Collections of themed recordings curated by John Noise Manis

Gamelan of Central Java – 35


Track 1 – Gendhing MARASANJA slendro nem 24:03
Gamelan Sekar Tunjung at Pak Cokro’s residence

Track 2 – Gendhing UNDUK pelog nem 18:52
Gamelan of RRI Yogyakarta

Track 3 – Gendhing BABAR LAYAR pelog lima 27:21
Gamelan Sekar Tunjung at Pak Cokro’s residence

Track 4 – Gendhing TUKUNG pelog barang 18:38
Gamelan of RRI Yogyakarta


NOTES by Hardja Susilo
Tracks 1 and 3

The present release by John Noise Manis is a welcome addition to the poorly represented Javanese karawitan Yogyanese or Mataraman style. Mataram was the Central Javanese kingdom before it was split into Surakarta and Yogyakarta in 1755. The palace was located a few kilometers southeast of the present city of Yogyakarta.

In the Mataraman tradition, Marasanja (Come to Visit) and Babar Layar (Casting the Sail) as presented here are referred to as gendhing soran, from the word sora, or loud. Typically, as do Solonese gendhing bonang, gendhing soran exclude vocal part of any kind as well as “the front row instruments”, the gender barung, gender panerus, gambang, clempung, siter, rebab, and flute. Common practice in Mataraman soran, when rests or sustain are called for, instead of silence the saron would perform necek, an onomatopoeic term referring to the deliberate hitting of a saron key while it is being damped, creating the sound “cek, cek.”
Although Yogyanese and Solonese bonang elaborations are based on the same principle, a student of style might pay attention to the specific bonang “licks” which typify Yogyanese style in this recording. Also typical in this style, rather than strictly adhering to its density referents, the bonang may often “counterpoint” the pulse, giving the illusion of momentary freedom.
In addition to the different kendhang gendhing (large drum) patterns employed in this recording, the penunthung, played on the ketipung (small drum), in fast tempo would hit on the off beat, while in slow tempo it is played on the odd beat, i.e. beat 1, 3, 5, etc. and half-way to the next saron beat.



The only reason that as a child I knew of Gendhing Marasanja was because it was the name of my first gamelan teacher. In the old days it was the practice of the Kasultanan kraton to award personnel in the service of gamelan performance with names of gendhing. Thus they had Raden Bekel Mandrawa, a famous gender player, who incidentally was also the grandfather of Mas Suhirjan the gamelan maker, Raden Wedana Larassumbaga, a top notch drummer from the 1930s to the 1950s, the favorite of dancers, Raden Bekel Jatikumara, a vocalist also performing as Gareng (a clown) in the kraton dance drama, Raden Bekel Sri Malela, a copyist of the Kraton Manuscripts, Raden Marasanja, a bonang player. Although a name does not necessarily reflects one’s competency, Pak Mara was proud of the fact that his name was the name of this austere Gendhing, not merely the name of a ketawang.

The piece begins with adangiyah and the introduction by the bonang, The end of the bonang introduction sets the tempo of the following lamba section. Lamba, or “singling” (as opposed to rangkep, “doubling”) is an abstraction of the first gongan of Merong. The length of this abstraction varies depending on when the irama is dados, “set” or “ready,” i.e. it has arrived at the desired speed. At this point the ensemble will continue with the piece. At the stroke of the next gong (beat 256) the piece goes back to the beginning. For two kenongan, 128 beats, the piece remains unaltered. But on the third kenongan the drum hints an acceleration of tempo which signals Pangkat nDhawah, a transition to nDhawah. On the fourth kenongan, the Pangkat nDhawah proper, I feel there are 32 beats missing.

Unlike the nDhawah section of Babar Layar, the nDawah of Marasanja is “whole note” type of balungan known as balungan ndhawahi or balungan nibani. Common practice requires that with this type of balungan the two demung (lead saron) will play imbal (interlocking) demung, in which they subdivide the space between the strokes of the balungan into 16 density referents. In balungan dhawahi, in addition to playing the balungan, the saron section would insert a pancer tone, i.e. a recurring same pitch struck between the main balungan. In this piece the pancer tone is pitch ‘low 1’. Personally, I would prefer to use pitch ‘high 1’.

A remark must be made on the manner in which the pieces are ended. It has been common practice today that at the conclusion of the piece, in addition to the delay that is normally executed in the last stroke of gong, the saron group and the kenong further delay their last stroke and hence create too long a time interval between the last gong stroke and the last stroke of saron. This practice follows the style of the famous dhalang Ki Nartosabdo in the last quarter of the 20th century. There seems to be a belief today that the farther the last saron stroke from the last gong stroke, the more refined the result is. As a former dancer, I find that this way of ending a piece is somewhat disconcerting, and creates a dilemma. Should I put my foot down on the gong stroke or, later, on the saron stroke? In my childhood the last stroke of gong and the last stroke of balungan were orally recited as “gyoong,” because the ensemble follows the last gong stroke only by a tiny fraction of a second. That is the way I would end a gendhing.



