Sangkala: Baramean

July 18, 2006

Sangkala (cover)

Today, in memory of those who have lost their lives in Java (Indonesia) in yesterday’s 7.7 earthquake and tsunami, I present music from that area that I love and has been long out of print. I’ll post individual songs over the next few months.

SANGKALA: performed by E. Koestyara and Group Gapura

I’ve owned this music on LP since it came out in 1985. After trying to buy a CD (none appears to ever have been made) or find a ripped copy on someone’s blog, I realized I had to digitize it myself. I couldn’t even find a cover online for this. BTW, I used the Mac program Doubletake, that enabled me to scan both sides of the LP cover, save them as a JPGs, drag them onto the program, and BINGO the whole album cover is sewn together. Very cool. I use Amadeus to digitize my cassettes, DATS, and LPs, even though I have other fancier software, Amadeus works fine.

One of my colleagues who knows Indonesian music, calls this music “Indonesian pop music.” Elaine Barkin told me that in the late 80s, no matter what island or store she went to, EVERYONE was listening to this.

Program notes by David Lopato, 1984

A sprawling archipelago of more that 13,000 islands, Indonesia boasts one of the richest most diverse cultural heritages in the world. And yet to most westerners, Indonesian music is synonymous exclusively with the gamelans of Bali and Central Java. Perhaps this misconception is reinforced by the fact that the term “Javanese gamelan” refers not to the collective musical traditions of the island of Java but rather, specifically, to the music of Central Java. In fact, Java itself is a composite of several distinct regions, each with their own unique forms of music, art, dance, and even language. One of the most important cultural contributions comes from the region called Sunda. Occupying most of the western third of the island, it lies between Jakarta, one of the most hectic places in the world, and Central Java, one of the most relaxed.

Characteristically, Sundanese music is over a millenium old and yet is constantly evolving. Such is the case with degung. Historically the music of the courts (or kebupaten) of West Java, Degung dates back to the Pajajaran kingdom of the 14th century. It remains essentially a music of ceremonial function until the late 1940’s, the time of the Indonesian revolution, at which point the power of the provincial courts waned and the government became more centralized. Since many of the courts could no longer support musicians, privately owned clubs began to appear, and Bandung, the largest city in Sunda, whose court seems to have had no gamelan degung prior to 1920, became the center for that music. The subsequent inclusion of gamelan degung in the Bandung radio station coupled with more diversity of performance opportunities has helped make degung the popular and evolving musical form that it is today.

The instruments of the gamelan degung are the gong gede, a suspended gong, small by Javanese standards, kempul, a smaller suspended gong, jengglong, which is a series of inverted metal kettles, somewhat smaller than the Javanese kenong, bonang, a series of smaller inverted kettles somewhat smaller that the Javanese kenong, bonang, a seies of smaller inverted kettles, one or two saron, which are comprised of metal bars arranged similarly to our glockenspiel; saron panerus, which is an octave higher than the saron, suling, a bamboo flute, kendong, a drum with skin stretched across both sides, usually occurring as a set of three, one large and two small, the large drum played horizontally on both ends and the small ones vertically, and the obligatory degung, a series of small suspended gongs unique to gamelan degung. These instruments may occur in different combinations, resulting in ensembles of varying sizes, yet there is one that is invariably present, the degung. It intones the fixed melody of the particular piece, which is elaborated on by the other instrument, with the exception of the gong and kempul, which are somewhat like phrasemarkers punctuating at regular intervals. The other instruments play submelodies, often at a rate of four or eight notes for each note of the degung. There are sometimes interlocking patterns occurring between the sarons (assuming there are two of them) and in this case there may be as many as sixteen notes in the space of one beat of the degung. But probably the most noticeable of all the improvising instruments is the suling. It clearly has much more freedom melodically and perhaps more important, rhythmically. In the right hands (and Pak Burhan is one the most reknown suling performers in Java) it imparts a most magical quality to the music. The scale used in gamelan degung is called pelog and consists of five pitches. It is roughly analogous to the third, fourth, fifth, seventh, and octave degrees of the western major scale, though tunings differ from on gamelan to the next. [I transcribed this off the LP, so if anyone who knows this discipline would proof it for me, I would appreciate it.]

The first composition on the album is called “Baramaen” which means beggar.


{ 1 comment }

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: