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Comparison of Balinese and Javanese Gamelan Essay

The gamelan is a popular musical instrument that came from Indonesia and has within it different kinds of orchestra played in the said country (“Indonesian Gamelan,” n. d. ). It serves as an important part of Indonesia’s traditional music because of the role it has played in the history of the country and its presence in different gatherings (“Indonesian Gamelan,” n. d. ). It has different varieties depending on the place and the most popular of these is that of the Balinese and Javanese gamelan (“Indonesian Gamelan,” n. d. ).

Despite the fact that the Javanese and Balinese gamelan have spurred into two separate entities, the fact that these two came from the same instrument has paved the way for similarities to be distinguished between the two. There are three areas where the two have become distinguished and specifically related to one another. These three factors include the instrumentation, music, and performance contexts. These are the areas which have been chosen to be studied because of the important roles it has in highlighting the distinct characteristics of the Javanese gamelan in comparison with that of the Balinese gamelan.

By understanding these three factors, the two forms of gamelan could be understood better and a more critical analysis could be taken of the two. Instrumentation of the Balinese and Javanese Gamelan In the musical field, the term instrumentation refers to the instruments composing the orchestra and in the context of studying the Balinese and Javanese gamelan, it means the instruments which are included in each of the corresponding category.

There are differences and similarities that could be discerned when an observer hears and looks into a Balinese gamelan performing as compared to a Javanese gamelan one. From an external observer, it could be readily seen that the instruments included in the Javanese gamelan are “exquisitely crafted and carved [elegantly]” (Forshee, 2006). The elegance and the way the instruments poses themselves to the audience serves as a distinguishing factor for the Javanese gamelan as it serves as a unique characteristic or identity in relation to the other types (Forshee, 2006).

The instruments included in the Javanese category are divided along five lines, which is based on the functions they have. These five functions that serve as categories are the: a) nuclear theme, b) melodic elaboration, c) counter-melody, d) punctuation, and e) rhythm (“Function of Instruments,” n. d. ). Under the nuclear theme, the saron demung, sarong barung, sarong panerus, and slentem are included to produce the main greater parts of the music (“Functions of Instruments,” n. d. ).

As for purposes of melodic elaboration, there is the bonang barung, bonang panerus, gambang, gender barung, gender panerus, and siter (“Function of Instruments,” n. d. ). To serve as counter-melody instruments, the rebab, suling, and human voice are also included in the performance (“Function of Instruments,” n. d. ). Furthermore, punctuation is also created through the gong ageng, kempul, kempyang, kenong, and ketuk (“Function of Instruments,” n. d. ). Lastly, rhythm is maintained through the use of bedug, kendang gending, and kendang ketipung (“Function of Instruments,” n.

d. ). Basically, the Balinese gamelan has the same set of instruments as that of the Javanese ones. However, the main difference lies within the fact that metallophones outnumber the gongs here (“Balinese Gamelan Angklung,” n. d. ). There are around 15 metallophones with bronze keys that span from the four octaves to as tiny as double-headed drums and flutes made of bamboo (Tenzer, 2006). Moreover, the metal keys for the metallophones are thicker and results to quite a bright sound (“Balinese Gamelan Angklung,” n.

d. ). Another difference is the availability of cymbals, which is primarily used for the purpose of creating a “fast rattling sound” that is something which is not present in the characteristic of the Javanese Gamelan (“Balinese Gamelan Angklung,” n. d. ). Music of the Javanese and Balinese Gamelan Moreover, it is also easy for listeners to distinguish between the Javanese and Balinese gamelan based on the type of music they produce. The two are generally different because of the pattern and style it takes.

For the Javanese gamelan, it takes on a collection of both loud and soft sounds which are coordinated into a whole piece (Spiller, 2004). It is also characterized by Reader and Ridout (2002) as “restrained and rather courtly” (p. 515). Due to the fact that there is a lesser need for coordination among the players within the Javanese gamelan, there is much room for uniqueness that is kept at a level where there is harmony and coordination in the orchestra (Brinner, 1995).

Moreover, this type of uniqueness is fascinating because of the ability of the musicians to understand the improvisation of one another and still follow it with their own style (Brinner, 1995). On the other hand, the Balinese style, which is known as the gong kebyar, exhibits a style which is characterized to be “loud, flashy, boisterous and speedy, full of dramatic stop and starts” (Reader & Ridout, 2002, p. 515). There is an energetic flow of music because of the lively tone that every musician follows and adheres to (Forshee, 2006).

It has always been the characteristic of this ensemble to adopt a more lively tone, which is very much different from that of the Javanese gamelan. Likewise, unlike the Javanese gamelan, the Balinese gamelan players are required to have strict coordination between them that does not allow for improvisation in the way they play their instruments (Brinner, 1995). All of them are required to follow a particular manner of playing their instruments in order for them to be harmonious and sound good as a group (Brinner, 1995).

Performance Contexts of the Balinese and Javanese Gamelan These two types of gamelans have found their corresponding performance contexts where they gain the respect of their audience. Moreover, the historical roots of these two groups of gamelan have also contributed to how it is perceived to be of use today. The manner through which it has been crafted to take on their corresponding characteristics serves as the distinguishing factor for this. The Javanese gamelan has served as a showcase of the sanctity of power and creation (Becker, 1988).

Likewise, it has also served to be a reflection of the gender structures enclosed within society together with images of sexuality (Becker, 1988). It has been a way through which powers are maintained and legitimized in the new world (Spiller, 2004). Today, the Javanese gamelan has continued to showcase its beauty by performers bringing it outside of Indonesia to the whole world (Fund, 2004). On the other hand, that of the Balinese gamelan is mostly used for ceremonies, which justifies the style of its music being fast and lively (Dorian et al. , 2000).

Conclusion There are difference and similarities between the Javanese and Balinese gamelan based on three elements, which includes the music, the instrumentation, and the performance context. Each of the two groups of gamelan has its own distinct and unique set of characteristics that makes an identity for their own. However, there are also similarities shared because of the fact that they belong to the same family and came from the same root.

References Balinese Gamelan Angklung. (n. d. ). Retrieved March 11, 2009, from http://www. seasite. niu.edu/Indonesian/budaya_bangsa/Gamelan/Balinese_Gamelan/balinese. htm. Becker, J. (1988). “Earth, fire, sakti, and the Javanese Gamelan. ” Ethnomusicology, 32(3): 385-391. Brinner, B. (1995). Knowing music, making music: Javanese gamelan and the theory of musical competence and interaction. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Dorian, F. , Broughton, S. , Ellingham, M. , McConnachie, J. , Trillo, R. , & Duane, O. (2000). World music: The rough guide. Bangkok, Thailand: Rough Guides. Forshee, J. (2006). Culture and customs of Indonesia. Westport CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.


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