Monday, November 26, 2007

107. Music of the Great Tradition -- 9: Gamelan

In earlier posts I traced an "African signature" along some Out of Africa pathways, illustrating the connections with various audio clips. The "Great Tradition" I have in mind now involves connections that are not so obvious, and in some cases seemingly rather distant.

One tradition that has intrigued me for years in this respect is that of the Indonesian Gamelan, a largely percussion ensemble, most commonly composed of metallophones of various kinds, including gongs, with drums, and also in many cases xylophones, flutes, a string instrument (rebab), and voices. Strongly associated with the pre-Islamic Hindu courts of Java, the gamelan appears to be a hybrid, incorporating musical instruments and practices of various historical periods, and symbolizing various social levels, within a multi-layered ensemble in which each performer has a strictly defined and limited role.

What has for some time most interested me about the various types of gamelan, in both Java and Bali, is the way in which certain aspects of gamelan performance appear, very strangely, to echo certain aspects of Pygmy/Bushmen style. And the more I've been learning about the way Pygmy and Bushmen music is organized, thanks to my readings in the work of Michelle Kisliuk, Nicholas England, Susanne Furniss and Emmanuelle Olivier, the more intrigued I've become.

Here is a somewhat simplified outine of the basic structure of a BaAka Pygmy song, "Mama Angeli," from Kisliuk's book Seize the Dance, p. 83 (I've added some lines above certain notes for reasons I'll explain presently).

And here, for comparison sake, is the score of an excerpt from a Javanese Gamelan piece, from Music Cultures of the Pacific, the Near East and Asia, by William Malm, pp. 28 & 29 of the 1967 edition):

For those of you who enjoy puzzles (and can read music), I'll let you contemplate these two scores for a while to see if you can spot any interesting points of similarity. (To get a better look, click on the images and then click again, to enlarge them to full size.) In my next post, I'll share my own thoughts on the matter.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Do you happen to know the name of that Javanese Gamelan piece?

Anonymous said...

Do you happen to know the name of the Javanese Gamelan piece?

DocG said...

Sorry to take so long getting back to you, Anonymous. No I don't know the name of this piece. It's identified in the book only as "a gamelan excerpt, derived from Jaap Kunst, Music in Java," pp. 483-484.