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This nOde last updated December 17th, 2004 and is permanently morphing...
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An Indonesian orchestra composed mainly of tuned percussion instruments such as bamboo xylophones, wooden or metal chimes, and gongs.
[Javanese : gamêl, to make music + -an, suff. indicating means.]
Indonesian Music, music of the peoples of the islands of the Indonesian archipelago. Despite the vastness of the country and its many regional differences, certain common musical traditions can be found throughout Indonesia. Everywhere some form of ensemble exists that is made up of small tuned goo (gongs) and two or three laba (drums). Generally, these gong-and-drum ensembles accompany ritual and religious activities. Throughout the islands, historical and religious epics are sung, and they are often accompanied by a stringed instrument or a flute. Another common element is the belief that music is a means of communicating with unseen powers.
Although Indonesia has many kinds of solo vocal music, choral music, and music for wind and stringed instruments, it has more varieties of ensembles of gongs and drums than any other country in the world. The gongs of these ensembles, with their raised knob in the center and their deep, turned-down rims, are generally termed pot gongs. Made of bronze, they have been manufactured in Indonesia for at least 1000 years and possibly for 2000 or 3000 years, and they are sometimes believed to possess supernatural power. The simplest ensembles have only four or five small pot gongs (tuned to different pitches) and two or three drums. Each gong and drum starts playing one after the other; the individual players fit their parts between the beats of the other instruments. Some of the gongs and drums play short, continuously repeated patterns, while others play many melodic and rhythmic variations against these repeated patterns.
Of the drum-and-gong ensembles of Indonesia, the largest and best known are the gamelan ensembles of Java and Bali. The influences of Hinduism and Buddhism, which were widely followed in Indonesia between 500 and 1500, resulted in the development of unusually large musical cycles, sometimes as long as 512 beats. As the gamelan developed, many instruments were added to the basic drum-and-gong ensemble, including several varieties of metallophones (bronze-keyed xylophones).