GAMELAN in brief
Gamelan originates from Indonesia. There are many types of gamelan, but the most famous being Javanese, Balinese and Sundanese styles of gamelan music. Many countries in South East Asia, like Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, also have similar types of these "gong-chime" instruments.
In Dec 2021, UNESCO officially recognises gamelan as the 12th intangible cultural heritage from Indonesia, after wayang, keris, batik, batik education and training, angklung, saman dance, noken, three traditional dance genres of Bali, the art of phinisi shipbuilding, pencak silat and pantun.
"Gamelan" comes from the Indonesian word, "Gamel" meaning "to strike". Hence, Gamelan refers to the whole ensemble of percussive instruments, that are hand crafted from bronze and wood, consisting of metallophones such as cempres, gangsa, jegog, saron, demung, gender and slenthem; different sizes of gongs and drums, as well as stringed instruments such as the rebab and zither and wind instruments (known as 'suling'). A gamelan ensemble can consist of a small group of 4-5 people to over 30 musicians.
Gamelan is performed in the royal palaces of Central Java (Yogyakarta and Surakarta), places of worship like temples and churches; and, also in the villages and community venues. It is used to accompany shadow puppet theatre (Wayang Kulit), dance, various ceremonies, weddings, funerals and festivals.
Anyone can learn to play the gamelan as there are a wide range of instruments to suit the different skills and talent of each person. You do not need to be able to read music, as pieces are taught using a number system Or played from memory.
Playing gamelan will help to develop your sense of rhythm, listening skills, as well as teamwork. It is also wonderful music to relieve stress! Learning the gamelan also helps to reinforce very important values such as cooperation, respect, humility, restraint and refinement.
When we play gamelan, we do not bring attention to ourselves by making funny faces or moving our body unnecessarily. This is because the musicians have to be humble and refined when playing the gamelan. The audience is supposed to focus on the music, not the musicians. We also take off shoes when playing the gamelan. This is a mark of respect. Gamelans are highly respected instruments and are often given special names. We NEVER step over the instruments for safety reasons.
Gamelan around the World
You'll be amazed to know that Gamelan music is well-known and well-loved around the world, due to the extensive research and publication on the subject, as well as new compositions by ethnomusicologists, such as Colin McPhee, Jaap Kunst, Mantle Hood, Neil Sorrell, Jennifer Lindsay, Michael Tenzer and Sumarsam. Gamelan is taught in many universities and schools around the world in their music programmes. The music of gamelan has also been the source of inspiration for composers and musicians like Debussy, Britten, John Cage, Lou Harrison; including popular music icon Bjork and even Taiwanese rock band FIR. Within Indonesia itself, pioneer composers such as Sri Hastanto and Rahayu Supanggah, and others like Ki Nartosabdo have created an extensive and fascinating body of works for the gamelan.
Here are some interesting websites for you to look up:-
GAMELAN COMMUNITY . NETWORKING .
CONTEMPORARY WAYANG ARCHIVE
Interested to learn or know more about wayang kulit ? This is where you can find a collection of old, yet eclectic wayang performances. Do Click here.
SINGA NGLARAS GAMELAN ENSEMBLE
This is a Singapore-based gamelan ensemble formed in January 2004. The ensemble is managed by Dr Jan Mrázek of the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, NUS. Members of the ensemble are mainly NUS students, alumni, and faculty members, together with many non-NUS members of the public. Click here to find out more !
AMERICAN GAMELAN INSTITUTE
This is an organization devoted to publishing, recording, distributing, and making available information on all aspects of Indonesian performing arts and their international counterparts. Click here to find out more.
EKA SUWARA SANTHI
This is Singapore's only Balinese Dance group. Would you like to know more about Balinese culture through dance ? Come ! Find out more via Eka Suwara Santhi's FaceBook profile.
Through our gamelan journey, we have met and collaborated with many musicians of different backgrounds. Over time, the organic process of working on material that highlights gamelan as well as various musical backgrounds of our key musicians gave rise to our Dwi Warna concept, which blends contemporary styles, of rock & jazz together with gamelan, where both are deeply rooted in tradition. Check out Dwi Warna's FaceBook profile and Instagram.
Gamelan Singamurti, managed by SKALA, is a contemporary Balinese gamelan ensemble, based in Singapore which aims to push the boundaries of traditional Balinese gamelan sounds into the realm of contemporary sonic landscapes. Check out their Facebook and Instagram. Also check out their EP album on Insiturec.