Collections of themed recordings curated by John Noise Manis

Gamelan of Central Java – 32

Track 1 – Munggang at Istana Mangkunegaran 7:06
Track 2 – Kodok Ngorek at Istana Mangkunegaran6:04
Track 3 – Carabalen at Istana Mangkunegaran10:16
Track 4 – Munggang at Kraton Surakarta3:09
Track 5 – Kodok Ngorek at ISI Surakarta with vocals7:24
Track 6 – Carabalen (Ladrang Bali Balen and gangsaran) at Kraton Surakarta 3:21
Track 7 – Carabalen (Ktw Pisang Bali Lcr Glagah Kanginan) at Kraton Surakarta 7:23
Track 8 – Munggang at Montebello (Italy) 3:07
Track 9 – Kodok Ngorek at Montebello 3:32
Track 10 – Carabalen at Montebello 5:36
Track 1 1 – Munggang, Kodok Ngorek, and Carabalen in a special performance at Kraton Surakarta 7:09


by John Noise Manis


Munggang is the name of the oldest music known in Java. It is also the name of the “dedicated” gamelans that in kratons and palaces play exclusively that music. The gending, as we know it to-day, is essentially an iteration of a three-tone four-note melody – to give an idea, something resembling the sequence A, G#, A, F in the Western scale. It should be noted that gending Munggang is also known as gending Lokananta (which in Javanese means “supernaturally produced gamelan music from heaven”).


The origin of the music goes so far back as to be rooted in myth. The story is told in the introduction of an old manuscript of the Yogyakarta Kraton, Kitab Jitapsara. Both Jaap Kunst in his fundamental “Music in Java” and Mantle Hood in his more imaginative “The Evolution of Javanese Gamelan” refer to the story, which briefly goes as follows.

Batara Guru (Shiva), king of the gods, needed an instrument with which he could summon the gods for consultation, or when going to battle. He fashioned a gong and established
the number and types of strokes which would communicate to all the gods the various
messages. But, as the combination of strokes grew in number, the gods got confused and
the messages misunderstood. So, Batara Guru made a second gong with a different pitch.
Now the two gongs could be struck in alternation, making the combinations and the
corresponding messages more clearly differentiated. But the number of messages
eventually grew further, to the point that the gods got confused again. So, Batara Guru
made a third gong tuned to a third pitch. Hence the three-toned Munggang, with its
specialised use, was created.


Jaap Kunst further notes that “the first one of its kind was called Lokananta and is said to have been put into service in 347 A.D. The position which it occupied in the kraton of Majapahit corresponded, it appears, to that which is reserved to-day for the gamelans sekati in the kratons of Central Java.”

It is generally aknowledged that in the 13th century Munggang music was used in connection with religiose Hinduism. One is led to wonder what was the likely nature of the ancient melodies now lost to the repertory. To-day the one known melody is played on solemn and festive occasions, and also regularly on certain days and times in kratons and palaces. Gending Munggang uses two great gongs (gong ageng) – an unusual feature compared to normal gamelan music, which limits its use to one gong.

Not as archaic and perhaps not as revered as Munggang, the following two gendings complete the trio of ceremonial pieces used for special occasions or played at regular dates.


Gending Kodok Ngorek (Croaking Frog) iterates a two-tone three-note-and-pause melody – something like A, pause, A, G#. A third tone is heard as a constant beat, a sort of bourdon-ostinato. Kodok Ngorek is played on weddings, birthdays, and circumcisions in the kratons and palaces – but also as a popular entertainment.

Gending Carabalen – the meaning of the name is uncertain, it could possibly be “in the Balinese style” – is based on a four-tone four-note melody of the type G, A, A#, B. A number of versions of this gending are known and played to-day. Carabalen may be heard at great festivities, at the entry of important guests, and other ceremonies.


All three gendings may happen to be played on “normal”gamelans, but the authentic way assumes that each gending be played on its own “dedicated” gamelan – which would in fact comprise a reduced number of instruments compared to a normal complete gamelan. The dedicated gamelans usually form part of the sacred possessions – pusaka – of kratons, palaces, and distinguished families.
Munggang, Kodok Ngorek, and Carabalen on Tracks 1, 2, and 3 of this album were recorded in the great Pendopo of Istana (Palace) Mangkunagaran on a Saturday morning, June 1st, 1996. Until about 1999 the three ceremonial gamelan sets were placed in one of the four corners of the Pendopo, with three other complete gamelans occupying the three remaining corners – which gives an idea of the size of this outstanding example of Javanese architecture. Then the Prince Mangkunagoro decided to relocate the ceremonial gamelans and two of the other gamelans, leaving only the world-renowned gamelan Kanyut Mesem for playing in the Pendopo. The reasons for this move are not reported. The consequence – up to the Summer 2001 – was that the three Mangkunagaran gamelans Munggang, Kodok Ngorek, and Carabalen no longer resounded every Saturday morning from 9 to 10. In later times the move was reversed.
On Track 4 gending Munggang is played on the dedicated gamelan of same name within the precints of the Kraton Surakarta. Recording was made on June 1st,1996.


Track 5 has a version of Kodhok Ngorek elaborated with vocals by the musicians (Faculty Staff) of ISI, Institute Seni Indonesia, Surakarta. Performance recorded on May 7, 2004.
An excerpt of a commentary by Bapak Sumarsam, the eminent Javanese musicologist, on this version is as follows.

“Creatively, the musicians juxtapose this archaic, instrumental ensemble with two macapat songs: Asmaradana, sung by female singers in steady-pulsed melodic style, and Pangkur sung by a male singer in the original style of unaccompanied, un-pulsed macapat song. This is a new arrangement. Other instruments are also added, perhaps gender panerus and saron, playing in the style of archaic gambang gangsa (a multiple-octave bronze xylophone); they trail the melody of the gender. I do not know the process by which the musicians came up with this creation. But I know that juxtaposing different elements of traditional material/idioms is one of the common practices in creating new gamelan pieces or arrangements.”


On Tracks 6 and 7 two of the existing versions of Carabalen are played on normal gamelan instruments (not dedicated gamelans) of Kraton Surakarta.
These two refined performances by ISI musicians were recorded on May 11, 2004.


Tracks 8, 9, and 10 comprise renditions of the three gendings by an international group convened at Montebello (Castellamonte, Italy) during the Summer of 1999 to play on the ‘Montebello gamelan’, which is housed in its own pendopo. Four young musicians from Yoyakarta were the backbone of the group in the occasion.


Track 11. The performance on this track of all three ceremonial gendings in continuum is the result of a special request that was made to and realized by Sri Djoko Raharjo, the late Javanese musician and dahlang. He organized and directed a number of musicians to play at the Kraton on selected powerful instruments on June 10, 2000, at 7 a.m.



The ceremonial gongs at the Mangkunegaran pendopo


The Montebello Gamelan and pendopo