After the purchase of a beautiful iron selonding gamelan set, a duplicate of the ancient 10th century set from Besakih Temple, Mekar Bhuana Conservatory has immersed itself serious selonding study. And many students in the conservatory are keen to learn. This is because this is the first set of this kind in South Bali, and little is known about this rare style of selonding orchestra. In fact, there are only a few duplicate sets of this rare style of selonding. The most common type of selonding outside of the village or temple context is the Tenganan style. This type of set has just 40 relatively small size keys with 8 instruments, some of them overlapping in tones. The Besakih set has a tuning modeled on the Bugbug (Karangasem) style but with instrumentation like Selat (Karangasem). It has 48 keys and a different instrumentation from the Tengangan style wtih 12 sound boxes each with 4 keys. This means that the whole set can be used in two differing formations: Bugbug and Selat. However, the complicated more modern patterns that are often heard played in the Tenganan style cannot be replicated exactly on the Mekar Bhuana set due to the different placement of keys and the sheer size of the instruments. The large instruments (nearly double the size of modern Tenganan models) dictates that the music be slower and more stately – refined (‘alus’ in Balinese).
To increase awareness of and exposure to this beautiful art-form and the orchestra, Mekar Bhuana has opened selonding lessons for the general public of all ages. A minimum of 6 people are needed to play the instruments, with a maximum of 8 when playing gambang style music. Mekar Bhuana has engaged a young teacher from Karangasem, Pande Widiana, whose father is a selonding guru, and whose great uncle, Sri Mpu Tusan, is an authority on selonding in Bali and Java: author of a 535-page book on selonding that was published in 2002. Sri Mpu Tusan is the founder of the Selonding Foundation (Yayasan Selonding) which actively studies, documents and reconstructs selonding sets all over Bali. So far, the foundation has reconstructed more than four sets under the guidance of Sri Mpu Tusan and with funding from the Karangasem Regional Government.
Mekar Bhuana’s selonding set was made in Denpasar at Tapa Karya, and was the last set of selonding instruments made by the famous blacksmith Sri Mpu Ketut Sandi. Like the Besakih set, the tuning was modeled on the Bugbug set, but due to a discrepancy in the regularity of the tuning between each instrument, the tuning was altered slightly according to the taste of Mekar Bhuana Co-founder, Vaughan Hatch.
When Mekar Bhuana’s selonding set was blessed in early January 2012, when young members of Yayasan Selonding (boys and girls around 10-12 years old) played the set. Mekar Bhuana recorded the ceremony and the music for posterity. The group played repertoire from five different villages in Karangasem and Bangli: Bugbug, Bungaya, Ngis Manggis, Tenganan, Kedisan and Batur. The music was serene and peaceful, yet powerful and mystical.
Mekar Bhuana hopes that through education and study more people will soon have the opportunity to appreciate the surreal beauty of these ancient art-forms.