every where in Yogya, Solo, Semarang and other cities in Central Java,
in Karatons, in the market, in the villages, in the hotel's lobby, you
should hear the magical melodious percussion music - the gamelan
music is an integral part of all cultural activities in Java such as
wayang kulit (leather puppets) performance, court dance, uyon-uyon
(symphony orchestra performance), etc.
are two kinds of laras (tuning) in gamelan, namely slendro (comparable
to minor key in Western music) and Pelog (major key). A complete set of
gamelan consist of two sets of different instruments of Slendro and
Pelog, those are :
1.Kendang (double ended drum beaten by hands) : it is a leading instrument. The pengendang (drumer) is the conductor of the gamelan orchestra. There are five (5) different sizes of kendang from 20 cm to 45 cm.
2.Saron : a glockenspiel with bronze bar struck with wooden mallet.
3.Bonang Barung : a double row of bronze kettles resting on a horizontal frame, played with two long stick bound with red cord at the striking end.
5.Slentem : thin bronze bars suspended over bamboo resonating chambers, struck with a padded disc on the end of a stick.
6.Gender : similar to slentem with more bronze keys and smaller bamboo chamber, struck with two disc-shaped hammers.
7.Gambang : wooden bars laid over a wooden frame struck with two sticks of supple buffalo horn, ending with a small, round, padded disc.
8.Gong : each slendro and pelog set had three gongs. Two big gongs (Gong Ageng) and one gong Suwukan about 90 cm, made from bronze, suspended on a wooden frame. It marks the end of the largest phrase of the melody.
9.Kempul : smaller gongs, marks a smaller phrase. In each slendro and pelog set, there are 6 (six) or 10 (ten) kempuls.
10.Kenong : smaller gongs lay horizontally on crossed cord, inside a wooden frame. A complete set of kenong in each slendro and pelog consist of 10 (ten) kenongs.
11.Ketug : the kenong player also plays it smaller kenong, marks subdivisions of phrases.
12.Clempung : a string instrument, each slendro and pelog set needs one clempung.
13.Siter : smaller cemplung, each slendro and pelog set needs one siter.
14.Suling : it is a flute, each slendro and pelog set, needs one suling.
15.Rebab : a two stringed viol, the same as slendro and pelog.
16.Keprak and Kepyak : needed for gamelan to accompany dances.
17.Bedug : it is a very big drum.
The bars of the gamelan instruments can be made either from iron, copper or bronze. The bronze bars are the best choice. All the gamelan players are sitting cross-legged on a mat during a performance. In a gamelan music concert or karawitan performance, the Kendang player or pengendang conducts the Tempo, while the melody is led by the bonang player. The gamelan orchestra includes some singers (Pesinden), female as well as male.
Some believe that in the ancient time, the first set of gamelan, by the name of Lokananta was created by gods and played in Mount Lawu, Eastward of Solo. The first gamelan was the three-toned Munggang, then the five-toned slendro gamelan and the last: the seven-toned pelog gamelan.
Patet is a place to lay the gending or to establish the gending. In the wayang kulit (shadow puppet) whole night show, the gamelan plays, slendro patet nem from 9.00-12.00 p.m.; slendro patet sanga from 00.00-03.00 a.m.; slendro patet manyura from 03.00-06.00 a.m.
For an experienced gamelan player it should not difficult to determine the patet of a particular gamelan music. Or it can be said that patet is used to create mood, with the gamelan accompaniment. It is already known that various gamelan tunes are played to create different atmosphere of the situation or feeling such as joy, sorrow, anger etc.
The Best Gamelans in Java
Everyone should agree that the most adorable, beautiful Gamelan sets with perfect sound are those Gamelan sets belonged to four royal palaces, in Solo (Karaton Surakarta and Puro Mangkunagaran) and Yogya (Karaton Yogyakarta and Puro Pakualaman). It is the fact that these four royal palaces are the centers of Javanese art and culture. Those Gamelans have a long history very closely related to the birth and existence of the palaces. Together with the weapons – heirlooms (Pusaka), the Gamelans are the most precious belongings to the Karatons. Even the Gamelans are also considered as heirlooms and they have names. In the ancient time, heirlooms are the symbol of power and authority to Javanese Kings.
Today, as a continuation of tradition and cultural heritage, the Karaton's heirlooms are treated specially, for instance by cleaning or bathing or by providing with offerings. The most important events for heirlooms take place in the Javanese month of Suro.
The philosophy of Gamelan
With a deep inner feeling, Gamelan instruments do not produce only a magical sound of music, a heart-moving melody but they reflect also the essence of a real life.
Rebab : Reflecting the breath of human life, with no breathing, a human being does not live.
Pamurbo Uriping Titah (Pamurbo = the one who is authorized, who has power; Urip = life; Titah = beings) : The one who has power to arrange the life of human-beings.
Bonang : a born baby shall cry, otherwise he/she is sick. A sign of a baby's birth Pamurbo swaraning Titah (Swara = Voice)
Kendang : it could be played to accompany various steps of dancers. Sometimes:slow and steady (Ladrang); Careful, blessed by the holy God (Ketawang); Quick (Seseg).
Pamurbo Wiramaning Titah (Wirama = Step) : The one who is authorized to regulate the steps of human-beings. The other dancing steps/movements in dancing are adroit and joking as the dance of a lady-entertainer.
Gong : from the word, Hong, a pray for safety. Symbolizing humanbeings should live in safety.
The Gamelan is showing the clear relationship between the creator (the Holy God) and the creatures (the human beings). The human beings must have a good manner during their life, so they live in safety.