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Sri Sedånå

Several people have commented that my posts about the gamelan are difficult to understand. So here are a couple of pictures that I took back at the end of September at one of our weekly rehearsals.

This is our bronze gamelan, Sri Sedånå, named after a Hindu rice goddess. It was going to be a picspam, but the pictures refused to show up for some reason. So you'll just have to click to see them.



In the back, you can see the racks with the hanging vertical gongs. The smaller ones are the kempuls, and the two gong agengs are at the ends of the rack. The set of large kettle gongs immediately to the right of the rack are the kenongs. The small metallophones arranged in front of the rack are sarons. The two smaller kettle gongs in front of the sarons and next to the drums are the kethuk and kempyang. The big racks of the really tiny kettle gongs are called the bonangs. Immediately to the left of the drums is a gendér, pronounced with a hard "g."

The instruments fall into one of a few basic function categories. The gongs on the rack, along with the kenongs, kethuk, and kempyang, are the colotomic instruments. They keep the structure of the piece going.

The sarons, along with another instrument called the slenthem (which I couldn't fit into the photos) carry the melody, called the balungan*.

The bonangs, gendér, and a couple of other instruments -- the gambang (wooden xylophone), rebab (two-stringed spike fiddle), cither (a zither), and celempung (another zither; we don't own one, but the Venerable Lake of Gold did), and suling (bamboo flute) -- elaborate on the balungan.

The drummer leads the ensemble, setting the tempo, filling in, and giving cues about where to go next in the piece.

Usually, there will be a female solo singer, called a pesindhen, and a chorus, called the gerong. The full personnel complement of our gamelan can be twenty-five to thirty people.

The gamelan lives in the basement of a church in Hyde Park, hence the ugly fluorescent lights. We perform in an upstairs social hall, which means that our pre-show bonding experience is carrying the gamelan up the stairs. This is a major undertaking, because the bronze instruments are heavy and delicate. We own another gamelan, made of iron, that we can take on the road. It's lighter and sturdier, but it doesn't sound as good. If you've heard the Chicago gamelan anywhere other than its home church, you've probably heard the iron instruments.

Does this help?

*Technically speaking, the balungan is not a melody as Westerners understand the term. But that's the subject of at least five scholarly books and several dissertations, and I don't want to get into that right now.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 29th, 2007 09:05 am (UTC)
Thanks, FP! That makes it much easier to imagine your rehersals, and picture you in the middle of the gong frame.
Oct. 29th, 2007 12:33 pm (UTC)
Oh, good. I'm glad it helped. I always forget how useful pictures are, and I almost never think to take them. Perhaps I shall aske for a digital camera for Chanukah, so that taking and posting pictures won't be such a production anymore.

And, of course, since I'm planning to go to Lithuania in August anyway, I'd need to take pictures there, of course!
Oct. 29th, 2007 10:47 am (UTC)
I had a pretty good idea what you were talking about :-)
Oct. 29th, 2007 12:34 pm (UTC)
Yes, well, you're speshul!

But you haven't seen it in person, which is kind of sad. If I had the key to the church, I would have taken you down to see it. Back in my old grad school town, I had access to the gamelan key whenever I wanted it, and I took all my visitors in to see that one.
Oct. 29th, 2007 11:55 am (UTC)
If you stand in the middle of that gong frame for long hours at a stretch, I don't blame you for being grouchy!
Oct. 29th, 2007 12:38 pm (UTC)
I don't stand. I sit or kneel. Just to give a little size perspective: I'm 5'4" tall. When I stand up, my face is just at the level of the big golden ornament on top of the frame. Gongs vibrate from the knob in the center, so that's where you strike them. The easiest position to be in to do that is sitting or kneeling. And, in Java, you wouldn't stand while playing gamelan anyway, because it's impolite.
Oct. 29th, 2007 03:17 pm (UTC)
My first impression was "that looks like a kitchen"! LOL. Thanks for the pictures. It really does help. Now I just have to hurry up and wait for my kids to get older so I could go see a gamelan ensemble somewhere.

I guess this must be a labor of love for you?:)
Oct. 29th, 2007 03:29 pm (UTC)
Cornell has a Balinese gamelan you could go see. Ours is Javanese. I bet the kids might get a kick out of it in a couple of years. Especially if you can find a wayang or a dance drama somewhere. Javanese dancing is a wonderful treat to watch.

And you're right -- it does kind of look like a kitchen!
Oct. 29th, 2007 03:34 pm (UTC)
Wow, that sounds really neat.

Unfortunately, I don't live in Ithaca anymore:( I'm in Northern VA, outside DC though. Maybe something will come through the Kennedy Center or the Smithsonian. If I see something pop up, I'll have to consult with you:)

Heh. I think it just shows how long I spent in kitchens is all:) I worked in restaurant kitchens (or very near them) for three or four years. Maybe even 5?
Oct. 29th, 2007 04:32 pm (UTC)
Oops. I knew that you lived in VA. Really, I did. I just forgot.

And, if you look down below, you'll see that you're not the only one who thingks the gamelan looks like a kitchen.
Oct. 29th, 2007 06:49 pm (UTC)
Believe me, I'd like to forget that I live here too:P

Hee hee. I'm glad I have some company. It makes me feel a little less crazy:)
Oct. 29th, 2007 03:41 pm (UTC)
Ok, the pictures help! I had no idea what you were talking about. It looks like a kitchen pan special there, LOL. But I bet its fun to beat on them.
Oct. 29th, 2007 04:33 pm (UTC)
It is fun to beat on them for a couple of hours. An entire day on the same instrument, not so much. But that's why I keep at it -- because, in the end, it is generally a fun thing to do.
Oct. 29th, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC)
I had the kitchen thought also, more specifically a pot-and-pan maker's shop. Right now I'm thinking of all this vibrating and clanging. My head's starting to hurt.

Thanks for posting the photos. Visuals do help!
Oct. 29th, 2007 10:37 pm (UTC)
What helps is that it vibrates and clangs in a tuned and orderly fashion. Not just random clanking.
Oct. 29th, 2007 11:56 pm (UTC)
Just wow! Impressive.
Oct. 30th, 2007 04:26 am (UTC)
The sound is impressive, too. It really is a wonderful, mellow sound when everything comes together.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )