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    What do the Tumpek days mean?

    February 6th, 2010

    Tumpek are auspicious days on the Balinese calendar. There are six Tumpek which are spread over a 210 day cycle called pawukon.Tumpek days signify the meeting of a Saniscara weekday (Saturday) and Keliwon day. Read the rest of this entry »

    What is Selonding?

    December 21st, 2009

    Selonding is classified as an archaic type of Balinese gamelan orchestra dating as far back as the 10th century. Read the rest of this entry »

    What is a Suling?

    December 7th, 2009

    Suling is the Balinese word for seruling, which means ‘flute’. Made from bamboo, Balinese flutes are always end blown and vary in size. Read the rest of this entry »

    What is a Rebab?

    November 19th, 2009

    Thought to have originated in Persia and perhaps arrived in Indonesia due to trading with India, the Balinese rebab is categorised as a “bowed spiked fiddle”. Read the rest of this entry »

    Are there many types of gamelan in Bali? Which ones are the most common?

    August 19th, 2009

    Unbeknownst to many, there are in fact more than forty different types of gamelan in Bali. Read the rest of this entry »

    What is Joged?

    August 17th, 2009

    Joged is a secular social dance which originated from an ancient danced called gandrung. Read the rest of this entry »

    Nyepi – What is it all about?

    August 14th, 2009

    Nyepi is an auspicious day that marks the beginning of the Hindu Balinese New Year, according to the traditional saka calendar. Read the rest of this entry »

    At ceremonies, why do gamelan orchestras often play at the same time?

    July 17th, 2009

    I am often engaged as a cultural attaché to accompany tourists to temple ceremonies in Bali, and naturally they always ask me a lot of questions. Read the rest of this entry »

    What is Gamelan Gambang?

    July 12th, 2009

    At this year’s Bali Arts Festival (PKB), there are a number of performances by a rare type of Balinese gamelan orchestra called gambang. Read the rest of this entry »

    What are Ogoh-ogoh and what are they for?

    June 29th, 2009

    Several months before Balinese New Year (Nyepi), the banjar youth group get together and plan the construction of ogoh-ogoh. Read the rest of this entry »

    What is Barong?

    June 23rd, 2009

    It is unclear where the barong originated, however it is generally accepted that a barong is a physical manifestation of a protective spirit which guards people from evil influences. Read the rest of this entry »

    Facing the File for the Bali Smile

    June 17th, 2009

    ‘It’s your turn.’

    Dowsed in holy water and smothered with wafts of pungent incense and coconut husk, I was ready as I’d ever be.

    I approach the bed and await instruction.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Cultural Complacency

    June 12th, 2009

    Many times I’ve thought to myself: What makes Bali such a popular tourist destination? Is it the surf? Is it the shopping? Is it the weather? Is it the nightlife? What is it? What makes Bali different from the rest? Read the rest of this entry »

    World of the Dancing Pixies

    June 10th, 2009

    Being a musician myself, it always impresses me how nearly every ceremony in Bali is accompanied by music. Read the rest of this entry »

    Gamelan – the Life-Breath of the Balinese

    June 8th, 2009

    “Gamelan music and instruments are a fundamental part of the life of a Balinese which is focused around the relationship between people and god, people and nature and between all people. These three concepts of harmonious living are known as Tri Hita Karana” (Dr. I Made Bandem)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    ‘Heavy Metal Magic’

    June 8th, 2009

    Tucked away in the foothills of Mt Agung in the Klungkung Regency is the ancient village of the gamelan smiths – masters of magically charged metal – the archaic art of bronze smithery. The small village known as Tihingan (meaning bamboo) is a fascinating place to visit and witness some of Bali’s finest crafts people at work. Read the rest of this entry »

    Bali’s Believe It or Not!

    June 3rd, 2009

    In Bali, everything is alive. Everything has a soul, so they say. Shrines, statues, even trees and boulders are ornamented with sacred black and white sarongs, as if they are human. Some ‘in the know’ people have suggested to me that if you start making offerings to an object, you can arouse its spirit. From this point on you must be prepared to constantly prepare offerings for it on certain auspicious days. Neglecting to do this could cause unrest, disharmony and even sickness. Read the rest of this entry »

    Mekar Bhuana Demonstration at North Bali Conference

    June 3rd, 2009

    Mekar Bhuana conservatory has been invited to demonstrate rare semara pagulingan styles and the results of their preservation projects at the International Conference and Festival on North Balinese Culture to be held at the Bali Taman Hotel in Lovina, Buleleng July 30-August 2, 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

    What is the Bali Arts Festival all about?

