulit means leather, which is what they’re made of. Continue reading

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