The list of rarely seen or heard gamelan orchestras in Bali is long and covers many ensembles of all different sizes.
Bali is home to the world’s biggest gamelan, termed appropriately ‘gong ageng’ or colloquially known as ‘gong gede’. It is made up of purely large percussive instruments such as gongs, drums, metallaphones and pot gongs, requiring at least forty-eight musicians. Second in size only to the western classical musicians, gong gede produces a formidably grandiose sound. A handful of gong gede groups play in villages around Bangli for temple ceremonies, and one of the oldest and most sacred ensembles, allegedly dating to the early 1800s, can be heard every full moon at Pura Ulun Danau Batur in Kintamani.
Genggong is an ensemble of Jew’s harps which are played in interlocking pairs to mimic the comical croaks of rice field frogs. Added to the Jew’s harps are smaller bamboo instruments called ng’gung which sound just like croaking toads. They are either played in a rhythmic manner or freely over the top of the melody to sound like a background soundscape of frogs croaking in the rice fileds after heavy rain. Augmented with flutes, time keepers, a horizontal gong and a drum, the orchestra provides the accompaniment to the Frog Dance (Tari Kodok). Genggong is indigenous to only a few villages and you can catch tourist performances in Batuan, Gianyar.
The onomatopoeic ‘tetekan’ is a type of gamelan found exclusively in Kerambitan, Tabanan. The resourceful Balinese have made use of dozens of cow bells which are strung around the musicians’ necks and hit with sticks in powerful interlocking patterns. Performances of tetekan include a dance drama and are held regularly for tourists at Puri Kerambitan. Tetekan is also regularly featured at the annual Bali Arts Festival, particularly at the opening ceremony.
My brief explanations of rarely seen or heard gamelan orchestras really only scratches the surface of a wonderfully unique Balinese sound-scape. Considering the size of the island and its small population, over only a space of a thousand years, talented Balinese musicians have created an incredible array of fascinating types of musical instruments, melodies and rhythmic patterns which for the most part survive to this day.
© 2012 Mekar Bhuana