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Chapter 7
Indonesian Gamelan Music:
Interlocking Rhythms, Interlocking Worlds
Bali is a small island in the Southeast Asian nation of
Hinduism and Buddhism were brought to Bali from Java,
blending together with earlier Balinese beliefs to form
new religious ideas
Bali was colonized by the Dutch in 1906-1908
The Republic of Indonesia gained full independence in
The term gamelan essentially means ‘ensemble’ or
‘orchestra,’ and refers to a wide variety of percussiondominated musical ensembles in Indonesia
Each gamelan contains large numbers of individual
instruments, but the gamelan is also considered in its
entirety as a single musical instrument
Gamelan beleganjur is a processional ensemble
traditionally used in warfare, but now associated with
many rituals and ceremonies.
Balinese Gamelan Music in Context
Bali and the
Republic of Indonesia
Bali is one of 17,000+ islands in Indonesia
 3 million people live here
 Home to an enormous tourist industry
The capital of Indonesia is Jakarta, which holds 14 million
Indonesia became independent in 1945, gaining full national
sovereignty in 1949
The national slogan translates to Unity in Diversity
Religion in Bali and Indonesia
Indonesia is the largest Islamic nation in the world, both
geographically and in terms of population
Bali is the only province in which Hinduism is the major
 Balinese Hinduism is a unique mix of Hindusim,
Buddhism, and earlier ideas from indigenous Balinese
 Gamelan music is central to Balinese Hinduism and is
performed at most religious ceremonies
Hindu-Balinese cosmology conceives of the universe as
having three worlds
The Upper world contains the gods and ancestors
The Middle World is Bali itself, the earthly realm
of the Balinese
The Lower World begins where land meets sea and
contains evil spirits who pose threats to humankind
Insights and
Bali Aga: The
Balinese” and
Their Gamelan
In some villages, people follow indigenous religious
faiths that haven’t been largely influenced by Hindusim
or Buddhism
They are the Bali Aga, or “Original Balinese.”
Although Islam is not as influential in Bali as the rest of
Indonesia, there are several Balinese villages that are
mostly Muslim
Gamelan in Bali and Beyond
When comparing Central Javanese court gamelan and Balinese
gamelan gong kebyar, note that they both generally have:
 Related instruments (bronze gongs, metallophones,
drums, bamboo flutes, bowed chordophones)
 A basis in cyclic musical forms
 Related tuning systems
 Multipart textures in which higher-pitched instruments
play at faster rhythmic rates than lower-pitched
Melodic organization in which a main, slow
melody is embellished by faster-moving parts on
other instruments
Close associations with forms of dance, dancedrama, and arts like shadow puppetry
A common historical foundation in Hindu religious
CD ex. #1-7 is a Central Javanese court gamelan piece
Evokes the royal pageantry and splendor of the court
CD ex. #2-12 is a Balinese example
This is an example of kebyar, meaning “to flare up.”
Fiery and explosive, it is from the early 20th c. when
Balinese society was experiences tremendous social
There are over two dozen distinct types of gamelan found on
the tiny island of Bali
Some use instruments of iron, hardwood, bamboo, or
other substances
Some use only voices
There are thousands of functioning gamelan clubs on the
Insights and
The Paired Tuning
of Female and
Male Instruments
Gamelan ensembles feature metallophone instruments called
ganga, which come in either one or two pairs in each octave
Each pair has a “female” and a “male,” in which the
female instrument is tuned slightly lower than its male
The instruments may sound out-of-tune, but the difference of
pitch is intentional.
The blending of the paired instruments creates an
acoustical beating effect known as ombak, or “wave.”
The Balinese say that the presence of ombak breathes life into
the gamelan sound.
The Gamelan Beleganjur:
An Introduction
Listen to Musical Guided Tour One to learn more about
the instruments, gong cycle, melodic relationships,
interlocking parts, and structure of the music.
The foundation is the gong cycle, which repeats
throughout the piece.
The melodic layer has two components: a core
melody and rapid-paced elaborations played upon
higher-pitched instruments
The final layer is provided by drums and cymbals,
which play in complex interlocking patterns.
Musical Guided
The Gamelan Beleganjur
Follow along with the transcript on pages 96-97
of the text as you listen to the Tour for this
Audio Musical Guided Tour
Kilitan Telu Interlocking Rhythms: A
Musical Symbol of Communal
The interlocking texture of the percussion instruments,
known as kilitan telu, is symbolic of broader Balinese
cultural values like communal interdependence.
The individual rhythms employed in kilitan telu are seen
as incomplete without the others: each one needs the
other two rhythms.
When played together, the whole kilitan telu is greater
than the sum of its individual parts.
Balinese Kecak and
the Kilitan Telu
Kecak is a Balinese dance-drama with music provided by a
gamelan of voices
The musical texture includes a rhythmic chorus and gamelan
gong cycles, melodies, and textures imitated vocally.
