Collections of themed recordings curated by John Noise Manis

Gamelan of Central Java – 36


Track 1 – 13:23
Gendhing LALER MENGGENG slendro sanga (Montebello version)

Track 2 – 7:57
Ketawang Sinom LOGONDHANG slendro sanga

Track 3 – 21:32
Ketawang Gendhing TLUTUR
Ketawang Dhandhangula TLUTUR
Ayak-Ayakan TLUTUR slendro sanga

Track 4 – 15:19
Ladrang TURUN SIH pelog lima

Track 5 – 10:42
Ketawang MIJIL DHEMPEL slendro sanga (gendhing kemanak)


It wasn’t easy to find out what the Javanese equivalent of the Western idea of ‘music of remembrance’ could be. In the Western culture – leaving aside the ‘funeral music’ that historically has accompanied official ceremonies in certain national and regional areas – the notion of remembrance music generally calls on pieces of the classical repertoire that are somber in character.

In Java, I have asked several persons, especially musicians, what pieces of the traditional repertoire or what type of gamelan music would mostly suit and be used for remembering the dead, particularly in a private context, when feelings of affections tied and tie the living to the deceased. Answers have been inconclusive and ambivalent. Objective observation does not help much, as it can happen that, for example, for a function of slametan (or mulyarars), where musicians commemorate another musician who has passed away, a piece named ‘Wilujeng’ is often played (possibly by candlelight). But, this well-known title is also played as welcome music, or as an opening to a klenengan (concert). The meaning of ‘wilujeng’ is varied, according to the context. It’s a well-wishing expression carrying such meanings as salvation, prosperity, good news, etc. Thus, we have to infer and make explicit something that is a likely component of the Javanese cultural context: contrary to the Western feeling and practice, for some people in Java memorial music should not be sad and mournful – in a remembrance function such music would attract malevolent spirits and might bring further deaths and ills. The music should rather be untroubled and serene, so as to attract benevolent spirits who will accompany the journey of the deceased and protect the living.

But then the Wilujeng piece can be played in different laras (pelog or slendro), in different pathets, and with different treatments. Which means that that music can be ‘changed’ and adapted to create various types of feelings, including the somber, reflective ones which in the West are standard for the circumstance. Thus, the situation remains fluid and undetermined, as is often the case with the rich and complex Javanese culture. Bapak Sumarsam, whom I had asked for guidance, aknowledges that some research is needed on the subject, but also states that, clearly, there is no uniform practice and that the music community occasionally tends to create new expressions for remembrance functions.

The present album does not claim to be representative of Javanese remembrance music – nor I think that such objective be attainable. Most of the pieces were indicated by the excellent and competent musicians of ISI Surakarta. Whether they prevalently had in mind their interpretation of the Western notion of remembrance, or their own authentic notion, I cannot really tell.

In any case, the initial piece in the present programme, Laler Menggeng, does fulfill the character and intent that I subjectively meant to include in the album. This is a recording of the music that was actually played by a small ensemble of four performers – three young Yogyanese musicians and Daniel Wolf – on the lawn of the Montebello residence for a special remembrance.

John Noise Manis


Although full of references to sounds and the command to the believers to “Listen!”, the Quran is silent on the subject of instrumental and vocal music, and the Hadith, the orally transmitted instructions of the prophet Muhammad, is contradictory, with the community of religious scholars holding deeply divided opinions on the subject: one scholar may praise and celebrate the practice of music while another will condemn music and forbid its practice without exception. This leads to the paradox of the Islamicate world being at once rich in depth and diversity of musical experience and at the same time, having that experience perpetually under threat of censorship or extinction.

The recitation of Quranic texts, which is the center of Islamic daily public worship, is not considered by Islamic scholars to be music. The reader of the Quran is valued for the quality of his voice, but he is not identified as a singer. However, the outsider to Islam – and the belated converts to the faith, as in Indonesia – will readily identify characteristics of Quranic recitation that are unmistakeably musical.

