THE SOUNDS OF MONTEBELLO GAMELAN
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION
This is a collection of the percussive sounds of a Central Javanese gamelan (‘gamelan’ derives from ‘gamel’, to hit with a hammer or mallet). Non-percussive gamelan sounds, which have been excluded from this collection, are those produced by instruments such as the rebab (bowed), the siter (plucked), the suling (blown), and the human voice.
This library presents the sounds of one particular gamelan. It should be reminded that each gamelan has its own tuning. That is, pitches and intervals may vary from one gamelan to another, while maintaining the two basic systems of scale – the slendro scale (five notes in the octave) and the pelog scale (seven notes in the octave). The gamelan recorded here is Kaduk Raras (pelog) Raras Sari (slendro), also called Montebello Gamelan. It was made in Central Java by various gamelan makers, including Tentrem Sarwanto of Surakarta and Suhirjan of Yogyakarta. It was tuned after the well-known Kaduk Manis Manis Rengga of Kraton Surakarta. It resides in its own specially built ‘pendopo’ on a hillside named Montebello, not far from Turin, Italy. (Descriptive material and pictures are at www.gamelan.it.)
This library has two sections. The main section comprises 311 sounds of instruments of the classical gamelan. An additional section presents sounds which complement the traditional ones – namely, 127 gamelan sounds of 7 Javanese-built chromatic instruments in the 12-tone tempered scale. Also, 20 natural sounds of a lithophone pertaining to the Montebello residence are included.
The classical instruments of the Montebello Gamelan recorded in this album are:
6 gong ageng, 5 gong suwukan, 8 kempul, 14 kenong, 5 bonang, 1 bedug, 3 kendhang, 2 slenthem, 2 gender, 1 gender panerus, 6 kemanak, 2 slentho, 2 demung, 2 saron, 2 peking, 2 gambang gangsa, 2 gambang kayu, 1 keprak.
Recordings made in 2011.
|slenthem pelog – 7 tones – 2:07
slenthem slendro – 7 tones – 2:04
gender pelog – 17 tones – 4:08
gender slendro – 14 tones – 3:06
gender panerus slendro – 14 tones – 2:38
gong kemodong – 0:31
bonang panembung pelog – 14 tones – 1:19
bonang barung pelog – 14 tones – 1:04
bonang panerus pelog – 14 tones – 1:04
bonang barung slendro – 10 tones – 0:51
bonang panerus slendro – 10 tones – 0:46
kenong pelog – 8 tones – 1:20
kenong slendro – 5 tones – 0:55
kenong jap., ketuk, kempyang, engkug kemong – 7 tones – 0:43
kempul pelog – 5 tones – 0:58
kempul slendro – 3 tones – 0:37
suwukan pelog – 3 tones – 0:52
suwukan slendro – 2 tones – 0:31
gong ageng ‘5’ – 59Hz – 0:31
gong ageng ‘3’ iron – 47Hz – 0:31
gong ageng ‘Sekar Sepi Sendiri’ – 59Hz – 0:31
gong ageng ‘Bali’ – 37Hz – 0:31
gong ageng ‘3’ – 47Hz – 0:31
gong ageng ‘2’ – 37Hz – 0:31
bedug – 0:31
kendhang ageng – 0:33
kendhang ciblon – 0:31
kendhang ketipung – 0:31
slento pelog – 7 tones – 1:25
slento slendro – 7 tones – 0:56
demung pelog iron – 7 tones – 1:53
saron pelog iron – 7 tones – 1:19
peking pelog iron – 7 tones – 1:00
saron pelog – 7 tones – 1:36
saron slendro – 9 tones – 1:35
peking slendro – 7 tones – 1:48
gambang gangsa pelog – 23 tones – 5:13
gambang gangsa slendro iron – 17 tones – 2:35
gambang pelog – 21 tones – 1:32
gambang slendro – 20 tones – 1:32
kemanak 6 tones – 0:45
keprak – 0:31
chromatic slenthem – 13 tones – 2:47
chromatic gender – 13 tones – 2:52
chromatic gender panerus – 13 tones – 2:56
chromatic demung iron – 13 tones – 3:05
chromatic saron iron – 13 tones – 2:08
chromatic peking iron – 13 tones – 2:02
chromatic bonang iron – 49 tones – 3:52
lithophone (montebello stones) – 20 natural tones – 1:25
FAMILIES OF INSTRUMENTS
Hanging Gongs: gong ageng, gong suwukan, kempul
Resting Gongs: kenong, ketuk, kempyang, bonang (panembung, barung, panerus)
Drums: bedug, kendhang ageng, ciblon, ketipung
Gender: gong kemodong, slenthem, gender, gender panerus
Saron: slentho, demung, saron, peking, gambang gangsa
Instruments not included in the present collection – also because not of the ‘gamel’ type (stricken with a mallet) – are:
siter and celempung,
and the voice, naturally.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION AND CHARACTERISTICS OF INSTRUMENTS AND SOUNDS
With the exception of ‘drums’ and ‘gambang’, all instruments of the traditional gamelan presented here are metallophones, where the entire instrument or the sounding element is made of metal, and the sounding element is struck with mallets or sticks of various shapes and hardness according to the type of sound required. The metal is normally bronze, an alloy comprising 10 parts of copper and 3 parts of tin, and it needs to be forged – not simply cast – through a long, hard, and complex process. Sometimes iron is used instead of bronze. Iron instruments, cheaper and somewhat simpler to make, are less ‘noble’ than bronze instruments, but it should be noted that, when properly made, their sound is not at all to be looked down on. On occasion – subjectively, and for reasons too long to be discussed here – their sound might even be better liked. In our lists all metallophones are made of bronze, except when ‘iron’ is explicitly indicated.
