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Early Sources and Influences
The musical identity of Indonesia as we know it today began as the Bronze Age culture migrated to the Indonesian archipelago in the 2nd-3rd c BC through Vietnam, where Bronze and Iron Age cultures were already at advanced stages of development. Instruments: bronze kettledrum (believed to have magical power) and gong-chimes.
Origins of the Gamelan
The gong-chime culture of Indonesia evolved over 2000 years to become today's ensemble of tuned percussion instruments comprised of gongs, metallophones and drums. Larger gamelans are made of bronze, iron or brass, with ornately carved wooden frames painted in red and gold. Legend says that the first gamelan was created by the god-king Sang Hyang Guru who ruled in the 3rd c. Hard evidence tells the first had a 3-note tuning, and was used in 347 AD but possibly existed before that date in the 2nd or 1st c BC. There are few, extant written records, but information can be gathered from bas reliefs and the remains of ancient bronze drums that came from China, mainland Southeast Asia and India. The first reference to gongs in literature occurred in the 10th-c; depictions of the instruments were found in the 14th-c in East Java. Over the centuries, the relative pitch tended to rise, and the size of the instruments has become smaller, while the number of instruments used in ensembles has increased, which has been used by some scholars to determine the age and origins of the gamelan. Prior to the 16th c, gamelan were classified according to their use: loud for outdoor functions, soft for indoor occasions. There is some evidence that the two types of ensembles were combined by the 8-9th c, but the modern ensemble did not evolve until after the 16th c.
Earliest Instruments and Tunings of Gamelan
8th c bas reliefs in Borobudor depict the saron (metallophone with bronze keys suspended over a trough resonator) membranophones, bamboo flutes and xylophones. 10-key gender, metallophones with thin bronze keys suspended over bamboo resonators, existed since the 12th c, but are believed to have originated several centuries earlier. The rebab, a spiked fiddle, became part of the gamelan ensemble by the 8th c; depictions can be seen in the 13th c bas reliefs on Candi Jago. Earliest tunings were 3, 4 and 5 note slendro tunings and 3-7 note pelog tunings. The 5-note slendro tuning was used by the 6-7th c, 7-note pelog by the 12th c.
Yogyakarta, The Gamelan of the Kraton
Distinguished as a contemporary center of higher education in Indonesia and a major tourist destination in central Java, Yogyakarta is also a center of excellence for traditional Javanese culture. Kraton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat, the palatial residence of the current Sultan of Yogyakarta and his ancestors, has existed as a center of cultural excellence since1755 and has been marked by power struggles between central Javanese nobility and from the Dutch East India Company. Over the decades, the Dutch took advantage of various political disruptions to further their control of the courts and advance their economic holdings, but allowed the traditional Javanese feudal autocracy to retain their high social position under colonial administration. Palace life was rich, but with the outbreak of WW II, the arrangement was shattered and reduced to an instrument for preserving traditional ceremonies and rituals during the Japanese occupation of 1942-45.
The Music of the Palace Since the Indonesian Revolution 1945-49
The Kraton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat continues to perpetuate traditional Javanese ceremonies and rituals, performed on the indigenous Javanese gamelan orchestra. Performing arts at the palace are always part of some extra-musical activity marking either an event, such as marriage or circumcision of a royal family member, or the recurrence of an important date, such as religious holy days, the birthday of the Sultan or the founding of thekingdom. The Kraton Yogyakarta Gamelan is primarily robust and loud (soran). The gendhing repertoire of marches (mares) or gendhing gati (important pieces) are unique to Yogyakarta, and the use of western snare drums and brass instruments gives testimony to the long period of contact between the Javanese and the Dutch. The palace gamelan is physically impressive with a potential to broadcast great power, but beyond their immediate visual and aural impact, they have associations with the Sultan and with supernatural powers that contribute to the sacred aura of the instruments.
Numerous regional styles of gamelan performance, equal to the majesty of Yogyakarta, exist on the island of Java. The gamelan salendro from Sunda in Western Java accompanies puppet theater and dance; only a few of the many other Sundanese ensembles are the popular gamelan degung and the ethereally beautiful cianjuran style (Tembang Sunda) of epic poetry sung to the accompaniment of kacapi (zither) and suling (bamboo flute).
The Indonesian Pop Scene
The world of Indonesian pop music is marked by the cultural encounters to the archipelago since ancient times. Kroncong, Indonesiafs oldest urban song style with roots to the Portuguese traders, became popular in the 1930s through Indonesiafs film industry. Hetty Koes Endang, the kroncong diva, was instrumental in reviving the style in the 1980s. Other styles like qasidah modern were derived from Islamic pop, adding local dialects and lyrics that address Indonesian contemporary issues. Dangdut, originally an Indonesian dance music that has spreadthroughout SE Asia, became the dominant pop style in the mid-1970s. Famous for its throbbing beat and the slightly moralistic lyrics that appeal to Muslim youth, dangdut stars dominate the modern pop scene.
Judith Becker. Gamelan Stories: Tantrism, Islam and Aesthetics in Central Java, 1993 and Traditional Music in Modern Java: Gamelan in a Changing Society.
Anything by Jaap Kunst. (His pre-revolution studies give a different perspective to the music and culture.)
Craig A. Lockard. Dance of Life: Popular Music and Politics in Southeast Asia, 1998
Sumarsam. Gamelan : Cultural Interaction and Musical Development in Central Java,1995
©1999, Inc.

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