Collections of themed recordings curated by John Noise Manis

Gamelan of Central Java – VII. Edge of Tradition

When the master and keeper of tradition
used a waltz-time signature


Critical commentary
by Sumarsam

It is fitting to sub-title the CD  “Edge of Tradition”, since it contains non-traditional offerings of some pieces.  The element of tempo 3/4 in Pak Marto’s Parisuka is a bit unusual, knowing the composer’s keenness in classical gendhing.  As far as I know this is the only piece in which Pak Marto utilized a Western meter.  But incorporating Western musical idioms has long been the interest of some composers.  There are examples of this kind of pieces, although not employing 3/4 meter.  Perhaps the oldest one is a piece called “Kopi Susu.”  The piece is composed in Western diatonic scale by approximating it in the pelog pitches. In the 1950s, Hardja Subrata composed a series of pieces with three-part chorus.  In essence, “Parisuka” is one of the examples resulting from this occasional creativity by Javanese composer-musicians to adapt an element of the Western musical idioms.

The presentation of Kombang Mara is the most interesting offering in this CD.  In reconstructing the process of composing Kombang Mara, I find a complex mind of the composer in creating this piece.  The merong part, the first section of the piece, is composed based on the process of contracting or expanding phrases of a song of the puppeteer (dhalang), the sulukan Pelog Lima Wantah.  The contraction and expansion were necessary so that the uneven line of the song could be fitted into the symmetrical 64-beats gongan cyclic structure subdivided in quarters by the kenong strokes.  In essence, Kombang Mara is the result of recompositioning of a song of the dhalang whose melodies should be made to fit the symmetrical structure of the gamelan piece.  This is one of the best examples of the embodiment of vocal idiom in gamelan pieces.

Kombang Mara in the CD also shows an intimate relationship between vocal music and this piece, but it is presented in an explicit and experimental way.  The piece is literally made to connect with Mas Kumambang, Kinanthi, Asmaradana, and Mijil.  These are unaccompanied song from the the song genre macapat.  I said literally because these songs are sung in a variety of ways on  top of the pieces itself.  At times, two songs are sung together with a slight delay from one another.  This is done by selecting certain phrases to be juxtaposed with particular phrases of the piece.  In the transitional phrases to and the beginning of inggah (the second section of the piece), the singing stops; some elaborating instruments, sometimes rebab alternating with celempung, sometimes bonang, are featured.  This happens only in the first gongan section.  The singing joins again in the second gongan section in the style described above.

It would be useful to hear the musicians’ comments on the process of creating this experiment and its result, as well as the motivation of the producer for this interesting project.  To me the experiment demonstrates the intimate relationship between vocal idiom and gamelan pieces, such as Kombang Mara.

Other pieces are performed within the idiom of traditional gamelan playing, but in different variants, except Glendheng.  This is an instrumental gendhing bonang piece whose second section contains a rather animated rhythm of the balungan part, especially when it is played in a fast tempo of irama tanggung, the climax of the piece.  The playing of Puspa Warna in pelog is rare, but the practice of playing pelog piece in slendro is not uncommon.  Musicians find certain excitements and even pleasant surprises resulting from new articulations and the treatment of the piece in its new tuning system.  As a reminder, the producer includes Puspa Warna performed in its original tuning system, laras slendro.  Puspa Warna is one of the nine pieces called Sendhon Langen Swara.  They were composed in the mid.19th century at the Mangkunegaran palace during the reign of the prince Mangkunegara IV; the prince himself is often cited as the composer of the pieces.  Originally, each of the pieces was introduced by a vocal introduction (bawa), consisting of solo singing of a poetic meter; each piece has its own bawa.  In the present CD, the chorus part in the ngelik section is sung in a mixed chorus of male and female singers.  There is no evidence about the original practice of performing Puspa Warna in the mid. 19th century.  Commonly in today’s practice, the metrical chorus part is sung by a chorus of two or more male singer (gerong), while the solo female (pesinden) sings a non-metrical part on the basis of the chorus melodies.

I appreciate that for a second time the producer of this CD asked me to write a critical commentary of his CDs.  I hope this kind of dialogue will provide listeners with sufficient contextual information about the way this CD is made.


Javanese texts
and English translation


Para kanca aparisuka tetabuhan sinawung tembang
Pra kanca samya ka suka,
Tetembangan anglipur driya,
Datan supe angolah rasa,
Rasa inkang lumantar swara.

