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A gamelan is a musical ensemble from Indonesia, typically from the islands of Bali or Java, featuring a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs; bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings. Vocalists may also be included .
The term refers more to the set of instruments than to the players of those instruments. A gamelan is a set of instruments as a distinct entity, built and tuned to stay together — instruments from different gamelan are generally not interchangeable.
The word "gamelan" comes from the Javanese word "gamels", meaning to strike or hammer, and the suffix "an", which makes the root a collective noun. Real hammers are not used to play these instruments as heavy iron hammers would break the delicate instruments.
History of Gamelan Music
The gamelan predates the Hindu-Buddhist culture that dominated Indonesia in its earliest records and instead represents a native art form. The instruments developed into their current form during the Majapahit Empire. In contrast to the heavy Indian influence in other art forms, the only obvious Indian influence in gamelan music is in the Javanese style of singing.
In Javanese mythology, the gamelan was created by Sang Hyang Guru in Saka era 167 (c. AD 230), the god who ruled as king of all Java from a palace on the Maendra mountains in Medangkamulan (now Mount Lawu). He needed a signal to summon the gods and thus invented the gong. For more complex messages, he invented two other Gongs, thus forming the original gamelan set.
The earliest image of musical ensembles are found in 8th century Borobudur temple, Central Java. Musical instruments such as bamboo flute, bells, drums in various sizes, lute, and bowed and plucked string instruments were identified in this image. However it lacks metallophones and xylophones element. Nevertheless, the image of this musical ensemble is suggested to be the ancient form of the gamelan.
In the palaces of Java are the oldest known ensembles, the Munggang and Kodokngorekkemanak tradition and is related to the traditions of singing Javanese poetry, in a manner which is often believed to be similar to performance of modern bedhaya dance. In the 17th century, these loud and soft styles mixed, and to a large extent the variety of modern gamelan styles of Bali, Java, and Sunda resulted from different ways of mixing these elements. Thus, despite the seeming diversity of styles, many of the same theoretical concepts, instruments, and techniques are shared between the styles. Gamelans, apparently from the 12th century. These formed the basis of a "loud style." A different, "soft style" developed out of the
Varieties of gamelan ensembles
Varying forms of gamelan ensembles are distinguished by their collection of instruments and use of voice, tunings, repertoire, style, and cultural context. In general, no two gamelan ensembles are the same, and those that arose in prestigious courts are often considered to have their own style. Certain styles may also be shared by nearby ensembles, leading to a regional style.
The varieties are generally grouped geographically, with the principal division between the styles favored by the Balinese, Javanese, and Sundanese peoples. Sundanese gamelan is often associated with Gamelan Degung, a Sundanese musical ensemble that utilises a subset of modified gamelan instruments with a particular mode of pelog scale. Balinese gamelan is often associated with the virtuosity and rapid changes of tempo and dynamics of Gamelan gong kebyar, its best-known style. Other popular Balinese styles include Gamelan and kecak, also known as the "monkey chant." Javanese gamelan was largely dominated by the courts of the 19th century central Javanese rulers, each with its own style, but overall is known for a slower, more meditative style than that of Bali.
Outside of the main core on Java and Bali, gamelans have spread through migration and cultural interest, new styles sometimes resulting as well. Malay gamelans are designed in ways that are similar to the Javanese gamelan except they lack most of the elaborating instruments and are tuned in a near-equidistant slendro, often using a western Bb or C as a tuning basis. Javanese emigrants to Suriname play gamelan in a style close to that found in Central Javanese villages. Gamelan is also related to the Filipino kulintang ensemble. There is also a wide variety of gamelan in the West, including both
In Indonesia, gamelan usually accompanies dance wayang puppet performances, or rituals or ceremonies. Typically players in the gamelan will be familiar with dance moves and poetry, while dancers are able to play in the ensemble. In wayang, the dalang (puppeteer) must have a thorough knowledge of gamelan, as he gives the cues for the music. Gamelan can be performed by itself — in "klenengan" style, or for radio broadcasts — but concerts in the Western style are not traditional.
Gamelan's role in rituals is so important that there is a Javanese saying, "It's not official until the gong is hung." Some performances are associated with royalty, such as visits by the sultan of Yogyakarta. Certain gamelans are associated with specific rituals, such as the Gamelan Sekaten, which is used in celebration of Mawlid an-Nabi (Muhammad's birthday). In Bali, almost all religious rituals include gamelan performance. Gamelan is also used in the ceremonies of the Catholic church in Indonesia. Certain pieces are designated for starting and ending performances or ceremonies. When a "leaving" piece (such as "Udan Mas") is begun, the audience will know that the event is nearly finished and will begin to leave. Certain pieces are also believed to possess magic powers, and can be used to ward off evil spirits.