For pitch-range of the instruments, see the table providing such information. Another table shows the pitches and intervals of the two Javanese scales of the Montebello gamelan – slendro and pelog – and their relation to the 12-tone Western chromatic scale. By way of completeness, it should be said that the Javanese scales have ‘stretching octaves’.
Diameter: 90-100 cm. Weight: 70-80 kg. It is hung vertically from a stand or ‘gayor’. It is played by beating against the boss with a mallet that has a spherical, heavily padded head. Its musical function is a very important one, marking the close of the longest cycle (‘gongan’) within a gamelan composition. It is also regarded as the repository of the spirit of the gamelan.
The gong ageng is the lowest-pitched instrument in a gamelan. Its deep sound is rich in overtones, has a built-in beat-note (‘ombak’), and its decay-time may go over twenty seconds. While normally one or two such instruments are present in a gamelan, our library has six, including an iron one and one with the lowest pitch (‘2’) that can be normally encountered (not considering the very large, sacred and unplayed gongs resting in the secret chambers of the kratons).
Diameter: 70-80 cm. Weight: 35-40 kg. These are the middle range of the hanging gongs. They substitute the gong ageng in certain fast-playing pieces, or magically emphasise certain points of the long, stately compositions (‘gendhing ageng’).
Diameter: 45-60 cm. Weight: 8-15 kg. The smallest of the hanging gongs. They are used as punctuating instruments or as reinforcement of notes in certain pieces. The mallets decrease in size and weight going from the gong ageng to the kempul.
Diameter: 35-40 cm. Height: 30-35 cm. Weight: around 10 kg.
The kenong is a small gong laid horizontally on crossed cord, and sitting inside a wooden frame. Having an individual frame for each sounding element (‘pencon’) makes us count the number of frames (14 in our list of instruments); on the other hand, when 10 to 14 pencon sit in one common frame, as is the case with the bonang, we count that as one instrument.
The kenong has a relatively high-pitched and clear sound, which is obtained by beating the boss with a stick provided with a cylindrical head padded with coiled string. Its musical function is to divide the gong-cycles into (usually) four sub-cycles (‘kenongan’).
The kenong japan (or jepang) is a special lower-pitched kenong tuned to a particular tone (‘5’) and used mainly in Yogya-style gamelan.
Ketuk, Kempyang, Engkug kemong
Ketuk and kempyang are two small horizontal gongs (diameters 28 and 23 cm) which mark the pulse within the kenong-cycle. The engkug kemong (often hanging rather than resting on cord) may take up the role of the kempyang in slendro pieces.
A bonang instrument consists of a double row of resting gongs: 14 in pelog, 12 or 10 in slendro, comprising approximately two octaves. The kettles rest on cord in a horizontal wooden frame.
The bonang panembung is the largest and lowest in pitch of the bonang instruments; length around 250 cm., diameter of kettle around 30 cm., weight of kettle around 5 kg. The panembung is considered an archaic instrument, more frequently used in Yogyanese ensembles.
Often just called ‘bonang’, this is the middle-sized of this group of instruments. Length: 170-230 cm. Diameter of kettle around 24 cm. Musically, the bonang barung has a melodic leading role in pieces of the so-called loud style. The lower octave of the bonang barung coincides with the higher of the panembung, and its higher octave coincides with the lower of the panerus.
Length: 140-200 cm. Diameter of kettle around 20 cm. The highest in pitch, the bonang panerus has an important function in playing interlocking patterns with the bonang barung. All bonang instruments are played with two long sticks bound with cord at the striking end.
This is a large ceremonial double-face drum. Length: 90 cm. Diameter of each face: 55 cm. It is often suspended and is struck with a beater. Its function is quite different with respect to the following kendhang instruments.
