at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

The Art of the Gamelan

Featured Books

* Unplayed Melodies: Javanese Gamelan and the Genesis of Music Theory
* The Gamelan Digul and the Prison Camp Musician who Built it: An Australian link with the Indonesian Revolution
* Traditions of Gamelan Music in Java: Musical Pluralism and Regional Identity
* Balinese Gamelan Music
* Gamelan Gong Kebyar: The Art of Twentieth-Century Balinese Music

Unplayed Melodies: Javanese Gamelan and the Genesis of Music Theory

Unplayed Melodies
by Marc Perlman
University of California Press, 2004

The gamelan music of Central Java is one of the world’s great orchestral traditions. Its rich sonic texture is not based on Western-style harmony or counterpoint, but revolves around a single melody. The nature of that melody, however, is puzzling. In this book, Marc Perlman uses this puzzle as a key to both the art of the gamelan and the nature of musical knowledge in general.

Some Javanese musicians have suggested that the gamelan’s central melody is inaudible, an implicit or “inner” melody. Yet even musicians who agree on its existence may disagree about its shape. Drawing on the insights of Java’s most respected musicians, Perlman shows how irregularities in the relationships between the melodic parts have suggested the existence of “unplayed melodies.” To clarify the differences between these implicit-melody concepts, Unplayed Melodies tells the stories behind their formulation, identifying each as the creative contribution of an individual musician in a postcolonial context (sometimes in response to Western ethnomusicological theories). But these stories also contain evidence of the general cognitive processes through which musicians find new ways to conceptualize their music. Perlman’s inquiry into these processes illuminates not only the gamelan’s polyphonic art, but also the very sources of creative thinking about music.

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The Gamelan Digul and the Prison Camp Musician who Built it: An Australian link with the Indonesian Revolution

The Gamelan Digul and the Prison-Camp Musician Who Built It
by Margaret J. Kartomi
University of Rochester Press, 2002

This is the story of a particular Javanese group of ‘matching’ musical instruments called the gamelan Digul, and their creator, the Indonesian musician and political activist Pontjopangrawit (1893-ca. 1965). He was a superb Javanese court musician, who had entertained at the of king Paku Buwana X as a child. In this magnificent artistic environment he learned how to build gamelans, and also became a sought-after teacher. Involved in radical political activities, Pontjopangrawit was arrested in 1926 for his participation in the movement to free Indonesia from Dutch rule, and spent the next six years in the notorious Dutch East Indies prison camp at Boven Digul. Made in 1927 entirely from ‘found’ materials in the prison camp, including pans and eating utensils, the gamelan Digul became a symbol for the independence movement long after Pontjopangrawit’s own release in 1932. In the 1940s, it was transported to Australia, where the Dutch and their prisoners took refuge from the Japanese invaders. At first interned as enemy aliens by the Australian government, the ex-Digulists were finally released. Cultural activities within the Australian Indonesian community involving the gamelan Digul served to create sympathy and interest for Indonesia’s independence, which was granted in 1945. Tragically, Pontjopangrawit himself was later arrested by the Indonesian goverment during the 1965 revolution, and died in custody. This book’s musical and political discussions will interest all those concerned with Indonesian and Southeast Asian music, performing arts, history and culture as well as the beginnings of Australian-Indonesian friendship.

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Traditions of Gamelan Music in Java: Musical Pluralism and Regional Identity

 Traditions of Gamelan Music in Java
by R. Anderson Sutton
Cambridge University Press, 2008

This book is a wide-ranging study of the varieties of gamelan music in contemporary Java seen from a regional perspective. While the focus of most studies of Javanese music has been limited to the court-derived music of Surakarta and Yogyakarta, Sutton goes beyond them to consider also gamelan music of Banyumas, Semarang and east Java as separate regional traditions with distinctive repertoires, styles and techniques of performance and conceptions about music. Sutton’s description of these traditions, illustrated with numerous musical examples in Javanese cipher notation, is based on extensive field experience in these areas and is informed by the criteria that Javanese musicians judge to be most important in distinguishing them.

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Balinese Gamelan Music

Balinese Gamelan Music
by Michael Tenzer
Tuttle Publishing, 2011

This authoritative book, newly revised and updated with an audio CD of recordings, presents an introduction to the basic types of Balinese gamelan ensembles, each with its own established tradition, repertoire and context. The instruments and basic principles underlying the music are introduced, providing listeners with the means to better appreciate the music. A portfolio of color photographs and a brief guide to studying and experiencing music in Bali will prove indispensable to visitors and gamelan aficionados around the world.

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Gamelan Gong Kebyar: The Art of Twentieth-Century Balinese Music

Gamelan Gong Kebyar
by Michael Tenzer
University of Chicago Press, 2000

The Balinese gamelan, with its shimmering tones, breathless pace, and compelling musical language, has long captivated musicians, composers, artists, and travelers. Here, Michael Tenzer offers a comprehensive and durable study of this sophisticated musical tradition, focusing on the preeminent twentieth-century genre, gamelan gong kebyar.

Combining the tools of the anthropologist, composer, music theorist, and performer, Tenzer moves fluidly between ethnography and technical discussions of musical composition and structure. In an approach as intricate as one might expect in studies of Western classical music, Tenzer’s rigorous application of music theory and analysis to a non-Western orchestral genre is wholly original. Illustrated throughout, the book also includes nearly 100 pages of musical transcription (in Western notation) that correlate with 55 separate tracks compiled on two accompanying compact discs.

The most ambitious work on gamelan since Colin McPhee’s classic Music in Bali, this book will interest musicians of all kinds and anyone interested in the art and culture of Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Bali.