The Sound of Moonlight – Gamelan Balinese

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Balinese gamelan exhibits overwhelming variety

Dozens of completely diffrend types of ensembles exist, some of qhich are restricted to isolated areas. Givens Bali’s tinysize, it many seem peculiar that there should be such differentiation among districts that are virtually within walking distance of one another. But at least part of the answer lies in the topography of the island itself – Bali’s many rivers and ravines subdivide the island into eight distinct regions, each of which has developed a unique cultural persona over the centuries. In the 20th century, the tendency is for greater eclecticism.

Yet, the western Jembrana district retains its indigenous jegog ensemble (made up of giant bamboo tubes tuned to a unique four-tone scale), and the village of Renon still maintains the gong bheri gamelan, bossles gongs that resemble Chinese tamtams, used exclusively to accompany the rarely performed baris cina dance. These are just two examples, yet there are many other cases of musical traditions flourishing in unlikely places. With thousands upon thousands of gamelans active in Bali, exploring the musical scene can be a fascinating adventure.

One of the most frequently encountered ensembles in Bali si the gamelan gong kebyar. Kebyar refers to a particularly flashy style of music that originated in the north of the island around 1915, but the esembles that play it have sinse expanded their repetoire to include other styles. In the gong kebyar, four difference gongs mark the musical phrase. They are, in order of descending size: the gong, kempur, kempli and kemong. The melodic theme is carried by two pairs of large metallophones: the jegogan and calung. A ten-piece gangsa (high-pitched metallophones) section ornaments the theme, and the reong (Bali’s version of the Javanese bonang) is played by four musicians who produce a rippling stream of visceral, syncopated figurations. A pair of kendhang drums leads the group, interlocking with each other to produce spectacular rhythms. The drummer of the lower pitched kendhang is generally also the leader, teacher, composer, and often choreographer for the esemble. A set of shimmering cymbals (suling) completes the orchestra.

Balinese musical performances are noted for their capriciousnes, stridency, and rhythmic vitality – particularly in contrast to the slow and measured gamelan perfomances of Java. One of the chief differences is that most Balinese metallophones are struck with unpadded mallets, thus producing a much sharper tone. And the interlocking rhythms, all painstakingly memorized and rehearsed by each palyer, have reached a zenith of complexity in Bali.

–> Read Also : The Sound of Moonlight – The Niceties of Tuning

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