Tuesday, December 11, 2007

111. Music of the Great Tradition -- 13:Gamelan

More list items:

16. Polyrhythm can be defined as the simultaneous presentation of two or more independent rhythms in such a way as to produce a sense of tension between them. For a detailed explanation, see the excellent Wikipedia article. While rhythmic clashes of this sort are most commonly found in west and central Africa, and are, of course, characteristic of P/B, they can also be found in gamelan music, most dramatically in the relatively new Kebyar style. Whether the rapid, dynamic polyrhythms of Kebyar are completely new, or derived from certain aspects of older Balinese traditions is a very interesting question that I'm not knowledgeable enough to get into at this time. Polyrhythm is present in the older styles as well, as evidenced in the Javanese example I've presented, particularly in the Bonang panerus part -- see, for example the groupings, in the second and third measures, of eighth notes into threes and then twos, as well as the quarter note triplets in measures 1, 4 and 6.

17. If you take another look at the Aka example (see post 108), you'll see four "percussion" parts at the top of the score, two clapping parts and two drum parts. If you take another look at the Javanese gamelan example (also in post 108), you'll see parts for four instruments at the botttom of the score, the Ketuk, Kenong, Kempul and Gong. These and some other instruments are sometimes referred to as the "colotomic," or "punctuating" instruments of the gamelan. Instead of playing melodic material, they play single notes that divide the basic rhythmic cycle into segments. While the percussion parts of a typical Pygmy or Bushmen song are much more dynamic than the colotomic parts of a typical gamelan, they have an essentially similar function, that of clearly segmenting the basic "time cycle" with percussive or monotonic sounds. Whether or not the colotomic layer of gamelan music can be regarded as derived from the percussion layer of P/B style would be a very difficult matter to consider, but it remains a very interesting possibility that cannot be dismissed. There are, additionally, certain features of the colotomic parts that suggest a derivation from certain hocketed gong and/or slit-drum ensembles found in Bali and other parts of Indonesia and Melanesia, which may, in turn, be derived from other aspects of P/B style, as discussed in my "Echoes" essay.

18. As I've already pointed out, the encoding of multipart performances in monophonic melodies is a highly distinctive and unusual aspect of both Pygmy and Bushmen musical traditions. Nicholas England was probably the first to describe the manner in which a Bushmen shaman will learn a healing song in a dream, which he will then teach to his wife in the form of a single melodic part repeated over and over again. The wife then passes this on to the other women, who use the melody as the basis for elaborately interwoven, polyphonic/ hetrophonic performances. Michelle Kisliuk has described Aka pygmy songs as similarly based on the polyphonic/ heterophonic elaboration of a single "theme." (Susanne Furniss has demonstrated how the Aka can, vice versa, also derive a single melody from a multiple set of "constituent" parts.)

As I understand it, something similar can be said of gamelan pieces, for which only the "nuclear theme" was traditionally passed down, in a simplified, letter notation. Most of what happens in the other parts could be inferred from the theme alone by musicians thoroughly trained in the tradition.


Anonymous said...

heyy for my homework iv gt to find out about gamelan music! could u just tell if iv hot the rihgt thing or not so far sir gave us impal,shrong and kempul does that make any sense to u? thank u bi

Victor said...

Sorry, but I can't help you, "bi". And no, what you've written doesn't make any sense. There are many excellent gamelan sites on the internet, however. For example: http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Indonesian/budaya_bangsa/Gamelan/Main_Page/main_page.htm