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Gamelan of Central Java – XIII. PANGKUR TWO


Commentary by Sumarsam

Born in East Java, Bapak Sumarsam received formal gamelan education and grew up as musician in Surakarta (Central Java). He is Adjunct Professor and former Chair of the Music Department at Wesleyan University (Middletown, Conn) and an internationally renowned gamelan musician. He lectures and conducts workshops and concerts throughout the world. He has written “Gamelan – Cultural Interaction and Musical Development in Central Java”, University of Chicago Press, 1995.

It is worth repeating here the introduction to the Commentary of the CD companion to this one – “PANGKUR ONE”.

Composing gendhing (gamelan composition) is a complex and heterogeneous process, involving multiple systems and consideration of musical idioms of different parts of the ensemble. The complexity is compounded by the different ways a composition is made according to its genre: gendhing bonang, gendhing rebab, gendhing sekar, and so on. Regardless of their genres, these compositions have one aspect in common: the embodiment of the vocal element in them. This concept is most clearly revealed in a group of works that are composed on the basis of sung-poetry of a vocal genre called måcåpat. A composition of this type is made through a process of restructuring pre-existing melodies of a sung-poetry.

PANGKUR is one of the rare pieces whose treatments can be remarkably fluids, varied, unpredictable, and very interesting. It is one of the characteristics of gamelan that a single piece can be rendered in many different ways, evoking different moods. In this regard, PANGKUR is one of the pieces (if not the piece) that most embodies that special quality. Different moods are evoked not only in various versions of one PANGKUR, but even each section with different irama within a single PANGKUR can bring about contrasting moods.Moreover, the creative process of composing PANGKUR as a gamelan piece from a sung-poem PANGKUR is very intricate. I use PANGKUR as a prime example of my analysis of macapat-based gamelan works in the last chapter of my book entitled Gamelan: Cultural Interaction and Musical Develoment (Sumarsam 1995).



While “PANGKUR ONE” featured full gamelan ensembles, the pieces in the present CD are performed as ‘chamber music’, gamelan klenèngan, except Track 3, which has a mini-ensemble called gadhon. Both small ensembles feature two or more leading/elaborating instruments: rebab, gendèr barung, and kendhang. Other supporting instruments are gendèr panerus, gambang, suling, kenong, and gong.

Because of the vocal nature of the gendhing presented in both CDs, it is appropriate to feature a vocalist. In this regard, the performance of gendhing sekar does not fit a common general description of gamelan playing, which says that the function of the singing is no different than that of other instruments in the ensemble. Gendhing sekar and a few other gendhing genres contradict this general description. That is, in this genres, singing underlies the melody of the piece; hence the prominence of singing.



One crucial concept in gamelan playing is garap. In a narrower sense, it refers to how individual musicians render and interpret melodies or melodic patterns of his or her instrument/singing. For example, the gendèr player can play a piece in lombå or rangkep style; the bonang player can render his bonang playing in pipilan or imbal-imbalan style, etc. In a broader sense, garap means ‘how to perform’ a gendhing generally. For example, a section of the piece can be rendered in a wayangan style (meaning that the iråmå and the kendhang patterns are rendered as if the piece is accompanying wayang). The playing of a piece in different tuning system and different pathet also falls in the realm of garap. Hence the multifarious ways of performance practice generally speaking.

There are pieces whose garap is limited (e.g., a piece that should be played only in one tuning system and only in irama tanggung and dadi). Ladrang PANGKUR is one of the pieces that can be performed in so many different garap.



Ladrang PANGKUR consists of two sections: section A is played in iråmå tanggung and dadi, and section B is played in iråmå wilet and rangkep (time reference in each of the tracks will help the listener to identify each section.) This fact leads us to the question of which section has the verse melody transformed. Which iråmå does the melody of måcåpat PANGKUR reside in? As the piece must first be performed in iråmå tanggung and dadi, one might think that section A is the main piece. But seasoned musicians agree that the answer is decisively section B, i.e., the section performed in iråmå wilet and rangkep. It would need too much space to show the process of the transformation from måcåpat PANGKUR to ladrang PANGKUR. I refer interested readers/listeners to Chapter Four of my book “Gamelan: Cultural Interaction and Musical Development in Central Java” (Sumarsam 1995). As a matter of fact, PANGKUR is one of my prime examples of the discussion on composing gamelan pieces.

At a certain time in the development of performances of ladrang PANGKUR, the ngelik section was added to section B. I haven’t yet found any information about the origin of this ngelik. What is interesting is that this ngelik becomes a generic section embedded to other pieces, such as ladrang ÉLING-ÉLING and SRI KARONGRON. What has become common garap are thefirst three kenongan of the ngelik (see below). Toward the end of the third kenongan and the last kenongan of the ngelik, the original melody of the piece resumes.

One of the reasons for incorporating the ngelik lies in the fact that musicians can do a lively treatment to this section. Commonly, approaching the end of the first kenongan, the drummer changes the iråmå from wilet to rangkep. Then the drummer brings the piece to a complete stop at the beginning of the second kenongan. After the pesindhèn sings a brief line, then the ensemble resumes again at the beginning of the third kenongan – this treatment is called andhegan. The andhegan happens again at the beginning of the third kenongan, and after another solo singing of the pesindhèn, the ensemble resumes to play on the stroke of the kempul. The drummer can do another andhegan toward the gong, and the singer can sing a longer solo. Like andhegan in iråmå tanggung, the male singers often sing senggakan or alok, admiring the pesindhèn while singing a brief or long interlude.

What follows may be considered a guide to the listening of each PANGKUR in this CD. I hope that the reader/listener will be able to follow along which section of the piece, which mood, and which transition is presented.



Måcåpat is a genre of sung-poetry. Each of the måcåpat songs is governed by the following rules: a fixed number of lines per stanza; a fixed number of syllables per line; and a fixed vowel at the end of each line. As you see in the example below, a stanza of måcåpat PANGKUR consist of 7 lines; each line has different number of syllables and ending vowel. The example is one stanza of måcåpat PANGKUR sung by Darsono.

1 – Jinejer nèng Wedhatamå —8 syllables, ending on å (pronounced as a in “law”)
2 – Mrih tan kembå kembenganing pambudi —11 syllables, ending on i (pronounced as “e”)
3 – Mongkå nadyan tuwå pikun—8 syllables, ending on u (pronounced as “o”)
4 – Yèn tan mikani råså —7 syllables, ending on å
5 – Yekti sepi asepå lir sepah samun—12 syllables, ending on u
6 – Sama[ng]sané pakumpulan —8 syllables, ending on å
7 – Gonyak-ganyuk nglelingsemi—8 syllables, ending on i


TRACK 2: Ladrang PANGKUR performed on a chamber ensemble

Track 2 is ladrang PANGKUR sléndro manyurå performed on a chamber gamelan ensemble by the ISI Surakarta group, minus rebab. The absence of rebab is rather unusual, but it does not in any way violate the spirit of this macapat-based piece. Section A of the piece (0:00-4:56) is featured with all kinds of garap. The gendèr introduces the piece, after which the piece quickly settles in iråmå dadi (0:00-1:20). The music then accelerates gradually toward iråmå tanggung, which is realized when the drummer switches to animated ciblon drumming (1:32) before the reaching gong.  Then this section has the drummer playing an animated style of kébar drumming and going to andhegan twice. The pesindhèn sings a regular wangsalan text, switching to the rujak-rujakan theme during the andhegan in iråmå dadi. This andhegan happens twice, after which the drummer brings the ensemble to iråmå wilet (section B) by slowing down the tempo (3:24), settling in the new iråmå on the gong (4:56). This section B in iråmå wilet ends when the piece moves to the ngelik before the gong (6:48).

I should make a comment about rujak-rujakan sung by the pesindhen. This is a playful song in which the singer uses a rhyme (also poetic riddle) with rujak (spicy salad) as a theme. The purpose of this garap is to intensify the lively mood as section A is performed in iråmå tanggung or dadi, while the drummer plays animated ciblon style. Alternatively,the pesindhèn could sing wangsalan (poetic riddle), which would not add so much to the playfulness of this section. Here is an example of a rujak-rujakan text:

Rujak nongkå
Rujaké para sarjånå
Åjå ngåyå
Dimèn lestari widådå
Alah Bapak åjå ngåyå
Dimèn lestari widådå
Spicy salad made of jackfruit
is the salad for scholar
Don’t be too hard to yourself
so that [you will] remain safe and sound
Yes father, don’t be too hard to yourself
so that [you will] remain safe and sound

Returning to our listening guide, it is not uncommon for the male gérong singers to participate in this piece, singing a pulsed melodic style that overlaps with un-pulsed/rubato style of the pesindhén. Commonly, in the iråmå wilet section the male singers sing a måcåpat KINANTHI (six lines per stanza). In this particular performance there is no gérong; instead, the piece features the pesindhèn singing a song-text and adapting the melody of måcåpat PANGKUR PARIPURNÅ. This kind of treatment is rare, but it reclaims the original idea of transforming the PANGKUR verse melody to a gamelan piece.

