Indonesian gamelan (which is actually not a kind of music, but rather an ensemble of instruments that are tuned very specifically to one another) is performed using “colotonic” structure, meaning that it’s organized in repeating rhythmic cycles, the start of each of which is indicated by the sound of a gong. Gamelan compositions are melodically complex because of the interaction of the various gongs and other percussion instruments that seem to sing to one another, dance around each other and playfully chase each other about. Rhythms interlock as well, with two musicians playing intimately connected parts to form a unified whole. (See’s introduction to Balinese gamelan for examples of interlocking rhythms.)

A classic gamelan ensemble consists of many tuned percussion instruments, such as:
the gong ageng (turn your speakers way up to hear it), the largest gong in the ensemble, which marks the beginning of each rhythmic cycle
–Â the bonang, which is composed of two rows of horizontally mounted gongs and often leads the melody
the kenong, a set of tuned gongs that punctuate spaces between the playing of the gong ageng
the kempul, deeply pitched hanging gongs
the kendang, a double-sided drum that is played horizontally. Often a gamelan has two kendang players who play two intertwining parts of a rhythms. (See’s kendang page for an explanation.)
the saron and slenthem, which each consist of several brass bars on a horizontal frame, and often play the melody
the gender: which often elaborates on the melody set out by the saron or slenthem

More about gamelan:
An example of Balinese gamelan, another of Javanese gamelan, and World Music: A Global Journey’s elaboration on the difference between the two.
(spoiler alert: Balinese gamelan is more dynamic and rhythmically dense than tranquil Javanese gamelan.)

Comments are closed.