Gendhing Babar Layar begins with two phrases of adangiyah (a very short prelude to the introduction identifying the mode of the piece) by the bonang barung (heretofore: bonang) responded by the saron group in the manner of the ceremonial gamelan Sekati. It is followed by the introduction proper of Gendhing Babar Layar. Four beats before the gong, rather than maintaining the melody as the Solonese style bonang would, here the bonang anticipates the gong tone with gembyang (octave playing) on the even beats, setting the tempo in the process. As the piece proceeds one would learn that this gendhing is unique in its melodic lines and unusual in its structure. From the first stroke of the gong gamelan connoisseurs will recognize immediately that this is not the Babar Layar that they have heard before. In fact, after being a gamelan student for more than 60 years, this is the first time that I hear Gendhing Babar Layar Mataraman in its complete form.

While it is common for a gendhing this size to contain two sections, Merong and nDhawah, it is uncommon that the nDhawah section include an extra gongan, a sesegan gongan, i.e. a fast section which might be comparable to the idea of stretto. Another unusual thing about this piece is that it has an Ompak Suwuk, a section which is only played to end the gendhing. Perhaps this portion is comparable to the idea of coda.

The introduction is followed by two gongan of merong. Toward the end of the second gongan the tempo accelerates to signal Pangkat nDhawah, or transition to the nDhawah. Here I feel I miss 32 saron beats. Furthermore the transition proper is rather awkward as the kenong pitch 3 is followed by pitch 4. Although such juxtaposition may be found in other gendhing, I find it awkward in this 27-minute long piece as it is never introduced before, nor does it recur afterwards.

In my childhood our teacher discouraged us from learning a piece this size. It would be considered ostentatious, and the concentration required by such Gendhing Ageng would be too strenuous for our small brain, so that it might drive us insane. So, as a child we were only taught the rousing nDhawah section of Babar Layar. In fact the reduced form of Babar Layar is the Babar Layar that most musicians know how to play. “Reshaped” into the ladrang form (32 beat rhythmic cycle), the more widely known Ladrang Babar Layar has a kenong stroke on beat 8,16, 24, and 32 instead of beat 64, 96, 128, and 256, and the Gong is hit on beat 32, rather than 256. In addition the piece would employ a lively ladrang drum pattern. The reduced form of Babar Layar is in fact the Babar Layar that most musicians know very well, hence the flawless performance of this section in the recording.

The original Babar Layar – the Babar Layar in this recording – employs a subdued kendhang gendhing (large drum) pattern that is liven up with the penunthung, played on the ketipung (small drum). In fast tempo the ketipung would be played on the off beat, while in slow tempo it is sounded on the odd beat, i.e. beat 1, 3, 5, etc. and half-way to the next saron beat.


CREDITS for Tracks 1 and 3

Pimpinan: Mas Riyo Muryowinoto
Kendhang: Murjono
Gamelan Kyai Sekar Tunjung
Recording made by John Noise Manis Sept. 28, 2008, in Pak Cokro’s pendopo



Pak Cokro’s Pendopo at recording

Notes by Hardja Susilo


Tracks 2 and 4

I have never heard Gendhing soran UNDUK performed. This is the first time. The style of the bonang barung, bonang panerus, and bonang panembung are Yogyanese, carefully avoiding some of the typically Solonese patterns. The ketipung (small drum) part in irama one is typically Solonese. The more orthodox Yogyanese style would be on the off beat, like the kethuk (punctuating instrument) in lancaran form.
The Yogyanese TUKUNG is interesting. I like it. Another way of distinguishing Yogyanese from Solonese performance is from the wiled level (detailed realization) of a piece of music on the balungan (‘skeleton’ melody). For example, one gaya (style) might use the gatra (measure) with notes 6 5 6 3, while the other plays 6 5 2 3; one gaya plays 6 5 3 2, the other 3 2 3 2; one plays – 7 6 -, the other 7 6 7 6; etc. In the case of this recording, the gaya is further distinguished by the use of the panembung bonang, an obsolescent instrument in Yogya, which has been obsolete in Solo (Surakarta) for a long time, except in Sekaten ensemble. The panembung plays the abstraction of the gendhing (composition). Playing this abstraction was termed mbalung. This is done by striking on the even beats of the gatra, beat two and beat four. On beat four the panembung would play the balungan note, on beat two the upper or lower neighbour note of the balungan note on beat four, avoiding repetitions and with no rests throughout.


CREDITS for Tracks 2 and 4

Bonang and music coordinator: Murwanto
Kendhang: Murjono

Recording made 17 May, 2004, in the Studio of RRI Yogyakarta, using the Studio’s equipment



RRI Radio Republik Indonesia, Yogyakarta