If a gamelan orchestra has a hanging gong in it (not all do), it is almost always the most important instrument. It is considered the heart of the ensemble, therefore is also the instrument that can never been left out when an ensemble is reduced in size for some reason.
A gong’s sonority is much revered by the Balinese who are very picky about how it should sound in relation to the rest of ensemble. Not only its relative depth is crucial but also what notes it converges with on other low sounding instruments like a jegogan. Ideally a gong should be slightly ‘out’ from the jegogan so that it stands out more when the whole orchestra is playing. Gongs near certain tones have certain characteristics, for example: a kempur gong tuned near the tone ndeng in a pelegongan orchestra is considered most suitable for performances of the Calonarang tale of witchcraft and therefore creating a more tenget (haunted) feel. If there is a pair of gongs, they should also have a certain pitch difference as well as the same type of reverberation (wave length).
A gong is also the instrument that is the focus of any offerings which are made before a performance, a practice or as part of a ritual. There is a special type of offering called tipat gong which is commonly offered to the spirit which is believed to reside in the gong or the entire orchestra. This spirit is considered to be the protector of the orchestra, but is also somewhat capricious: if, for example, offerings are not made or any instruments in the orchestra are poorly treated, this spirit may become angry and seek vengeance.
A tipat gong is also believed to have healing power. Included in the offering is not only rice steamed and wrapped in coconut leaves but also an egg called a tipat taluh: it is the egg that is sought after by families who have a child who has trouble learning to talk. Balinese believe that if this child is fed that egg after it has been blessed as part of a tipat gong offering that the child will fast learn how to speak.
© Vaughan Hatch 2018