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    What is Joged?

    Agustus 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?

    Agustus 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?

    Juli 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?

    Juli 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?

    Juni 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?

    Juni 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

    Juni 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

    Juni 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

    Juni 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

    Juni 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’

    Juni 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!

    Juni 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

    Juni 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?

    Juni 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

    Juni 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?

    Mei 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?

    Mei 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?

    Mei 15th, 2009

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

    Tangkil—A Spiritual Visit

    Mei 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

    Mei 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?

    Mei 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

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

    April 4th, 2009

    In Bali, there are in fact around thirty-five different types of gamelan which could be considered rare. Among the very rarely seen or heard is the sweet-sounding seven tone semara pagulingan, a remnant of the court era. According to a number of researchers, there are perhaps only a handful of original sets left in Bali and perhaps only two or three which can be seen in any state of activity. As with most ancient Balinese gamelan, the semara pagulingan has seven tones and its repertoire is made up of dreamy melodies which modulate between up to seven five tone scales. This type of gamelan was played while king was sleeping, said to have to power to induce deep slumber. Today, the original court repertoires are either desperately endangered or, in many cases, extinct.

    The selonding is another rare gamelan which can be found in a number of villages in Bali, particularly in the east and in the north. Identified as pre-Majapahit music, the Bali Aga village of Tenganan in Karangasem is famous for its energetic selonding style. Here, the group is active and play only for special rituals, notably rejang and perang pandan. Tenganan’s three selonding sets are considered so sacred that no outsiders are allowed to see or touch them, and there are also a number of pieces in the repertoire which may not be recorded. Selonding is also seven tone but most sets are made of iron, rather than the more common bronze used for other types of gamelan.

    Gambang is also an endangered type of gamelan ensemble, so archaic that it is found in some of the Central Javanese Prambanan reliefs. A gambang set, played by six players, is made up of both thick-keyed squat bronze metallophones and large, low-pitched bamboo xylophones. Perhaps the most intellectual type of Balinese gamelan, you can hear the ancient melodies and rhythms of gambang at large cremation ceremonies all over Bali, as well as at certain temple ceremonies in the eastern villages.

    Copyright © Vaughan Hatch 2009

    Rare Balinese Court Music Showcased in Singapore!

    Pebruari 23rd, 2009

    Bali, some time in the 1700s—it’s evening and shadows flicker in the dim light of oil lamps hanging from the pavilions that enshroud a courtyard dotted with manicured shrubs, statues and caged birds. Most of the royal family have retired for the night, but the palace is still alive with musical fervour.

    On the performance pavilion a bare-chested gamelan musician lightly taps out a tune on the kettles of the terompong. Setting the mood for the evening, this seemingly improvised melody gradually evolves into a charming melodic line, finishing on the stroke of the kempur gong. The terompong then starts up once more, joined by a pair of kendang drums and the rest of the instruments join together ceremoniously on one note. The orchestra shimmers, beating in vibrant waves and ringing out like tiny bells. The melody is clear, yet layered by instruments of different pitches and timbres, creating a sound-scape like no other music in the world. Upon hearing this old court music, many say that the sound is ethereal, heavenly, of almost indescribable beauty.

    These are the rare sounds of the semara pagulingan, the “gamelan of the love god”. In feudal times, most courts in Bali possessed a semara pagulingan orchestra that served to lull the royal family to sleep, as well as accompany sacred pendet dances in the temples. Today, due to the palaces’ loss of authority, as well as many other complex factors including tourism, globalisation and a generally faster pace of life, the remaining semara pagulingan sets left in Bali can be counted on one hand.

    Mekar Bhuana Conservatory in Sanur was established in 2000 with the aim of reviving, preserving and conserving these rich and wonderful, yet undervalued art-forms. They work closely with senior guru from the villages, as well as professional musicians and dancers, to reconstruct, revitalise and re-popularise a near-extinct tradition. In Balinese, Mekar means ‘to blossom’ and Bhuana means ‘the world’. Their founders’ vision is these old art-forms will one day blossom again not only in Bali, but also around the world.

    At the moment, Mekar Bhuana’s focus is on mediaeval court music and dance, and their groups learn compositions from guru, or old recordings that are often sourced overseas. The musicians then play the music on the antique orchestras at the conservatory. Their concept of faithful preservation is analogous to creating a living museum—like playing Mozart on baroque instruments.

    This year Mekar Bhuana has been invited to bring their complete semara pagulingan, played by 26 musicians, to perform at the Esplanade in Singapore as part of an international festival called Shanti – a Tapestry of Sacred Music. It’s not every day that an old semara pagulingan has the opportunity to perform overseas and present this seriously classical music to an international audience. In fact, this is the first time several different court art-forms will be performed outside of Bali by one group.

    The troupe will present court repertoire, and also some pelegongan and angklung pieces from a number of different villages in Bali. This will be in the strictest classical style, with no modern innovations, based on more than a decade of research by ethnomusicologist Vaughan Hatch in villages across Bali.

    Mekar Bhuana will not only be ambassadors for traditional Balinese music, but also for Balinese and Indonesian tourism in general. At the Esplanade, a huge international events centre, they will present five non-ticketed performances at the open-air stage over nights of May 2nd and 3rd.

    Anyone interested in supporting Mekar Bhuana by becoming a sponsor, or even a permanent patron, can contact their founder and director Putu Evie Suyadnyani on info@balimusicanddance.com or (0361) 464201 / 081999191104. The conservatory and its members greatly appreciate your support and generosity.






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