Sunday, December 18, 2005


I've wanted to do this post since adam, but have not had the time. Tonight, my insomnia got the better of me, so I might as well do something productive :-)

I first fell in love with G in my uni days. I heard his voice first, before I ever saw him. I was passing by the entrance of my uni's Grand Hall, when I heard him. I suddenly stopped and stood transfixed. Where did that voice come from? Such deep intonations, such melodious rythm, beautiful beautiful voice. How does he look like? I've got to see him! But oh, I'm a freshie, wouldn't it be inappropriate if I just barge in like that?

In the end my curiosity won over, and I peeped in. There he was in all his glorious ensemble, looking stately and proud! I was dizzy with excitement, so excited I could scream. I want him! I want him! Alas. We only got formally introduced a few weeks later. I remember sitting demurely 'bersimpuh' in front of him, smiling and gazing longingly. The first time I held his stick, touched his hard shiny surfaces... I knew he's the one for me.

Hahaha... I can't go on, otherwise this will be an 18SX post :-D

'G' stands for Gamelan, the traditional musical ensemble! It's true, I fell in love with it in uni, and I played it all the years that I there, initially as a co-curriculum activity, but later on as a member of the uni's gamelan group. After I graduated, I pursued learning gamelan for about a year at Kompleks Budaya and obtained a Certificate. I actually got nominated for KBN's gamelan instructor course, but by then work was taking over my life so I had to leave the class. That's as far as it got, though I sometimes wish I had continued. Anyway, here's a little something about gamelan. This is a long post. OK, don't say I didn't warn you!

The word Gamelan derives from the javanese word 'gamel' which means 'to strike'. The Malaysian Gamelan originates from Riau-Lingga and was first performed in the courts of Sultan Ahmad of Pahang. When a Pahang princess, Tengku Mariam married Sultan Zainal Abidin II of Terengganu, she brought gamelan with her, and it flourished under her creative attention. She even wrote some songs herself, and in all it totaled at 39 songs. The Terengganu gamelan differs from the javanese in the type of instruments used, the range of notes and scales used. The Terengganu uses the slendro scale (pentatonic) while the javanese uses the pelog scale. In the past, it is only played in the royal courts or at special ceremonies.

Here are some members of the clan :-

The spiritual leader of the ensemble is the big black gong called the 'Gong Agung', usually played only twice, once to signify the start and once to signify the end of a song. These bronze gongs have varying notes and tunes, and are infrequently hit compared to other instruments, maybe once or twice in a 4-notes bar, as punctuations.

The leader of the song, le capitaine, he determines the tempo and rythm of the song, how many repeats to be played etc. The rest of the clan depends on him to orchestrate the presentation.

The wooden xylophone, much like a normal xylophone. It is played using wooden sticks in the 'cincang' motion. The only instrument I suck at :-(

Big bronze kettle drums, like the gongs, are infrequently hit and used mostly as punctuations. Played using wooden drumsticks.

In the ensemble I played with, we had 2 of each 3 types of saron namely Saron Peking, Saron Penerus & Saron Demong, making a total of 6 sarons in all. These are metallophones, bronze bars suspended on the frames. The Demong and Penerus are played using a wooden mattel with the right hand, while the left hand softly touches the the stricken bar to reduce its vibrations so that it's note won't merge into the next note to be hit. The Peking however, have a horn-shaped mattel, and the notes are played double-time. The sarons differ in sizes, Peking being smallest and Demong biggest. Easy-peasy.

And this, people, is my instrument of choice, the bronze kettledrums. There's two types of bonang, namely Bonang Barung and Bonang Penerus, the Barung being the main instrument playing the melody. There are ten kettledrums suspended within the frame in 2 rows, and played using two wooden drumsticks. The righthand drumstick controls the top three and bottom two kettledrums, while the lefthand controls the other five. They are also played using the 'cincang' motion, where the righthand strikes one note and the lefthand strikes the corresponding note a fraction of a second later, to create a melodious rythm. Advanced players can play the 'bunga' where some music bars are totally altered and played at double time, for more ummph. The player's hand movements are graceful and seemingly 'dancing' atop the kettledrums. This one is a real toughie.

The sounds of the gamelan is very unique, soft and melodious sometimes, loud and passionate at others. The tempo can change widely within one song. Some songs I remember are Togok, Timang Burung, Antawada, Perang Manggung, Ketam Renjung and Ayak-Ayak, lovelies! The songs are sometimes accompanied by dances with graceful flitting movements, swaying and weaving to the music, using specific limbs and fingers movements and facial expressions to tell the story behind the songs.

Gamelan being a royal court performance, has a certain 'spirituality' in it. If a song is played properly and 'dihayati', it can be quite a moving experience for both performers and observers. Indeed in the olden days, gamelan dancers sometimes enter a trance-like state, and will have to be 'dipulihkan' or revived by using a specific song - I forgot the title of this one.

Being spiritual also means that the instruments are respected and treated accordingly. The instruments are moved with care, and must never be stepped on or stepped over. Players have to take off their shoes and sit in the proper manner when playing them. Players must not abuse or monkey around with the instruments. It is believed that if the instruments are ill-treated, it will anger the 'semangat' which will spoil the key or note of the instruments.

Of late, there have been many efforts taken to popularize gamelan. The Rythm In Bronze concert by a local theatre group, for one. Most local universities and quite a few foreign universities too have their own ensemble and clubs. They write new songs, modern songs, and try to incorporate new sounds or techniques into their performance, or use it to accompany theatrical or musical performances. Some groups even have a repertoire of 'fun' songs which listeners can better relate to, like 'Sukiyaki' and 'Madu & Racun'.

As for me, having been under the tutelage of a traditional and highly respected mentor, En. Othman Abdullah, who is a direct descendant of one of Terengganu's royal court performer, Mak Nang, I am a purist for this particular art. I am glad that gamelan has gained popularity in that the instruments will be kept alive for and by the next generation. But I am also sad that in such due process, the gamelan might lose it's spirit of life.

Chewah, macam nak buat thesis aje hehehe :-)


Amir EtCetera said...

Now, which part of the story that would explain the 'akak terbang ngilai' crossing over the gamelan set?

Explain that. and you'll complete a thesis.. heheh

B0redSam said...

Hi Jie,

Sat...sat...tak abih baca lagi. Nanti one night, I call dominos and sambung baca... :)

the jamie said...

Oh wow! You can play the gamelan. I'm impressed. Maybe you can teach Erja to play bonang ;-)

Jie said...


AlhamduliLlah I tak kenal akak ngilai tu hehehe asyik pulangkan pulangkan je. Although masa kat uni dulu, pak guard yang ronda malam kata sometimes depa dengaq alat gamelan berbunyi sendiri. Well, maybe 'someone' was tuning the instruments hehehe :-)

Jie said...

Hi Sam,

Kan I dah warning, post ni panjang hehehe :-) Sat ni I kasik my address, suh budak domino's tu hantar satu pizza kat umah I sekali ye!

Jie said...

Hi TJ,

KBN used to (now, I'm not sure) have gamelan classes for primary school kids, and lemme tell ya, these kids learn fast and play better than adult students!

Lotsa kids learn the piano, violin etc, so why not learn gamelan too? Erja would look sooo cute sitting 'bersimpuh' in front of a bonang :-)