The Sound of Moonlight – The Niceties of Tuning

The tuning of the instrument is highly complex

The idiosyncratic preferences of indivudual gamelan makers ensuring that no two sets of instruments sound quite alike. The basic schema is to have two independent tuning system, called slendro and pelog. In the slendro scale, the octave is divided into five roughly equal parts, whereas in the pelog system, a mixture of large and small untervals is used. Javanese pelog commonly used seven tones, while in bali a five-note version is generally preferred. In java, separate slendro and pelog sets are cast for each orchestra, both of which are readily accessible to the players during performances.

Individual pieces are normally composed for one tuning or another. Balinese ensemble, however, never use both scale, The kebyar instruments, for example, are exclusively tuned to pelog, while the gamelan gender wayang (used to accompany shadow play performances) is always in slendro. The unique tonality of each instrument set means that standard pelog and slendro scale do not exist. The variety of colours impartes to a pice by various orchestre help in part to produce stylistic diferrences Balinese ensembles have the added complexity of “paired tuning” in which pairs of instruments are tuned slightly apart to produce pulsations that greatly enchance the timbre.

There are several system of notition yet professional musicians normally shun them. Gamelan musicians were traditionally trained without any reference to written scores, and by other musicians in their spare time. In the Central Javanese palaces, musicians began to receive special training of thei courtly duties at the beginning of this century, but this was exceptional. Before this, and still today in Bali, musicians study and play mostly in their village, coming into the cities to perform only on special occasions. Since independence, however several government music academies have been founded and students now lear the traditional arts in a more formal setting.

At the village level, it is often difficult to distinguish amateurs from professionals. Many village artists are quite expert in the music of their region and yet no special status is assigned to them, nor is any sizeable payment given for their service. Some gamelan musicians are itinerant, making the rounds of traditioanl performances, be they theatrical or ceremonial or both, including the ever-popular shadow play or wayang kulit circuit. There are many famous artists who lead this precarious life, but the financial rewards are minimal and most hold other jobs as well. In recent years, the prospects of gaining employment teaching in the music school or of being invited to join goverment sponsored cultural missions abroad have attracted many young people to pursue a musical career.
The big orchestras were and still are loyal heirlooms, and the musical style of a royal horse is considered to be a part of the orchestra.

In Java, instrument sets are invariably a family possession, even in the villages, and are often highly decorative – a kind of status symbol. Good examples of javanese court gamelans may be seen in the Sasono Budaya Museum in Yogya and the Mangkunegaran Palace in Solo. Once a year during the Sekatan festival celebrating the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, the court gamelans of Yogya and Solo are played in the mosque to an audience of thousands – in clear violation of Islamic in the javanese.

Balinese gamelans are normally owned and maintained cooperatively by village music clubs, (sekaha). The Balinese religious calendar prescribes a hectic schedule of performsnces for temple festivals, and the provincial government has taken an active role in perserving lesser-known musical styles that may be in danger of extinction. Island-wide inter-village musical competitions provide an impetus for composers and performances to constantly expand the expressive parmeters of the music.

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