Gamelan is frequently played on the radio. For example, the Pura Pakualaman gamelan performs live on the radio every Minggu Pon (a day in the 35-day cycle of the Javanese calendar).In major towns, the Radio Republik Indonesia employs professional musicians and actors, and broadcast programs of a wide variety of gamelan music and drama.
In the court tradition of central Java, gamelan is often played in the pendopo, an open pavilion with a cavernous, double-pitched roof, no side walls, and a hard marble or tile floor. The instruments are placed on a platform to one side, which allows the sound to reverberate in the roof space and enhances the acoustics.
In Bali, the Gamelan instruments are all kept together in the balai banjar, a community meeting hall which has a large open space with a roof over top of it with several open sides. The instruments are all kept here together because they believe that all of the instruments belong to the community as a whole and no one person has ownership over an instrument. Not only is this where the instruments are stored, but this is also the practice space for the sekaha (Gamelan orchestra). The open walls allow for the music to flow out into the community where the rest of the people can enjoy it.
The sekaha is led by a single instructor whose job it is in the community to lead this group and to come up with new songs. When they are working on a new song, the instructor will lead the group in practice and help the group form the new piece of music as they are practicing. When the instructor creates a new song, he leaves enough open for interpretation that the group can improvise and as a group they will be writing the music as they are practicing it.
The Balinese Gamelan groups are constantly changing their music by taking older pieces they know and mixing them together as well as trying new variations on their music. Their music is always constantly changing because they believe that music should grow and change; the only exception to this is with their most sacred songs which they will not change. A single new piece of music can take several months before it is completed.
Men and women usually perform in separate groups, with the exception of the pesindhen, the female singer who performs with male groups.
In the West, gamelan is often performed in a concert context, but may also incorporate dance or wayang.
The tuning and construction of a gamelan orchestra is a complex process. Javanese gamelans use two tuning systems: sléndro and pélog. There are other tuning systems such as degungmadenda (also known as diatonis, similar to a European natural minor scale). In central Javanese gamelan, sléndro is a system with five notes to the diapason (octave), fairly evenly spaced, while pélog has seven notes to the octave, with uneven intervals, usually played in five note subsets of the seven-tone collection. This results in sound quite different from music played in a western tuning system. Many gamelan orchestras will include instruments in each tuning, but each individual instrument will only be able to play notes in one. The precise tuning used differs from ensemble to ensemble, and give each ensemble its own particular flavour. The intervals between notes in a scale are very close to identical for different instruments within each gamelan, but the intervals vary from one gamelan to the next. (exclusive to Sunda, or West Java), and Colin McPhee remarked, "Deviations in what is considered the same scale are so large that one might with reason state that there are as many scales as there are gamelans." However, this view is contested by some teachers of gamelan, and there have been efforts to combine multiple ensembles and tuning structures into one gamelan to ease transportation at festival time. One such ensemble is gamelan Manikasanti, which can play the repertoire of many different ensembles.
Balinese gamelan instruments are commonly played in pairs which are tuned slightly apart to produce interference beats, ideally at a consistent speed for all pairs of notes in all registers. It is thought that this contributes to the very "busy" and "shimmering" sound of gamelan ensembles. In the religious ceremonies that contain gamelan, these interference beats are meant to give the listener a feeling of a god's presence or a stepping stone to a meditative state.
Traditionally gamelan music is not notated and began as an oral tradition; however, in the 19th century, the kratons of Yogyakarta and Surakarta developed distinct notations for transcribing the repertoire. These were not used to read the music, which was memorized, but to preserve pieces in the court records. The Yogyanese notation is a checkerboard notation, which uses six or seven vertical lines to represent notes of higher pitch in the balungan (core melody), and horizontal lines which represent the series of beats, read downward with time. The fourth vertical line and every fourth horizontal line (completing a gatra) are darkened for legibility. Symbols on the left indicate the colotomic structure of gongs and so forth, while specific drum features are notated in symbols to the right. The Solonese notation reads horizontally, like Western notation, but does not use barlines. Instead, note values and rests are squiggled between the notes.
Today this notation is relatively rare, and has been replaced by kepatihan notation, which is a cipher system. Kepatihan notation developed around 1900 at the kepatihan in Surakarta. The pitches are numbered (see the articles on the scales slendro and pélog for an explanation of how), and are read across with dots and lines indicating the register and time values. Like the palace notations, however, they record only the balungan part, and to a large extent what is heard relies on memorized patterns the performers call upon during performance. However, teachers have also devised certain notations, generally using kepatihan principles, for the cengkokelaborating instrument. In ethnomusicological studies, transcriptions are often made onto a Western staff, sometimes with unusual clefs.