Sadly, a large number of Balinese gamelan ensembles are in fact rarely seen or heard. This is generally due to either their limited function, the difficultly of the playing style, or their public exposure.
One of the most unique gamelan types in Bali is called the gong bheri. It is thought to have been around for many hundreds of years and the instruments reveal influences from a number of cultures. Perhaps due to active trading networks, the gong bheri ensemble includes a giant Islamic bedug drum, boss-less Chinese gongs called bheri, Balinese pot gongs, and a Polynesian conch shell. Add to this the Dutch costumes used in the dance performances and you have a hybrid of five different cultures! This type of gamelan, originating from Sanur, is sacred and played at specific temple ceremonies.
A caruk ensemble is very rare and only found in a handful of villages. It is thought that this type of gamelan was either a precursor or a simplified version of the gamelan gambang that I talked about in the last edition. Also played primarily at death rites, a caruk group is made up of only three instruments and two players. The repertoire is the same as the gambang ensemble but the playing style is simpler.
Gong saron is played at death rites, particularly at the mukur part of the proceedings. Its peculiar seven-tone scale and its repertoire of ancient melodies and rhythms are peculiar to the ensemble. The instruments include thick-keyed saron, large drums, pot gongs, and a lead bamboo instrument called a kemplung.
An archaic version of today’s row of pot gongs (terompong/reong) is found in a couple of villages in Karangasem. This is called the terompong beruk, meaning a row of slabs of coconuts hung over bamboo resonators. When hit, the slabs make a short hollow sound and are tuned to a five tone scale. I read once that the only original terompong beruk set left in Bali was sold to an Australian tourist decades ago; however, a few villages in Karangasem still claim to have original traditions and instruments.
© 2012 Mekar Bhuana