Which types of Balinese gamelan are rarely seen or heard? Part III

Musical instruments have a long and ancient history in Bali. In the court treatise on Balinese gamelan music, Aji Gurnita, an attempt is made at describing the gamelan orchestras of the era.

Interestingly enough, the first musical instrument referred to is in fact not a percussive one, but a stringed ‘kecapi’ zither. Still a popular instrument in other parts of Indonesia, the only area in Bali where we find the kecapi today is in Karangasem. Where this court tradition disappeared to remains an ethnomusicological mystery.

Mentioned extensively is the ensemble of giant flutes known today as gambuh. Found active in just a few villages, this court tradition reveals haunting melodies played on giant bamboo flutes using a difficult cyclic breathing technique. Its seven-tone scales and repertoire form the basis for ensembles such as semara pagulingan, semara patangian (pelegongan), semara pandirian (bebarongan) and semara paglinggihan (gegandrungan).

The precursor of the secular gong kebyar also features. Known as gegandrungan, it functioned to accompany an effeminate court dance performed by young boys called gandrung. Rarely heard today, an interesting feature of this rhythmically exciting bamboo ensemble is the incorporation of female musicians who thump bamboo poles on the ground in interlocking patterns.

Pelegongan was perhaps the most important court dance style of the 18th and 19th centuries. The accompanying gamelan, originally named semara patangian over time adopted the name: gamelan pelegongan. Unlike the modern gong kebyar, it has only five or six keys and in many instances the order of note only the tones but also the keys differs. The overall sound of the ‘legong’ gamelan is relatively soft and limpid and the repertoire is flowing and melodic. Today, few of these ensembles are active and the style is no longer popular, due to a number of factors, including differing playing techniques; a general tendency to play loud music; and the influence of foreign music on local youth. These days, you will commonly hear and see the legong repertoire played on the modern gong kebyar, rather than the appropriate pelegongan set.

© 2012 Mekar Bhuana

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