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A gamelan is a musical ensemble of Indonesian origin typically featuring metallophones, xylophone(s), drums, and gongs.

Table of contents
1 Varieties of gamelan ensembles
2 Tuning
3 Influence on Western music
4 See also
5 Further reading
6 External links

Varieties of gamelan ensembles

Gamelan orchestras are common to the islands of Java, Madura, Bali, and Lombok (and other Sunda Islands) in Indonesia in a wide variety of ensemble sizes and formations. In Bali and Lombok today, and in Java through the 18th century, the term "gong" is or was preferred to or synonymous with gamelan. Traditions of gamelan have long been established in Malaysia and Suriname due to emigration, trade, or diplomacy, and more recently, through immigration, cultural exchange, and local enthusiasm, gamelan ensembles have become active throughout Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Australia.

Although gamelan ensembles sometimes include solo and choral voices, plucked and/or bowed string and wind instruments, they are most notable for the large number of percussion instruments, particularly metal percussion instruments. A central Javanese gamelan ensemble may include sarons and gendérs (sets of metals bars laid out in a single row and struck like a glockenspiel), bonangs and kenongs (sets of large, drum-shaped gongs, likewise laid out horizontally on stands), gambangs (similar to sarons or genders but with wooden bars instead of metal ones) and a variety of hanging gongs and drums. Metals used include bronze, brass, and iron, with a 10:3 copper-to-tin bronze alloy usually considered the best material. In addition, there are gamelan ensembles composed entirely of bamboo-keyed instruments, of zithers, or of uncaccompanied voices with the functions of metallophones or gongs in the metal ensemble transferred to surrogates.

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The tuning and construction of a gamelan orchestra is a complex process. Gamelans use four tuning systems: sléndro, pélog, degung (exclusive to Sunda, or West Java), and madenda (also known as diatonis, similar to a European "natural" minor scale). In central Javanese gamelan, sléndro is a system with five notes to the octave, fairly evenly spaced, while pélog has seven notes to the octave, with uneven intervals, usually played in five note subsets of the seven-tone collection. Many orchestras will include instruments in each tuning, but each individual instrument will only be able to play notes in one. The precise tuning used differs from ensemble to ensemble, and give each ensemble its own particular flavour.

A peculiarity of gamelans is that, although the intervals between notes in a scale are very close to identical for different instruments within each gamelan, the intervals vary from one gamelan to the next. The occasion for the word approximately is that it is common in Balinese gamelan that instruments are played in pairs which are tuned slightly apart so as to produce interference beating which are ideally at a consistent speed for all pairs of notes in all registers. It is thought that this contributes to the very "busy" and "shimmering" sound of gamelan ensembles.

Influence on Western music

The gamelan has been appreciated by several western composers of classical music, most famously Claude Debussy who heard an ensemble play at the Paris Exposition of 1889 (World's fair). (The gamelan Debussy heard was in the near-diatonic madenda scale and was played by Sundanese musicians. Despite his enthusiasm, direct citations of gamelan scales, melodies, rhythms, or ensemble textures have not been located in any of Debussy's own compositions). Direct homages to gamelan music are to be found in works for western instruments by Bartok, Messiaen, MacPhee and Britten. In more recent times, the American composers Lou Harrison, Michael Tenzer, Evan Ziporyn, Daniel James Wolf and Jody Diamond as well as Australian composers such as Peter Sculthorpe, Andrew Schultz and Ross Edwards have have written several works with parts for gamelan instruments or full gamelan ensembles. I Nyoman Windha is among contemporary Indonesian composers that have written compositions using western instruments along with Gamelan.

See also

Further reading

External links