Sinawunging pradangga ngrerangin,
Kang pradangga munya ngungkung,
Rebut yatmakaning gendhing,
Ya bapak, ya bapak, karya horeg ing bawana,
Bawana kinelem sari, andhe,
Sarining kang rasa mulya,
Rasa mulya sung basuki.



Friends, who love playing and  singing,
Friends, let’s enjoy the same things,
And sing to make our hearts happy,
Don’t forget to calm your feelings,
Feelings conveyed by your singing.

Expressed as a song for a melodious gamelan,
A sweet sounding gamelan ,
Showing clearly the soul of the gendhing,
Yes father, yes father, sound that shakes the world,
The world as if it were immersed in the essence,
The essence of noble feelings,
Noble feelings  that give happiness.


Sindhenan I for KOMBANG MARA  (The Flight of the Bumblebee)


Pra Pandawa kaselung jroning wanadri,
Kalih welas warsa, tambah sawarsa sesingit,
Pranya lulus raharja.

The Pandawa  were exiled in the forest
For twelve years, and spent one more year hidden.
All of them got through the proof successfully.



Dhuh Gusti pepujan mami,
Memanising sabuwana,
Tuhu mustikaning anom,
Sapa ingkang kaya sira,
Tangeh yen ana mimba ,
Bisa temen karya gandrung,
Nyikara wong tanpa dosa.

Oh my esteemed Prince,
The sweetest in the world,
Jewel of youth indeed,
Even having your looks,
There could be nobody like you,
Who can really make an innocent love you
And then hurt her.



Lamun sira madeg Narapati,
Yayi wekasing ngong,
Apan anaing prabu ugere,
Sastra cetha ulatana yayi,
Omahna den pathi,
Wulange sastreku

When you’ll become a king,
My brother who ask me,
Whether there is someone who can advise the King,
Look for clear writings, my brother,
Keep in your heart,
The teachings of my books.


Sindhenan II for KOMBANGMARA


Mangka kanthining tumuwuh,
Salami mung awas eling,
Eling lukitaning alam,
Dadi wiryaning dumadi,
Supadi niring sangsaya,
Yeku pangreksaning urip.

Even towards your youth companions,
Remember to be not only friendly but sharp.
Keep in mind the history of the world,
Behave as a dauntless man,
In order to be increasingly powerful,
In other words, to protect your life.



Rehning janma, tama nguni uni,
Kang mengku kaprabon,
Ingkang nistha kawruhana kabeh,
Miwah  wadya utama ywa lali,
Lire siji siji,

Den kena ywa tungkul.

It is said that the behaviour of a noble man
Who sits on the throne,
Is to discover what is contemptible
And at the same time do not forget his most loyal men.
In fact, no one of them
Can be struck unexpectedly.



Welasana dasih mami,
Kang lalu linglung tyas brangta,
Leng leng manglamong sira ngger,
Wuyung hanawung wiyoga,
Ngranuhi karungrungan,
Ndaleming siyang  lan dalu,
Tumon tumonton mring sira.

Love song

Be compassionate to me,
Who, in love, with a confused heart,
Is always raving about you.
Bewildered I gather my sorrows,
I’m ever more sad and madly in love
Day and night locked in,
Always having your image in  my mind.



Amiwiti ngatur marang klairane,
Tumrap para putra,
Taberi denya  andhidhik,
Njalari mrih katentreman.

Start giving a clear direction to the rules
Concerning all the children
Carefully educated by you
In order to achieve peace in life.

(Translation of the texts was curated by Rosella Balossino with counselling from  Pak Ken Kendro)


Pesindhen (female vocals): Nyi Cendaniraras, Nyi Suparsih
Gerong (male vocals): Darsono, Rustopo, Waridi
Rebab: Suraji
Gender: Ibu Pringgo Hadiwiyono
Musicians: Darno, Djoko Santosa, Hadi Boediono, Joko Purwanto, Kuwat, Nyoman Sukerna, Rusdiyantoro, Sarno, Slamet Riyadi, Sugimin, Sukamso, Supardi
playing the “ancient” gamelan of STSI

Music coordinator: Joko Purwanto
Recordings made May 6-7, 2004, in the studio of STSI Surakarta. Sound Engineer: Iwan Onone
(Track 3 – recording July 22, 2003, playing the “pendhapa” gamelan of STSI)
Musical Design, Mastering, and Photos : John Noise Manis