Track 4 in this abum – Turun Sih – is an experiment in making explicit to listeners something which musicians understand implicitly. This does not represent traditional performance practice, but is much more the spirit of experiment that has characterized the modern music schools, academies and conservatories of Java at their best, and is also well within the spirit of Islamic science in its golden age. (In passing, one wishes that western conservatories were equally committed to an experimental approach to their own traditions). Ladrang Turun Sih, a title which might be translated as “Giving Devotion”, is understood by musicians to be based upon the call to prayer familiar to anyone who has ever visited a Muslim country. But this understanding is here made overt by combining a performance of the instrumental work with the vocal call to prayer. The relationship between the instrumental composition and the melodic contours of the recitation are unambiguous, but the propriety of the performance and recording is problematic: Is music being made out of Quranic recitation, which by definition is neither singing nor music? Does the instrumental work convey the message recited? To this listener’s ears, the recording conveys well the alternating senses of tension and resolution invoked by this experiment, but also the tension familiar to anyone who has ever experienced the Javanese soundscape – one in which the amplified voice of the muezzin regularly punctuates gamelan rehearsals.

On Track 5 Mijil Dhempel (“close together”, or “intimate”) is an uniquely beautiful and refined composition, perfect example of the artistic inventiveness of the Solonese court in the 19th century, but also example of an invented antiquity through the pre-Islamic tone of the texts, and the use of the reduced ensemble featuring kemanak, an instrument which the listeners would presumably associate with the archaic.

Daniel Wolf

Ketawang Sinom Logondhang slendro sanga

Ya Allah ya Rosulullah
kang sifat murah lan asih
mugi mugi aparinga
pitulung ingkang nartani
ing alam awal akhir
dumununging gesang ulun
mangkya sampun awredha
ing wekasan kadi pundi
mila mugi antuka pitulung Tuhan.

Sageda sabar santosa
mati sajroning ngaurip
kalis ing reh aru ara
murka angkara sumingkir
tarlen meleng malatsih
sanityasa tyas memasuh
badharing sapu dhendha
antuk mayar sawetawis
borong angga sawarga mesi mataya.

Oh God, oh Messenger of God
so generous and loving
I pray You will bestow on me
the help that accompanies
in the world from beginning to end
where I am living
now being old
I do not know what will happen next
so I pray for Your help, oh God.

I pray for patience and peace
dead to this life
avoiding all kinds of disturbances
so that greed will leave me
only focusing my mind
keeping a pure heart
to wipe away all punishment
to gain a moment of ease
submitting to my fate.

Ketawang Mijil Dhempel slendro sanga

Lamun sira madeg narapati
Yayi wekas ingong
Apan ana ing prabu ugere
Sastra cetha ulatana yayi
Omahna den pasti
Wulange sastreku
Rehning janma tama nguni-uni
Kang mengku kaprabon
Ingkang nistha kawruhana kabeh
Miwah madya ywa lali
Lire siji-siji
Den kena ywa tungkul
Tindak ing nistha mangka pamardi
Temah tan anggepok
Ingkang madya resepana wae
Mring utama sira den kepingin
Den kadi sira mrih
Sengsem dyah ayu

When you become king
here is a message for my little brother
as there are precepts for being king
It is clearly stated, little brother
Study carefully
the teachings written
long ago by a venerable man
who ruled the kingdom
Recognise the contemptible
and the mediocre, don’t forget
each meaning
you need to master, don’t give up
Understand the motives of despicable behaviour
keeping no connection with it
Understand the mediocre
You must be attracted to the good
the same way
you are to a beautiful woman.


Nyi Sri Suparsih



Performed by the ‘Group of the Impermanence’, on the occasion composed by:
Rebab : Nugroho Suhardi
Gender : Ngatiman
Slenthem : Hartono Suhardi
Gong : Daniel Wolf
Recorded 26 Sept 1999 at Montebello, Castellamonte (TO), Italy

Performed by Musicians of ISI Surakarta
Music Coordinator : Joko Purwanto
Pesindhen : Nyi Sri Suparsih, Nyi Yayuk Sri Rahayu
Recorded 3 July 2007 at ISI Surakarta

Performed by Musicians of ISI Surakarta
Music Coordinator : Joko Purwanto
Rebab : Suraji Sumarto
Wiraswara : Darsono, Rustopo, Waridi
Recorded 22 July 2003 at ISI Surakarta