    June 3rd, 2009

    As the name suggests, the annual Bali Arts festival primarily features the arts, meaning, in this context, the fine arts of Bali (gamelan and traditional dance), other parts of Indonesia, as well as a small contingent of overseas performers. Read the rest of this entry »

    Aksara – Scribing Bali-style

    June 2nd, 2009

    As part of my Balinese-Hindu initiation phase, I decided to embark upon some serious Balinese studies. Interested in languages and other cultures, I thought it’d be fun to give the Balinese script a go. Read the rest of this entry »

    What are Balinese gamelan instruments made of?

    May 28th, 2009

    Most people refer to iron when talking about gamelan manufacture. Whilst this is true in some cases, most gamelan instruments in Bali are made of bronze – a mix of copper (tembaga) and tin (timah) that gong smiths refer to as ‘kerawang’. Read the rest of this entry »

    What are Wayang Kulit?

    May 18th, 2009

    Wayang kulit are two dimensional stick puppets made from leather with movable arms and sometimes jaws and legs. Read the rest of this entry »

    How do Balinese make bronze gamelan instruments?

    May 15th, 2009

    For centuries, the art of Indonesian bronze forging was enshrouded in magic and secrecy. Read the rest of this entry »

    Tangkil—A Spiritual Visit

    May 14th, 2009

    To the initiated, leaving at 3 a.m. on a 12 km pilgrimage (on foot) carrying a gamelan orchestra and a heavy barong may sound like a pretty arduous trek. Read the rest of this entry »

    How are Balinese gamelan instruments tuned? Part I

    May 7th, 2009

    One of the most unique things about Balinese gamelan is that no two sets can ever have exactly the same tuning. Read the rest of this entry »

    Why do priests dance at temple ceremonies and what is that dance?

    May 6th, 2009

    At Balinese temple ceremonies, there are a lot of different rituals that serve different functions. To entertain the gods, there is always gamelan music and dance. Read the rest of this entry »

    Enjoy Antique Semar Pagulingan Music this Full Moon

    April 7th, 2009

    In Bali, full moon is an important event—an occasion to be celebrated, a time to rejoice and making beautiful offerings to the gods. On the tenth full moon, hundreds of temples celebrate their seven-monthly temple anniversaries.

    This month happens to be the tenth full moon (sasih kedasa) and Mertasari Temple, an old temple located by the beach in Mertasari Sanur, will hold its temple anniversary (odalan). There will be many music and dance performances over several days, including semara pagulingan court music by Mekar Bhuana Conservatory. Also, based in Sanur, Mekar Bhuana is going to entertain the gods as well as the local community with this rarely heard music. According to palm-leaf scriptures Aji Gurnita and Pra Kempa, a semara pagulingan orchestra is the most suited to accompanying high priests as they recite their mantra before worshippers pray at temple ceremonies. Read the rest of this entry »

    Which types of Balinese gamelan are rarely seen or heard? Part IV

    April 4th, 2009

    The list of rarely seen or heard gamelan in Bali is long and covers many ensembles of all different sizes.

    Bali is home to the world’s biggest gamelan, termed appropriately ‘gong ageng’ or colloquially known as ‘gong gede’. It is made up of purely large percussive instruments such as gongs, drums, metallaphones and pot gongs, requiring at least forty-eight musicians. Second in size only to the western classical musicians, gong gede produces a formidably grandiose sound. A handful of gong gede groups play in villages around Bangli for temple ceremonies, and one of the oldest and most sacred ensembles, allegedly dating to the 15th century, can be heard every full moon at Pura Ulun Danau Batur in Kintamani.

    Genggong is an ensemble of Jew’s harps which are played in interlocking pairs to mimic the comical croaks of rice field frogs. Augmented with flutes, time keepers, a horizontal gong and a drum, the orchestra provides the accompaniment to the Frog Dance (Tari Kodok). Genggong is indigenous to only a few villages and you can catch tourist performances in Batuan, Gianyar.

    The onomatopoeic ‘tetekan’ is a type of gamelan found exclusively in Kerambitan, Tabanan. The resourceful Balinese have made use of dozens of cow bells which are strung around the musicians’ necks and hit with sticks in powerful interlocking patterns. Performances of tetekan include a dance drama and are held regularly for tourists at Puri Kerambitan. Tetekan is also regularly featured at the annual Bali Arts Festival, particularly at the opening ceremony.