When the ngelik section approaches the first kenong, the drummer slows down  (7:16), initiating a change to iråmå rangkep, which is fully realized in the kenong (7:28). It is at this point that a very lively treatment of the piece begins, not only the fact that the piece is presented in lively irama rangkep, but also as a result of a series of andhegan. The first andhegan is right after the first kenong (7:41), with a brief solo by the pesindhèn, and the ensemble resumes before the kenong (8:27). Another andhegan happens again right after the second kenong (8:49), followed by a brief interlude by the pesindhèn, the whole ensemble resuming to play again on the kempul (9:12). Back to section B, the piece continues in irama rangkep.

Throughout section B, a series of andhegan are performed at the beginning of kenongan I, II, and III. Here again, the pesindhèn sings a series of brief interludes. This treatment is repeated in the next gongan cycle, but the interludes are sung by a male singer – this is rather unusual practice. In the next gongan cycle, the music returns to iråmå wilet. The piece ends on the gong, while the drummer keeps playing ciblon style, instead of the usual practice of performing kendhangan satunggal style, using the large drum.


TRACK 3: Ladrang PANGKUR at Sahid Hotel, Yogyakarta

The performers on this track are musicians playing at the  Sahid Garden Hotel in Yogyakarta. Usually, these musicians are not graduated from music schools, but local and professional musicians in their own right. This example (although brief) offers the listener a wider trajectory of gamelan’s world. Four musicians on gendèr, kendhang, gong, and a pesindhèn, present ladrang PANGKUR in the same garap of the piece on Track 2, but without andhegan. The melodic treatment by gendèr and pesindhèn is very unique, however. The pesindhèn conveys a rich ornamentation and unpredictable embellishment of her melodies. In section A (0:00-1:55), the pesindhèn sings a combination of rujak-rujakan theme and a usual wangsalan. The drummer brings section A to irama dadi (1:55-4:05) during which the drummer sings wangsalan. Throughout the piece the gendèr player performs cèngkoks in their appropriate pathet (pathet sångå), but occasionally a sense of pathet manyurå is inserted without any hesitation. It is unfortunate that section B (starting at 4:05) was not performed in its entirety; the performance ends before the gong in the ngelik section.



Notice that in the above instances the gongan structure of the piece is ladrang – 32 pulses per cycle, divided by four kenong. PANGKUR on Tracks 4, 6, and 8 is composed in ketawang – 16 pulses per gongan cycle, divided by two kenong. Commonly, a ketawang  has a prelude called ompak, a section before the main piece (a kind of refrain).

Ketawang PANGKUR PARIPURNÅ on this track also has the ompak (the first gongan, 0:11-1:06). Like ompak in any gendhing sekar, it is played twice, but the second time the ompak of this piece also captures the first and second line of the verse-melody. The following three gongan (1:06-2:49) are the transformation of 5 lines of the verse-melody. The whole cycle of the piece is repeated twice. In the second  repetition (2:50-5:35), the song is sung by a male singer.


TRACK 5 & 6: Måcåpat PANGKUR KASMARAN (In Love) and ketawang PANGKUR NGRENAS (The Pleasure of Love)

At this juncture I should mention that there are a number of versions of måcåpat PANGKUR in sléndro and in pélog. In this regard, the melody of each version differs from  the other, but the rules governing the structure of the poetry and the general shape of the melody are sustained. Track 5 is a version of a måcåpat called PANGKUR KASMARAN in pélog, sung by Darsono.

This version is the basis for a gamelan piece called PANGKUR NGRENAS (an abbreviation of NGRENASMÅRÅ) in ketawang (i.e., 16 pulses per gongan, divided into a half by the kenong). In this transformation, each pair of the lines of the verse-melody (2:18-2:59) becomes one gongan phrase, except line 5 (the longest line), which is converted into one gongan.

The piece features male and female singers. They alternately perform a rubato style of pesindhèn singing. Optionally, the song can be performed in a steady-pulsed gérongan style. One of the enjoyments of listening to this performance (and performances of any gendhing sekar, for that matter) is the dexterity of the singer singing the song and different realizations of the song as the singer repeats it. For gamelan connoisseurs, listening to a gendhing sekar is also a matter of admiring the realization of a melody that originates from a måcåpat melody.

It is worth noting the ways in which the rebab expresses its melody, in both adapting the verse-melody and in leading the melodic motion of the piece. In this regard, at the beginning of each phrase, the rebab is always cueing the initial content of the proceeding melodies.


