Gamelan music is the most popular and important kind in Indonesia. Gamelan orchestras accompany all dances and dramas. Gamel means ‘to hammer’, and most of the instruments of a gamelan orchestra are struck with wooden mallets, padded sticks or hammers.The conductor of a gamelan orchestra is a drummer who is part of the orchestra.
Instruments of a gamelan orchestra
A complete orchestra could have about 40 or more different instruments. There would be instruments that are struck to produce sound, such as kettledrums, xylophones, and gongs of various sizes. There would be a wind instrument, a bamboo flute called a suling, and string instruments such as a zither or lute. There would be instruments whose sounds are produced by vibration, such as drums, bells, cymbals and gongs.
There are also two sets of instruments that are tonal: the slendro tuned to five tones and the pelog, tuned to seven tones. The slendro is used to suggest festivity or cheerfulness, and is believed to have developed in Java in the eighth century. The pelog is used to express sadness, and is also very ancient in its origins. These two cannot be played together, but are used according to the mood of the piece being played.
Gamelan music is complicated. It is an ancient form of music and has been handed down for many generations, never written down, but learned by being played. Gamelan is an essential part of Indonesian life. It is slightly different from island to island.
Another popular form of orchestral music is the angklung, which is played on instruments made entirely of bamboo of different lengths. Each instrument is made up of two bamboo tubes, each of a different note. The instruments are shaken to produce sound.