Onomatopoeic syllables represent gamelan instruments (“sirr,”
“pur,” “mong”)
Reenacts episodes from the Ramayana, a grand Hindu
Results from a collaboration with Balinese musicians
and a German painter in connection with a 1933 film,
and is now largely marketed for touristic purposes
Listen to CD ex. #2-13 for an excerpt of a Kecak
Experiencing Balinese
Interlocking, Kecak-Style
Chak 1
Chak 2
Chak 3
The Gamelan Beleganjur in
Battles of Good versus Evil
Balinese individuals and communities have concern for
perceived threats from malevolent spirit beings
Balinese lore claims that the gamelan beleganjur was created
by the evil spirits of the Lower World, but was later
transformed as a force for good by the Middle World Balinese.
The gamelan beleganjur is used as a source of mediation
between the three worlds of the Balinese cosmos
In rituals like cremation processions, beleganjur music is used
to intimidate malevolent spirits who travel the Middle World to
do harm to humans.
Beleganjur Music in HinduBalinese Cremation Processions
Cremation is seen as an essential step for freeing the soul from
the earthly realm.
The body or exhumed remains are ritually prepared and
transported in an enormous cremation tower to the Temple of
the Dead.
The procession is seen as perilous, and the beleganjur music is
used to frighten away evil spirits who attempt to abduct the
uncremated souls
There is a general feeling of crowdedness that is common to
virtually every Balinese ritual or social occasion.
 Contributing factors are singing, music, and other sounds
The towers contain multiple tiers, and the largest towers are
researched for wealthy and high-caste individuals.
 It may take from six, 20, or even more men to carry the
Listen to CD ex. #2-14 for an excerpt of a 1995 field recording
from a Balinese cremation process, which is discussed and
summarized on pages 101-03 of the text.
Insights and
Caste and Class
in Bali
Hindu societies like India and Bali traditionally base social
organization upon a caste system, or a hereditary social caste.
Caste might determine one’s educational and professional
opportunities, and one is born into a caste.
The Balinese caste system contains four castes: the priestly
caste, the warrior caste, the merchant caste, and the commoner
 About 90% belong to the commoner caste, and there are
no “Untouchables.”
Caste also determines one’s religious life and obligations.
Walking Warriors:
Worldly Battlegrounds of Beleganjur
Bali has been ravaged by wars throughout its history, and the
great Balinese warrior is seen as a heroic figure.
Warfare was traditionally accompanied by music from the
gamelan beleganjur, the “gamelan of walking warriors.”
Lomba Beleganjur: The Modern
Beleganjur Contest
The traditional role of beleganjur as music of warfare is now
obsolete, but the heroic imagery of the Balinese warrior lives
The modern beleganjur contest features numerous beleganjur
groups from different districts, competing formally.
Traditionally featuring only male groups, women’s and
children’s groups have emerged since the 1990s. The contest
style is still identified with concepts of manhood and
masculinity, however.
Kreasi Beleganjur: The Contest
Musical Style
Kreasi beleganjur, or “new creation beleganjur, is a dramatic,
neo-traditional beleganjur style.
Rather than being functional In purpose, it is flashy, fast,
complex, and inventive.
Contests audiences may consist of thousands, and a good
contest is full of excitement and energy.
CD ex. #2-15 is an example of a kreasi beleganjur contest
Tradition and Innovation in Kreasi
Beleganjur: An Elusive Balance
Value is placed on the following:
 Compositional originality
 Ensemble virtuosity
 Emphasis on showmanship
 Varied textures
Insights and
Gerak: The
Element in Kreasi
Gerak are the choreographed movements in kreasi beleganjur
A highlight feature of this contest style, these movements of
the musicians feature classic poses of battle and martial arts
Movements range from lighthearted, satirical commentary to
solemn and reverential characterizations.
Achieving the Elusive Balance: The Kreasi
Beleganjur Music of I Ketut Suandita
Composer I Ketut Suandita is an example of the ideal balance
between traditionalism and creative innovation in kreasi
beleganjur contest music.
By the age of 23, he had won the most prestigious beleganjur
contest three years straight.
CD ex. #2-16 features his “Wira Ghorava Cakti ’95,” a prizewinning piece. It highlights several innovative features that
are listed and summarized on pages 107-08 of the text.
What are some of its innovations?
Crossing International
Gamelan music has fascinated many non-Indonesian
 Claude Debussy, John Cage, Lou Harrison, Colin
MhPhee, Benjamin Britten, Philip Glass, Steve Reich,
Michael Tenzer, Wayne Vitale, Evan Ziporyn, Barbara
Benary, Janet Jackson (“China Love” and Beck
Indonesian composers have also been influenced by
international musics, and show this influence in popular music
and art music.
CD ex. #2-17 features “Country Beleganjur,” performed by
virtuoso electric guitarist I Wayan Balawan. He leads the band
Batuan Ethnic Fusion, one of the first Balinese bands to be
signed by Sony BMG.
“B.A.Ph.PET,” CD ex. 2-18, is a piece composer by Michael
Bakan for the student Balinese gamelan group at Florida State
University. It is a post-traditional Balinese gamelan piece
scored for traditional gamelan instruments, keyboard
synthesizer, synthesized drums and percussion, electric bass,
and scratch turntable soloist. It is discussed and summarized
on pages 109-112 of the text.