Balinese Gamelan, is a traditional music from the island of Gods. Timeless and even growing, gamelan becomes an inseparable part of Balinese life. It reflects the nature of Balinese society that welcoming the world.
The Balinese liked to call it “gambelan”, but in this article, we use standard Indonesian language which is Gamelan, to make it easier to identify that this is also one of the Indonesian heritage, besides Javanese Gamelan and Sundanese Gamelan.
While the range of gamelan music is not sufficiently competitive with classical orchestras, it is important to note that gamelan is more than just an art form. Music is the soul of every religious ceremony and traditional ritual on the island.
Balinese Hindus have a concept called Panca Gita, which means five songs or sounds that evoke feelings of spiritual and joy, which are needed to complete the ritual. First is the sound of Kulkul, wooden bells are usually hung on the Kulkul tower in the center of Banjar or the village.
Kulkul, with the sound of wood-like bells, is used as a call to meetings. Gamelan is one of the five sounds; the aim is to accompany each step of the ritual. Then there is the Dharmaghita, which is a hymn or kekawin, a sacred song. There is a bell or bell held by the priest. And the last sound, but perhaps the most important thing is the prayer sung by the priest.
Balinese gamelan music is popular especially through its explosive, dynamic, and high-speed sound. The fast rhythm mainly caused by a small cymbal shaped called Ceng-Ceng. Ceng-Ceng sounds very loud and played rapidly, and that is what makes the difference with the Javanese Gamelan which tends to be soft or Gamelan Degung Sunda which is a little bit lilting.
Balinese Gamelan has its own precise tuning system which called acoustic vibration. This vibration tuning applied in this gamelan which comes from metal bronze produces a distinctive twang.
Types of Balinese Gamelan
Related to the material of its manufacture, the Balinese people have categorized their musical instruments. There is a bronze gamelan which is better known as gamelan krawang because it is assembled by pande krawang (bronze expert). There is also gamelan made of bamboo, and there is also selonding, made of iron. Out of the three, selonding is the most antique and rare because it is rarely used.
Balinese gamelan permeates the entire life of the Island of the Gods that you could hear it almost everywhere. This traditional music always accompanies sacred ceremonies and also played as an accompaniment to various Balinese arts, such as dance, drama and theater. One of the oldest records of Balinese gamelan is written on the Bebetin Inscription. It is written that Balinese gamelan has existed since at least 896 AD. Back then, the gamelan was not as complex as it is today.
Balinese gamelan has many variations. However, according to timeline, Balinese gamelan could be divided into three big groups; wayah or the old gamelan, madya or the middle gamelan, and anyar or the new gamelan.
Gamelan wayah or old gamelan is a gamelan that was born before the 15th century. The instruments contained are small. Old gamelan is dominated by melodic instruments and not equipped with drum (or kendang in Balinese language). Even if there is a drum, the role is not prominent.
Gamelan madya or middle gamelan was born between the 15th century to the 19th century. Physically, the middle gamelan instruments are bigger than the old gamelan instruments. The music produced by the middle gamelan group has been colored by small cymbals called ceng-ceng and percussion instruments. Kendang has also been played.
Gamelan anyar or the new gamelan was born in the 20th century and after. Physically, the musical instruments in the new gamelan are much bigger than the middle gamelan. The music produced by the new gamelan has begun to be dominated by drums accompanied by ceng-ceng.
The Development of Balinese Gamelan
Balinese musical art has spread throughout Bali and even to other regions and abroad. This condition also makes gamelan composition more complex.
In recent times, new musical compositions have emerged that feature agile melodies and use many tones. This is very different from the melodies of the past where the melodies are very simple, use only a few notes and contain a lot of repetition. Freaky patterns that have emerged lately have used a lot of irregular rhythm or count patterns like three, five or seven. In the old composition, the steady rhythm pattern was very dominant.
In order for music to be heard by distant audiences, the addition of instruments becomes necessary rather than using an amplification system.
Outside of Bali, in some areas there have also been established several Balinese gamelan music groups. At the international level, the gamelan has spread across Europe, Australia, Japan, Canada, India and possibly the most in the United States. Initially, the gamelan was only placed in representatives of the Republic of Indonesia, but gradually some private groups and individuals begin to have their own gamelan. For example, Tunas Mekar Group from United States.
Tunas Mekar Group, located in Denver, Colorado, was founded in 1988 by Michael Fitts and trained by original Balinese teacher, I Made Lasmawan. The instrument played by Lasmawan students is angklung kebyar. Lasmawan who came from Baturiti, Tabanan also claimed to have taught at the Tunas Mekar Group since 1999. For Lasmawan, it is an honor to preserve Balinese culture by teaching foreigners.
