The Interactive Gamelan

The UNSW Interactive Gamelan Program is a self-assisted rhythmic training program designed to supplement traditional Balinese gamelan instructional methods, which are normally based on observation and imitation. Specifically, the Interactive Gamelan Program (henceforth, the Program) is intended to help in your study of music for the gamelan gong kebyar and the gamelan semar pegulingan. The Program uses Web-based technologies to help you learn about the basic structure of this gamelan music, the function of each of the gamelan instruments, their interrelationships, as well as master the challenging interlocking, paired rhythmic patterns called kotekan. In Bali, both children and adults normally learn the gamelan in the village setting where instruments are always available and group practice may occur daily. However, learning to play the gamelan outside of this traditional context, where access to instruments and group practice sessions is limited, makes it harder to attain the tightly coordinated rhythmic skills necessary for this type of ensemble music making. This Program, therefore, is intended to provide you additional opportunities for private, independent study on your computer wherever you are. It is, of course, not intended as a substitute for directly learning the gamelan on the instruments. But used in conjunction with playing the instruments themselves, the Program will enhance your learning experience by giving you the opportunity to listen repeatedly and execute on a computer keyboard self-selected instrumental parts and musical patterns. The Program also allows you to adjust the tempo to suit your individual level of musical experience and skill.

The UNSW Balinese Gamelan

The UNSW Balinese gamelan was commissioned by the School of Arts and Media (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) in 2012 and was delivered in May, 2013. Our gamelan is modeled on the semar pegulingan from the Sanggar Bona Alit in the Vice-Regency of Gianyar, Bali. This sanggar or studio was established by Alit Adi Putra and his wife, Agung Rai, in 1996 for the teaching and performance of Balinese music and dance. The members of the Sanggar Bona Alit are trained in traditional gamelan performance and dance through traditional village practices, though some are also graduates of the Indonesian Institute of the Arts Denpasar (Institut Seni Indonesia Denpasar), the leading performing arts institution in Bali. The Sanggar gamelan is directed by Alit Adi Putra, a musician, composer, and painter whose maternal and paternal grandfathers from the village of Bona were associated with Walter Spies in the 1930s in the development of Bali's iconic trance dance, kecak, or the Ramayana Monkey Chant. Like his forebears, Alit Adi Putra has engaged in modernizing projects of his own by creating a body of Balinese gamelan compositions and dance that blend traditional gamelan forms and compositional techniques with contemporary Indonesian and Western musical practices (see Mora 2011). To this end, Adi Putra has altered the traditional tuning of the gamelan semar pegulingan, by lowering the fourth pitch so that the overall scale roughly resembles the Phrygian mode. While this alteration of the one pitch is quite radical, Balinese tuning practices are variable in that the precise pitches of scale patterns may vary considerably from one village gamelan to another. This gives each village gamelan its distinctive character.

The Gamelan Semar Pegulingan

The gamelan semar pegulingan is one of the most important bronze orchestras in Bali and is often referred to as a 'Middle Ages' gamelan, or Gamelan 'Madya'. According to some scholars it was created during the reign of Dalem Waturenggong, the king of Semarapura and possibly originated as a combination of two older seven-tone gamelan dating from the fourteenth century. These are the Javanese gamelan gambuh, comprising long flutes, rebab, drums, and bronze percussion instruments, and the Balinese gamelan gong luang. Another theory regarding the origins of the semar pegulingan is that it arrived from East Java in the 14th or 15th century. This is supported in literature by the poem written in 1439 A.D, called Kidung Undakan Pangrus. The tradition of the semar pegulingan almost disappeared in the early 20th century but has managed to survive and develop.

Acknowledgements

  • Project Leader & Producer: Manolete Mora
  • Program Developer: Beta Yip
  • Research Assistants: Lucy Dinh, Adrian So, Myles Oakey.
  • Photography: Michael Chin, Jerold Chan
  • Funding: UNSW, Learning and Teaching Innovation Grant 2014