Collections of themed recordings curated by John Noise Manis

Gamelan of Central Java – VI. Kraton Surakarta


the soul of gamelan
gamelan for the soul


“Song and Sound the World Around – Gamelan Music from Java” PHILIPS stereo 831 209 PY (also playable on mono)

The above reference is about an old beloved Long Playing. Such record has inspired the recordings of the present CD. The content of the cult vinyl was recorded in 1963 in the Kraton of Surakarta by Nusjirvan Tirtaamidjaja. The sleeve notes were signed by Tirtaamidjaja and Ernst Heins. Side One has Gending “Kombang Mara” and Side Two Bonangan Gending “Tukung”. The music was performed on the gamelan Kjahi KADUK MANIS MANIS RENGGA, leader Raden Tumenggung Warsodiningrat, in the pendopo “Sanasewaka” during a formal rehearsal preceding the anniversary celebrations of the accession to the throne of the Susuhunan. “Kaduk Manis” (meaning Extraordinarily Sweet, in the pelog scale) “Manis Rengga” (meaning Sweet in Ornament, in the slendro scale) is “the palace gamelan most frequently played, due to the unusual beauty of its sonorities”, as indicated in the sleeve notes.

We wanted to make a new recording following the illustrious example – forty years after. Same gamelan, same setting, same pieces (actually we are adding a third bonangan gending in slendro). For the few who happen to know the old Philips record, our CD brings the interest (hopefully not the disappointment) of comparison. For the other listeners, we hope that the sound of the Kraton’s favourite gamelan can please their ears with all its traditional beauty, enhanced by a rather clear type of recording.

All of the three pieces included in the present CD are receiving special attention in the “Gamelan of Central Java” series of the Dunya-Felmay label, appearing more than once, in different forms or styles. Hopefully, this intentional type of “duplication” will provide elements of interest for comparison and deepening of musical appreciation. Danaraja, presented here in its instrumental (bonangan) form, is also the majestic vocal and rebab gendhing included in Volume I, “Classical Gendings”. Tukung, presented here in its purest Surakarta style, is presented in its Yogyanese style in Volume V, “Gaya Yogyakarta”. And Kombang Mara (not to be confused with Kembang Mara which Yantra produced with the Arion label) is also appearing in Volume VII, “Edge of Tradition”, in a rekreasi rendition employing a duet of pesindhen instead of the classical single one.

To accompany our CD, we chose to present commentaries that are different from the usual ones. We thought of venturing into the esthetic, the poetic, even the philosophical. The producer would welcome any feedback.


The Drop, the Leaf, the Labyrinth

Sounds are water drops
on sand for a mandala
they fall on the empty circle
drawing and fading the figures of our journey
In ourselves is the itinerary.

Sounds fall down
Each drop carves a figure
in the empty circle of our listening.
Rain falls on the labyrinth
which is sketched and erased in the weft of our mind.

Sounds expand and the labyrinth lives
Sounds retreat and the labyrinth is effaced.
Each note that comes is a note that leaves
Each drop that falls is a drop that fades.

I poured my soul on the sand
loving a mortal thing as if were immortal.

The clear drop gets dark on touching earth
The pattern appears and the drop fades away.
What we take is the same as what we add.
All drops now fallen all sounds now strewn
The design is accomplished
The mandala has vanished.

A drop hangs from a leaf out there.

(Guido Brivio di Bestagno)



To comprehend Javanese gamelan music is not an easy thing for us, Western people. It is not easy to get into a sound-world which is an essential element of a forgotten or underestimated culture. The West is no more a geographic area than a way of thinking in which we are immersed. It is a vision of reality which we have come to take as universal – but which isn’t.

To own recordings, to learn technical and historical notions does not mean to comprehend the gamelan, it may rather mean to “represent” it. The essence of gamelan music is in that East which we have forgotten or are ignoring. The essence resides in the heart of the one who makes – and becomes – the music, giving meaning and form to his thoughts and emotions. It resides in the mind of the one who does not make distinction between the visible and the invisible, the abstract and the concrete.

We can try to imagine the attitude of the Javanese musicians as they play the music in this CD. We all perceive the cascade of sounds, the flowing of timbres, the notes dancing around a natural and undefined tonality, even the soft chirping of birds which participate in the soundscape. But in our listening we most likely come short of attaining the quality of feeling created within heart and mind of each musician playing. Our Western aesthetics may even hinder our getting near to that quality of feeling.

The gamelan invites us to step back, humbly, from our position of “super partes” observers. It invites us to dissolve our selves in the world of unity, to re-unite what we have long separated – word and sound, music and language, heart and mind.

(Marco Paltrinieri)


Music, Time, Being

A modern philosopher said that  “language is the home of being”.  Thus forgetting about music. In fact, if Time is the place where being happens, then music – the body of time – is the true home of being. And, if being happens for everyone of us during the time that is assigned, the Kraton Surakarta is one place where being manifests itself in its immobile unity. There is no distance from beginning to end; there is no story unfolding and then returning to concealment after its appearing; there are no Figures that contend for the centre of a harmonic order dictated by a superior Reason. Every portion of the music was already at the beginning what is then to become, and the end will take us back to the whole which has always been there. If music ceases to appear as a story, then music becomes the place where everyone is ever at home, the place which we have never left, where we can recognize ourselves as what we are in our unity – not only for certain aspects or reasons. Such immobility is not the romantic nostalgia of the infinite, because every element is complete and does not allow us to move on from what we hear. This gamelan music is a totality with no outlet – an absolute contemplating itself.

(Maurizio Chatel)


A different notion of sacred

There is more than just music to these compositions: they are a whole world. Such world is very distant from our own in terms of tradition and culture; but this nothing takes nor adds to the fascination of the listening, where we experience primarily a sense of authenticity. The problem is that to speak about this music inevitably means to apply the measures of our language to something which does not fit in our codes of communication.

A certain “suspension” gives these musical compositions a strong character of the sacred – but not in a Western sense. Sacred for us is one pole of a dichotomy (sacred/profane) which is part of our thinking and living reality, thus separating the world in two quite distinct domains. And music is “sacred” when – with the exception of Mozart – it fixes such separation, forcefully defined by religion. On the contrary, the gamelan music of Kraton Surakarta evokes the extraordinary perception  of the unity, in reality and life, where every being and every act is “sacred” because it is part of the Whole.

(Donatella Piacentino)


1- Gendhing bonang Danaraja, slendro sanga – 16:50
2- Gendhing Kombang Mara, pelog lima – 27:42
3- Gendhing bonang Tukung, pelog barang – 18:12


Pesindhen (female singer): Nyi Cendaniraras
Musicians of STSI and Kraton Surakarta.
Recording made 11 May, 2004, at the pendhapa Sasono Sewoko of Kraton Surakarta
Gamelan Kyai Kaduk Manis Manis Rengga
Special gratitude is expressed to G.P.H. Cakraningrat (Gusti Nur), a son of the late Susuhunan Paku Buwana XII

Musical Design, Mastering, and Photos:  John Noise Manis