Kathie, one of the students, said that it is a pride to learn Balinese gamelan. She studied Balinese gamelan for 5 years ago, and proudly happy to participate at the 41st Bali Arts Festival 2019. Performed with her Balinese make-up, she looked very happy.
Previously, the Tunas Mekar Group had performed in Bali in 1996. Twenty-two years later, the Tunas Mekar Group returned to perform with all the personnel who were almost entirely American. The return of Tunas Mekar in 2019 becomes a uniqueness of its own, because this group presents the skills of the Americans playing the Balinese gamelan.
The Function of Balinese Gamelan
As part of Balinese art, Balinese Gamelan is also inseparable from the function of art in Bali which initially appeared as a mere religious ritual. Furthermore, from time to time, there was a shift from the terms of function. In a broader perspective regarding the use and function of Gamelan Bali, we can refer to the formula of Alan P. Merriam in his book “The Anthropology of Music”
- Accompaniment of religious ceremonies
Gamelan is very important as a complement to the religious rituals of the Balinese Hindu ceremony. There are various ceremonies where most are accompanied by different types of gamelan, such as:
- Baleganjur as accompaniment of religious processions
- Gender Wayang gambling as an accompaniment to the tooth-cutting ceremony,
- Angklung gamelan as an accompaniment to cremation ceremonies and many more.
- Gives a Taste of Beauty
As part of the arts, Balinese Gamelan has fulfilled the elements of beauty through its harmony of the tones presented. From their magical sounds, it could satisfy the souls for those who listened.
- Communication tool
Gamelan is an ensemble consisting of a number of musical instruments which require a certain number of players to play it. From this point of view, gamelan has become a media that unites the Balinese people, and improve the integrity. As for the broader example, gamelan, through its sounds, presented is a sign of the community to gather, hold meetings or other activities.
In the field of tourism, gamelan is often staged with entertainment purposes both for routine performances and at festivals, art exhibitions or other means. Even gamelan is now increasingly popular and has always been an icon of Indonesian representative both at home and abroad.
- Revealing History
From the description above which refers to the concept of Alan P. Merriam, it seems clear that gamelan has a central role in various historical events such as the appointment of a king, inauguration of a new area, and ceremonies.
As part of art and culture, gamelan also contains the values of life. The skills, abilities, togetherness and sense of communality are very evident.
Although the explanation of the instruments is complicated, but its unique harmony creates its own beauty. In other words, gamelan is able to be an intermediary that educates people to continue to uphold the values of local wisdom.
Where can you watch Balinese Gamelan?
- Puri Saren Palace
You guys could watch the Balinese gamelan performance at the Puri Saren Palace, Ubud or known as the Ubud Palace. Gamelan plays an important role as a companion aspect of traditional Balinese dance performances. One of them is Legong Dance, which is usually performed at Ancak Saji’s court. Starting with a gamelan chant performance, then followed by the entry of Legong dancers. The place, which is located at Jalan Raya Ubud number 8, has a ticket for around IDR 112.000. Puri Saren Ubud Palace is open every day from 9am to 9pm, with a variety of traditional performance schedules.
- Ubud Water Palace
The Ubud Water Palace, opens from 7 pm offers a number of traditional performances such as Balinese gamelan. The ticket price is around IDR 100.000, free of charge for children under 7 years old. This performance was begun with Beleganjur gamelan, which has a historical function; it was used as an encouragement for the soldiers before the war.
- Bale Banjar Kelod
Bale Banjar Kelod, which is located at Monkey Forest street number 15, Ubud, also features a Balinese gamelan performance. And all of the players are women, interesting, right? You guys could watch this show by preparing a ticket of around IDR 98.000 per person. Gamelan shows are held every Monday, Tuesday and Friday starting at 7:30 PM. Not only gamelan, you can also watch Balinese dances which are played by Balinese women.
- Bentuyung Village
The place to watch traditional Balinese performances including gamelan is Bentuyung Village, located on Jalan Suweta, Ubud. Ticket to watch this performance is approximately IDR 100.000. The instrument in this Balinese gamelan performance is made from bamboo, played with energetic and full of strength. The show is played every Friday and Sunday at 7 pm
Don’t forget to note those places to watch the Balinese gamelan performances. You’re not traveling to Bali if you don’t stop by to watch these performances. See you there later!