A House in Tenganan – Gunawan’s Gamelan Selonding
Cover picture: Pak Gunawan (left) and members of Sanggar Guna Winangun
On the hilly north-eastern side of Bali, the ancient walled village of Tenganan is home to the independent and isolated original people of the island – the Aga. Apparently they retreated into the mountains centuries ago to avoid invaders, and have remained separate ever since. Thus, it is no surprise that many of the oldest, pre-Hindu traditions are still maintained here. The Aga are generally tall and slim. Their community does not recognize individual personal ownership – everything is common property. Only in recent times was it made permissible for newcomers from outside to spend any length of time in the village, and strict rules concerning conduct still apply. The layout of the village is symmetrical and all houses look identical. The village is also known for its high quality fabrics and is surrounded by unusually fertile land.
Gamelan selonding is an ancient and rare form of music. It is also the only Balinese set of instruments made of iron. Such instruments produce their characteristic sound, which is rather mellow and ’round’ compared to the edgier sound of the bronze gamelans.
Gamelan selonding uses a septatonic pelog scale. Classical pieces are generally composed in only five of the seven pitches. Thus there are several possible five-note combinations or ‘modes’ which are called saih.
On July 2, 2011, I visited the recognised master of gamelan selonding – I Nyoman Partha Gunawan – in his house in Tenganan. I was priviledged to get an agreement for a recording session, which took place the following day. I was interested in his classical repertoire but also in trying-out some form of improvisations based on the model of Terry Riley’s ‘In C’ (I was concurrently carrying out a more organized project along those lines with other groups in Bali).
Most of the pieces recorded on July 3 at Pak Gunawan’s home are included in the present album, except the longish sequence that came closer to the desired re-interpretation of the Riley’s founding work of minimalism (such sequence, ‘In Sondong’, is included in another Yantra release, ‘Gamelan Bali Modern’ – JNM-11).
John Noise Manis
Recordings made on July 3, 2011, at the home of Bapak Gunawan in Tenganan