Kendhang ageng, ciblon, ketipung
These are the important tempo-leading instruments, made of hollowed tree-trunk sections with cow or goat skin stretched across the two open ends. Lengths are, respectively, 78, 68, and 48 cm. Diameters of the larger face in each drum: 38, 28, 20 cm. They are played with bare hands, using a variety of striking modalities to produce different intended sounds. Normally the kendhang ageng and ketipung are used in combination during slow tempos, while the ciblon is used in fast tempos and to accompany dance or wayang.
This is a substitute of the gong ageng, sometimes used in reduced ensembles. It obtains the sound through a construction design that actually belongs to the family of gender instruments – that is, bronze bars suspended over a resonator. The desired beat-note of the gong ageng is obtained by striking, at the same time or in rapid succession, two bars with slightly diverging pitches.
Length: 85 cm. Height: 37 cm. Seven bars are suspended over individual tube-resonators. Bars are struck with a stick having a padded disk as a head. This instrument carries the basic (skeleton or ‘balungan’) melody of any piece.
Lenght: 115 cm. Fourteen thin bars over individual tuned resonators, covering almost three octaves. Two sticks, similar but smaller than the one of the slenthem, are used in a two-hand (rather difficult) technique. It is considered to be one of the finest instruments in the gamelan.
Lenght: 95 cm. Same as the gender but playing one octave higher. Used for ornamenting the musical parts of the gender, with a doubled density of notes.
A banana-shaped bronze instrument, 24 cm. long, 4 cm. wide, held in one hand and struck with a mallet with the other. It is used in pairs, requiring two musicians. The two single notes produced in alternation create a rhythmic pattern which is typical of the ancient gamelan repertoire.
Another archaic, seldom used instrument, which opens the family of saron instruments at the lowest register. Its seven knobbed heavy bars rest over a trough resonator. It has the same range and musical function as the slenthem. Length of the instrument: 115 cm.
Length: 105 cm. Seven bars, over a trough resonator, struck with a wooden hammer.
Length: 85 cm. Seven bars (nine for slendro) as above, one octave higher.
Length: 70 cm. As above, one octave higher. The hammer needs to be harder, so it is made of buffalo horn.
With a length of 160 cm., this old-style saron-type multi-octave instrument accomodates the pitch-ranges from demung to peking. In our library, the 23 pelog notes derive from two instruments (demung-saron saron-peking) which have an overlapping octave. Similar is the case of the 17 notes in the slendro scale.
Length: 160 cm. This is the only gamelan instrument with tuned bars made of (hard) wood. Its 21 bars (30 to 55 cm. long, 5 to 7 cm. wide) cover more than three octaves, rest over a trough resonator, and are struck with two long sticks made of supple buffalo horn ending with a small, round, padded disc. Musically, it has a function of ornamentation.
This is a resonant wooden box which is struck with a small wooden hammer. It is used in dance performances to provide signals to the dancers.
This library includes sounds that are related to gamelan sounds and instruments, but not part of the traditional music of Central Java. As a non-unique case, the Montebello gamelan instrumentarium includes items that were expressly built by Javanese gamelan-makers in the Western 12-tone tempered scale, having as a model of construction three of the families of instruments of the traditional gamelan: the gender, the saron, the bonang.
In the gender family we have:
– a huge (160 cm.) 13-note, C to C, “slenthem”
– a mid-size (110 cm.) “gender” in the higher octave
– a smaller (90 cm.) “panerus” in the next higher octave.
In the saron family, with bars made of iron:
– a 13-note, C to C, “demung”
– a “saron” in the higher octave
– a “peking” in the next higher octave.
In the bonang family we have forty-nine kettles, made of iron, covering four octaves, in the range of bonang panembung through bonang panerus. In this case, the resting gongs are not provided with fixed supporting frames, so as to allow enough flexibility to play in situations involving a varying number of players. A solution has been devised in terms of a circular board divided into three movable sections which can be arranged in various ways.
One last type of instrument included in this collection is a lithophone. Such inclusion is justified, among other things, by the fact that the very notion of striking (gamel) is ever-present in Javanese and Balinese music-making. Even ‘water-gamelan’ exists, where rhythmically hitting the water with varying positions of the hands produces pleasant sound patterns. And as to ‘stone-gamelan’, a living example is normally offered in a sonorous cave in Pacitan, half-way between Surakarta and Yogyakarta, where music is played on walls, stalactites and stalagmites of the cave. Recordings of these forms of gamelan are available.
The Montebello lithophone is made of twenty slabs recovered from parts (mostly steps of staircases) of an old house. The stones are struck with the wooden mallet used for the Javanese saron. The twenty natural sounds in their ‘found tuning’ are presented in this collection.
John Noise Manis
YANTRA – Production and Digital Release