Overview of Balinese Music

For anyone interested in music - from the casual listener to the professional. composer - Bali presents a musical soundscape that stretches far beyond the small island. Few places in the world can boast such a rich and varied musical environment. And while the sheer number and variety of ensembles, performances and compositions is in itself quite extraordinary, it is the superb quality of the music that elevates this tradition into a class all its own.
Learn about the music of Bali, the variety, it's origins, the scales, modes and observations.

Gambang at Pura Besakih

 

It seems gamelan music had a mixture of influences, chinese pitch relationships mixed with drumming and modes from India, along with middle eastern bowed stringed instruments.
Balinese music evolved from a complex mixture of local ( Bali Aga) and Javanese roots. Hindus fled Java after the 14th-century collapse of the Javanese Majapaht dynasty to establish in Bali, bringing along their music and musical instruments. The balinese sustained its Hindu culture, despite its proximity to Java for many generations.
Balinese Gamelan music still has a strong similarity with Javanese music. For example, some Balinese gamelans share important traits with older styles of Javanese Gamelan, which are no longer heard in Java.

For anyone interested in music - from the casual listener to the professional. composer - Bali presents a musical landscape with easy access that stretches far beyond the small island . Few places in the world can boast such a rich and varied musical environment. And while the sheer number and variety of ensembles, performances and compositions is in itself quite extraordinary, it is the superb quality of the music that elevates this tradition into a class all its own. The traditional compositions are considered music for the deities while more modern pieces are for entertainment, displaying the virtuoso technique of Balinese gamelan.

The original purpose of Balinese music is to serve religious beliefs, accompanying dances or wayang theaters.
Music is learned by rote; it is not improvisation, but a sophisticated, well rehearsed and composed art form.

Semara Pagulingam

Balinese Gamelan Music

The word "gamelan" came from Javanese "gamel," which means "hammer." Most of the instruments in a Javanese/Bali Gamelan are gongs and metallophones, and the music is of percussive nature, however, in Bali there are more metallophones than gongs.

One of the characteristic of Balinese gamelan music is that, it has a lot of sudden changes in tempo and dynamics.
The Balinese metallophones produce very bright sound. During playing, the player uses the right hand to grip the mallet, and uses the left hand to damp the metal bar.
Another characteristic of Balinese Gamelan music is the use of cymbals. These cymbals create fast rattling sound that usually cannot be found in Javanese Gamelan
Balinese gamelan music is known as a gong-chime musical ensemble usually tuned to a four- or five-note scale

gong Agung.

The Spiritual Leader in Gamelan is the biggest gong providing wide punctuations, Gong Agung, however, the real leader and conductor during the performance is the drummer ( Kendang).

Balinese Gamelan music is played in ostinato ( repeating ), until the drummer gives a sign to end the performance, often being performed in an interlocking style called Kotekan.
Each gamelan is slightly different from the other; however, they all have the same organization, which based on different instrumental groups with specific orchestral functions. The instruments in a gamelan are composed of sets of tuned bronze gongs, gong-chimes, metallophones, drums, one or more flute, bowed and plucked string instruments, and sometimes singers.


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Gamelan instruments

Although gamelan instruments are xylophones made of bronze or bamboo, nowadays cheaper steel ones are made as well.

Bronze xylophones are of two basic types—
*gangsa, whose keys are supported over a wooden resonance box
*g'ndér, whose keys have individual bamboo resonators.
These instruments sometimes play the melody and sometimes they provide a brilliant figuration.

Gongs, suspended singly, are used for metrical accentuation.
Tthere are also gong chimes, which are of two types:
*The trompong, a set of 10, is a solo instrument
*The réyong, a set of 12, is played by four men, supplying figuration.

Flutes, of varying sizes, are made of bamboo and are nowadays often part of a gamelan, originally used in theatrical music.
Cymbals, bell rattles, and drums supply the all-important elaborate rhythmic background.
The angklung is an archaic, tuned bamboo rattle. It is not known in all parts of Bali, but gives its name to the angklung gamelan, a ceremonial gamelan which may at one time have always included angklungs.

The Tradition

In Balinese ( and Javanese) tradition, the gamelan is sacred and is believed to have supernatural power. Both musician and non-musicians are humble and respectful to the gamelan. Incense and flowers ( bantan) are often offered to the gamelan. It is believed that each instrument in the gamelan is guided by spirits. Thus, the musician have to take off their shoes when they play the gamelan. It is also forbidden to step over any instrument in a gamelan, because it might offend the spirit by doing so. Some gamelan are believed to have so much powers that playing them may exert power over nature. Gong Agung is the main spirit of the gamelan.
As a westerner the first experience of listening to a gamelan can be confusing, probably because the music was originally used to create havoc in the villages and chase away evil spirits

 

 

Creativity through Taksu?
Balinese mode - Slendro
Balinese mode - Pelog
Glossary of musical terms
Balinese Gamelan Tuning

Sekehe Tektekan Kerambitan Bali.
Semara Pagulingan
Seka Gambang
Seka Selunding
Seka Angklung

 

 

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