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    What is Selonding?

    Selonding is classified as an archaic type of Balinese gamelan orchestra dating as far back as the 10th century. It is thought to have once existed all over Bali and even in East Java, pointing to a Javanese origin.1 Deeply shrouded in myth and legend, some selonding sets are said to have a divine origin, emerging mysteriously from the sea, calling local villagers with their ethereal melodies.

    Most selonding are made from iron but there are a few sets which are bronze. Most selonding consist of metallophones, varying in size; however in some villages, cymbals, time keepers, kettle gongs and hanging gongs have been added. Cumbersome and primitive looking, the metallophones produce a surprisingly beautiful sound, somewhere in between large droplets of water and low, resonant bells.

    The selonding ‘heart’ of Bali is now in Karangasem where you can find sets in a number of traditional (Bali Aga) villages: Asak, Bugbug, Ngis, Selat, Tenganan. There are, however, still active traditions in Bangli, Singaraja, Gianyar and Tabanan. Once sanctified, since some musicians from Tenganan popularised selonding and made duplicate instruments, the replicas are now played outside of the religious context. Although a number of sacred selonding pieces may not be recorded, you can now purchase recordings of selonding music but only Tenganan style.

    There are a number of selonding experts, both Balinese and foreign. The most comprehensive book1 written about selonding was authored by Pande Wayan Tusan, then an iron smith and recently inaugurated a high priest (sri empu). In the late nineties, Tusan, together with a number of experts and musicians, reconstructed the selonding of Besakih Temple which had been inactive for many decades. You can now hear this wonderful orchestra played at large ceremonies at Besakih and associated temples, and musicians come from all over Bali to make a musical devotion (ngayah) to the gods at ceremony time.

    1.      Selonding-Tinjauan Gamelan Bali Kuna Abad X-XIV, Pande Wayan Tusan

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    © 2010 Vaughan Hatch

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