Collections of themed recordings curated by John Noise Manis

Gamelan of Central Java – 26  SEKATEN  CONTINUUM  SURAKARTA


Track 1 – 8:22 – ISI Pendopo Gamelan Sekati – Gd Rangkung

Track 2 – 13:52 – Gamelan Sekati Guntur Madu – Gd Bondhet

Track 3 – 12:36 – Gamelan Sekati Guntur Sari – Gd ‘Peking’

Track 4 – 14:55 – Gamelan Sekati Guntur Madu – Gd Glendheng

Track 5 – 7:14 – Gamelan Sekati Guntur Sari – Gd Rambu

Musicians of ISI Surakarta (Track 1) and Kraton Surakarta (Tracks 2-5)
Recordings made in 2001 (Track 3),  2003 (Track 1),  and 2004 (Tracks 2, 4, 5)
Recording, mastering, and photos:  John Noise Manis




Sekaten is a week-long religious Islamic festivity falling in the month of Mulud of the Javanese calendar (the Javanese year is eleven days shorter than the Western one). Ceremonies celebrate the birth and death of the Prophet Mohammed; and the gamelan in Central Java takes a very special sound – a sound that is mystical and powerful at the same time.

When Islam began to spread to Java, from the 15th century onwards, religious leaders thought of using the familiar sound of the gamelan to attract the people to the new faith. Thus, a special ensemble of instruments and a particular style of music were created, which continue to be heard nowadays. At the beginning of the Sekaten week, from each of the two Kratons of Surakarta and Yogyakarta, the two Gamelan Sekati are taken in procession to the Great Mosque. Here they are played every day almost continuously from morning to night. The two gamelans stay inside small pavilions which face one another, and they are played alternatively – when one gamelan finishes, the other begins. The ambience is very noisy and very crowded, as the scene of a popular fair can be. However, the music manages to polarise attention and, if you stand close enough, to induce a state of trance-like rapture and spiritual reflection. The music is loud, so that people can hear it from a distance; it has also the power to stir inner emotions – which may be an intriguing experience for the non-Javanese.

There is a repertory of gendings for each Gamelan Sekati, but for the Western ear it is rather difficult to distinguish one from another. On the other hand, it is fairly easy to distinguish one Gamelan Sekati from the other, as intonation and timbres of instruments vary interestingly. The scale is always the seven-tone pelog.

The instruments of a Gamelan Sekati are all of the “loud” type. They comprise the entire family of gongs – both suspended and resting on strings in a wooden frame – the family of sarons – bronze xylophones – and one large barrel-shaped drum called bedug. Not only the instruments are of the loud type – they are enormous, more than double the size of a normal gamelan. Mallets and hammers are consequently big and heavy, including buffalo horns weighted on the striking head with lead. And the force used in sekaten playing is remarkable; this is confirmed in a popular belief according to which, in case a musician succeded in breaking one of the saron keys while playing, he would get a reward from the Kraton.

The pieces, generally lasting from 10 to 25 minutes, have a constant musical pattern. They start rather softly and extremely slowly, then, at various points, pick-up speed and loudness and eventually get to the greatest fortissimo imaginable. After the climax, both tempo and sound subside to the final gong strike. The energy generated during the crescendo produces a total experience – musical, physical, spiritual. It is also a challenge to the ears (and to microphones!), particularly if you sit inside the pavilion. The playing is very demanding on the musicians. These are usually the best from the Kraton: they carry out the task as a religious and honourable service. At the end of a sekaten day these men maintain solemn postures and gratified expressions – with eyes often closed; it would be difficult to distinguish spiritual ecstasy from physical exhaustion.

The first of the sekaten gendings in this album is played by the musicians of ISI (Institute of the Arts) Surakarta on the gamelan that ISI owns and uses for its institutional purposes.  The other sekaten gendings we hear are played on the two Gamelan Sekati of Kraton Surakarta, namely Gamelan Sekati Guntur Madu (Honeyed Thunder) and Gamelan Sekati Guntur Sari (Essence of Thunder).


YANTRA – Production and Digital Release