Celtic Festival - Golden Bough banner

Subscribe to receive our monthly newsletter including information on our latest releases, upcoming projects, artist news and tour dates, as well as special offers and competitions.

First Name:

Last Name:

*Your Email Address:

*Enter the security code shown:





WORLD AND FOLK MUSIC NEWS

New Album from Srdjan Beronja: Sounds Of The East: Master Musicians, Hissing Cobras and a Dawn Chorus

New Album from Srdjan Beronja: Sounds Of The East: Master Musicians, Hissing Cobras and a Dawn Chorus

Read more »

New Scorsese Movie ‘Silence’ features music by master Japanese drummer, Joji Hirota

New Scorsese Movie ‘Silence’ features music by master Japanese drummer, Joji Hirota

Read more »

Hanitra’s inspiring new album ‘Lasa’ – from the heart of Madagascar

Hanitra’s inspiring new album ‘Lasa’ – from the heart of Madagascar

Read more »

Songs from the traditional treasure chest of Serbia and The Balkans

Songs from the traditional treasure chest of Serbia and The Balkans

Read more »

Focus on: Gamelan

Gamelan music exists mainly on the large, highly populated island of Java and on the neighbouring smaller island of Bali. These are parts of Indonesia, which comprises thousands of islands and hundreds of ethnic groups. In Java and Bali music is not a pastime or a merely entertaining activity; it is an essential part of life and plays an important role in the great existential events. It also has a spiritual and emotional dimension that has no comparison in the West.

We should distinguish at least three broad styles of gamelan music: Bali, Central Java, and Western Java (or Sunda). Such classification does not exhaust the range of further differentiations within these regions.

Gamelan

The word gamelan (probably from gamel, mallet) designates the ensemble of instruments played. The number of instruments may vary, according to the type of pieces being played. A regular piece may have up to twenty musicians playing, but the number of instruments in a full gamelan will be almost twice that number, as each instrument doubles in each of the two scales that compositions may employ - the pelog scale, with seven notes in the octave, and the slendro scale, with five.

The word gamelan (probably from gamel, mallet) designates the ensemble of instruments played. The number of instruments may vary, according to the type of pieces being played. A regular piece may have up to twenty musicians playing, but the number of instruments in a full gamelan will be almost twice that number, as each instrument doubles in each of the two scales that compositions may employ - the pelog scale, with seven notes in the octave, and the slendro scale, with five.

Important characteristics of the Central Javanese tuning system are:

  • the intervals within the octave are not equal, especially in pelog;
  • each gamelan has its own tuning (intervals), so that a given instrument cannot "migrate" from one gamelan to another; also, a given piece will sound somewhat different when played on two different gamelans;
  • the notes in the two scales do not correspond (unless by chance) to notes in the Western 12-tone tempered scale;
  • in Javanese gamelan music the consonance among parallel melodic lines is conceived "horizontally" and with more or less intentional time-lags, unlike Western music where consonance is sought "vertically" (chords).

These characteristics explain many of the difficulties in the appreciation of Javanese music by the Western ear. A further problem may be the "liberal" approach of the Javanese to tuning in general - in a given performance this may produce some amount of out-of-tuneness because of the variable-pitch instruments (voice, rebab); this will often be negatively perceived by the Western listener, usually conditioned by a rigid tuning framework.


Back to article menu…

twitter logo facebook logo youtube logo
webmaster@arcmusic.co.uk