TRACK 7 & 8: Måcåpat and ketawang PANGKUR DHUDHÅ KASMARAN (Widower in Love)

My commentary for PANGKUR NGRENAS also applies to PANGKUR DHUDHÅ KASMARAN, but there are a number of particularities. This måcåpat is composed in a tuning system called barang miring. It is sléndro, but a couple of pitches, 3 and 6, are flattened. The result is a pélog-like tuning. As in PANGKUR NGRENAS, in transforming the verse-melody to a gamelan piece, each pair of lines of the verse melody becomes one gongan phrase, except line 5 (Track 7, 0:55-1:10 ), which is converted into one gongan (Track 8, 2:18-2:58).



Here is the text and translation of macapat sung in this CD, but excluding the ones also present in the companion CD “PANGKUR ONE”, where such texts may be found.

The translation into English was the responsibility of Rosella Balossino, with the help of Adi Deswijaya and counsel from Bapak Hardja Susilo.


Pukulun ulun tatanyo
Lah punapa dewa punapa resi
Sang dyah yen andika ndangu
Dateng jasad icawura
Kula dutaning sri Kenyo Majalengka
Nami pun Damarwulan
Prapta kawula ingngriki.
Your excellency, what god
Or what hermit should I interrogate
When you ask questions
To me
The ambassador of King
Named Damarwulan
At my arrival here.
Kadenangan jengardura
Mboten langkung amung jiwangga mami
Pinejahna wus patut
Marang sang retnaning dyah
Anjejuwing ngejur marang raganingsun
Paranta kang mbok punika
Yekti lamun maling julig.
Observe yourself carefully
You are not different from me
Who may be just killed
By a beautiful princess
(Who) dismembers and shatters my body.
How is this possible older brother?
It is possible if the thief is sly.
Yayi paran karsanira
Ingsunuwis datang bisa nglakoni
Suwita mring Bisma Prabu
Payo anis kewala.
Duh kakang mbok sampun nuruti ing tyas dur
Paduka putraning nata
Manira pados utami.
Younger brother, what did you wish?
I cannot voluntarily subject myself
To serve at the court of King Bisma
I just left.
Older brother, you did not obey a cruel heart
I am son of king
I seek excellence.



Track 1 3:00 – Macapat PANGKUR PARIPURNA  slendro sanga, wiraswara Darsono, pesindhen Sri Suparsih, recorded August 31, 2009
Track 2 17:09Ladrang PANGKUR  slendro manyura, pesindhen Yayuk Sri Rahayu, Sri Suparsih, wiraswara Darsono, gadhon ensemble ISI, recorded Sept. 23, 2008
Track 3 7:04 – Ladrang PANGKUR  slendro, pesindhen unknown, gadhon ensemble Pak Prapto, recorded at Sahid Garden Yogyakarta,  June 1995
Track 4 8:40 – Ketawang PANGKUR PARIPURNA  slendro sanga, pesindhen Yayuk Sri Rahayu, Sri Suparsih, wiraswara Darsono, gadhon ensemble ISI, recorded Sept.23, 2008
Track 5 3:03 – Macapat PANGKUR KASMARAN  pelog nem, wiraswara Darsono, pesindhen Sri Suparsih, recorded August 31, 2009
Track 6 12:33 – Ketawang PANGKUR NGRENAS  pelog lima, pesindhen Yayuk Sri Rahayu, Sri Suparsih, wiraswara Darsono, gadhon ensemble ISI, recorded Sept 23, 2008
Track 7 3:17 – Macapat PANGKUR DHUDHA KASMARAN  slendro sanga miring, wiraswara Darsono, pesindhen Sri Suparsih, recorded August 31, 2009
Track 8 9:31 – Ketawang PANGKUR DHUDHA KASMARAN  slendro sanga, pesindhen Yayuk Sri Rahayu, Sri Suparsih, wiraswara Darsono, gadhon ensemble ISI, recorded Sept.23, 2008
Track 9 3:07 – Macapat PANGKUR NYAMAT MAS  pelog nem, wiraswara Darsono, pesindhen Sri Suparsih, recorded August 31, 2009
Track 10 5:48 – Ketawang PANGKUR NYAMAT MAS  pelog nem, pesindhen Sri Suparsih, wiraswara Darsono, gadhon ensemble ISI, recorded Sept.23, 2008


Gadhon ensemble ISI: Al Suwardi, Darno, Joko Purwanto, Ibu Pringgo Hadiwiyono, Prasadiyanto, Sriharto, Sukamso, Supardi, Suraji, Suyadi, Wakijo

Musical design, recordings, mastering, and photos: John Noise Manis


Yantra Productions