    My brief explanations of rarely seen or heard gamelan orchestras really only scratches the surface of a wonderfully unique Balinese sound-scape. Considering the size of the island and its small population, over only a space of a thousand years, talented Balinese musicians have created an incredible array of fascinating types of musical instruments, melodies and rhythmic patterns which for the most part survive to this day. You can find out more about old Balinese gamelan and dance on www.balimusic.org www.myspace.com/mekarbhuana and www.youtube.com/mekarbhuana

    © Vaughan Hatch 2009

    Which types of Balinese gamelan are rarely seen or heard? Part III

    April 4th, 2009

    Musical instruments have a long and ancient history in Bali. In the court treatise on Balinese gamelan music, Aji Gurnita, an attempt is made at describing the gamelan orchestras of the era.

    Interestingly enough, the first musical instrument referred to is in fact not a percussive one, but a stringed ‘kecapi’ zither. Still a popular instrument in other parts of Indonesia, the only area in Bali where we find the kecapi today is in Karangasem. Where this court tradition disappeared to remains an ethnomusicological mystery.

    Mentioned extensively is the ensemble of giant flutes known today as gambuh. Found active in just a few villages, this court tradition reveals haunting melodies played on giant bamboo flutes using a difficult cyclic breathing technique. Its seven-tone scales and repertoire form the basis for ensembles such as smara pagulingan, pelegongan, bebarongan and gegandrungan.

    The precursor of the secular gong kebyar also features. Known as gegandrungan, it functioned to accompany an effeminate court dance performed by young boys called gandrung. Rarely heard today, an interesting feature of this rhythmically exciting bamboo ensemble is the incorporation of female musicians who thump bamboo poles on the ground in interlocking patterns.

    Pelegongan was perhaps the most important court dance style of the 18th and 19th centuries. The accompanying gamelan, originally named smara patangian over time adopted the name: gamelan pelegongan. Unlike the modern gong kebyar, it has only five or six keys and in many instances the order of note only the tones but also the keys differs. The overall sound of the ‘legong’ gamelan is relatively soft and limpid and the repertoire is flowing and melodic. Today, few of these ensembles are active and the style is no longer popular, due to a number of factors, including differing playing techniques; a general tendency to play loud music; and the influence of foreign music on local youth. These days, you will commonly hear and see the legong repertoire played on the modern gong kebyar, rather than the appropriate pelegongan set. You can find out more about old Balinese gamelan and dance on www.balimusic.org www.myspace.com/mekarbhuana and www.youtube.com/mekarbhuana

    © Vaughan Hatch 2009

    Which types of Balinese gamelan are rarely seen or heard? Part II

    April 4th, 2009

    Sadly, a large number of Balinese gamelan ensembles are in fact rarely seen or heard. This is generally due to either their limited function, the difficultly of the playing style, or their public exposure.

    One of the most unique gamelan types in Bali is called the gong bheri. It is thought to have been around for many hundreds of years and the instruments reveal influences from a number of cultures. Perhaps due to active trading networks, the gong bheri ensemble includes a giant Islamic bedug drum, boss-less Chinese gongs called bheri, Balinese pot gongs, and a Polynesian conch shell. Add to this the Dutch costumes used in the dance performances and you have a hybrid of five different cultures! This type of gamelan, originating from Sanur, is sacred and played at specific temple ceremonies.

    A caruk ensemble is very rare and only found in a handful of villages. It is thought that this type of gamelan was either a precursor or a simplified version of the gamelan gambang that I talked about in the last edition. Also played primarily at death rites, a caruk group is made up of only three instruments and two players. The repertoire is the same as the gambang ensemble but the playing style is simpler.

    Gong saron is played at death rites, particularly at the mukur part of the proceedings. Its peculiar seven-tone scale and its repertoire of ancient melodies and rhythms are peculiar to the ensemble. The instruments include thick-keyed saron, large drums, pot gongs, and a lead bamboo instrument called a kemplung.

    An archaic version of today’s row of pot gongs (terompong / reong) is found in a couple of villages in Karangasem. This is called the terompong beruk, meaning a row of slabs of coconuts hung over bamboo resonators. When hit, the slabs make a short hollow sound and are tuned to a five tone scale. I read once that the only original terompong beruk set left in Bali was sold to an Australian tourist decades ago.

    ©Vaughan Hatch 2009

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