Said to have been created by the god Sang Hyang Guru as a means of summoning the gods in Javanese mythology, Gamelan holds a central role in Indonesian culture and is played in religious rituals, ceremonies, traditional theater, concerts, festivals, exhibitions, and more.
As shown by relief sculptures in Borobudur temple, Gamelan dates as far back as the eighth century, although not in its current form, which developed during the Majapahit Empire (1293–1527). The oldest gamelan instruments available are from the 12th century, and are maintained in the courts, highlighting their significance in Indonesian culture since long ago.
Gamelan consists primarily of ornate, percussion instruments made of painstakingly hand-forged bronze, brass, or iron. This includes xylophones, gongs, gong-chimes, drums, and cymbals, but also string instruments, bamboo flutes, and singers named sindhen (female) or gerong (male). Gamelan music follows precise rules and techniques regarding tuning, layout, rhythmic and metric patterns, and performance. For instance, the melody is played simultaneously by a group of instruments and multiple instruments may play interlocking parts to form a single rhythm.
As an archipelago, Indonesia naturally gave rise to many different variations of Gamelan with the listing under UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity mentioning eight variants of Gamelan in Indonesia, including Javanese Gamelan of Central Java, Balinese Gamelan, and Sundanese Gamelan of West Java. It also features prominently in Malay culture, performing a similar role to that of its Indonesian counterpart, and has spread to various countries across the globe through migration and cultural interest.
Differences between the various styles often manifest in the exact instruments played, the accompaniment, or musical style. For example, Javanese gamelans frequently include singers, while most Balinese gamelans consist exclusively of percussion instruments. These distinctions only serve to highlight the vibrant culture that Gamelan plays a key part of.
Text by: Ambrose Cheung/Licha Stelaus Productions
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