Another week and another Rhythm Through Diversity, a fun musical trivia section on Metronome Online, where we explore music and dance through the development of cultural and social etiquette, history, and background of people in diverse communities. The cultures around the world showcase many different musical forms and this week we will explore gamelan, the traditional ensemble music from Indonesia.

Gamelan is music found in cultures of the Balinese, Javanese and Sundanese people, showcasing mostly percussive instruments. Two most common family of instruments present are ‘kendang’, which keep the beat, and metallophones. Other popular instruments that can be found in the general gamelan tradition are bamboo flutes, the ‘rebab’ (a bowed instrument), and various xylophones. A UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, gamelan is a staple of national pride for the people of Indonesia.

Gamelan music is linked to a meditative feel and a cosmic understanding of being.

The concept of tempo in gamelan music is perceived as a fluid structure, controlled by ‘kendang’, which leads the ensemble in general tempo changes. The ensemble’s harmonic palette is quite different than that of Western music, offering soundscapes of multiphonic sonorities induced by various metal percussion instruments. For this very reason the tuning and making of a gamelan orchestra is a complex and long-lasting process. In principle there are two popular organizational systems called ’slendro’ and ‘pelog’. Slendro has a slightly lighter but busier structure, while pelog entertains notation that creates a regal atmosphere with more gravitas.

Gamelan music is often times linked to a meditative feel and a cosmic understanding of being, but at other times it can also simply rock! Check out this video recorded in 1985 in Peliatan, Bali, of an ensemble giving an up-tempo synchronous performance of Balinese gamelan.

What shall we cover next in our Rhythm Through Diversity trivia section on Metronome Online? Get in touch, and leave a comment!