In Bali, the modern and old traditions exist side-by-side. There are a wide variety of gamelan configurations; Colin McPhee's 1966 book provides an excellent discussion of each. These gamelan use several tuning systems: the slendro tuning system (e.g., as used by the gender wayang) and three pelog tuning systems (e.g., the pelog selisir used in gong kebyar).

Modern Gamelan Bali (Gong Kebyar) arose in the early parts of this century. Gong Kebyar (kebyar means sudden outburst) was influenced not only the many gamelan traditions of Bali and Jawa but also the influence of western music introduced by the Dutch. The resulting new instrumentation provided great dynamic range in both frequency and volume and extensive harmonic coloring. The use of interlocking (kotekan) gave a faster melodic line than a single human could produce and provided very intriguing rhythmic patterns.

Gong Kebyar uses the pelog selisir scale. Although pelog is a seven key scale, selisir deletes 4 and 7 and uses only a pentatonic scale (1, 2, 3, 5, and 6). The music is occasionally written using Balinese characters and often vocally taught using sounds (1 = ding = C, 2 = dong = D, 3 = deng = E, 5 = dung = G, and 6 = dang = A).

Unlike Javanese pelog, the 4 and 7 keys are not on the instruments; thus, unlike Javanese pelog, one cannot play different tunings (pathets) on the same instrument. The purpose of the deletion seems to be to allow the instrument to be played faster since the keys are closer together.

In the notations following, I will use the pentatonic scale (1, 2, 3, 5, and 6) which relates the tones to the complete pelog scale. I might note that Balinese do not like notation; however, if they must, they generally use Balinese characters or the numbering of 1 to 5. For an octave higher a dot will be used above the tone; for an octave lower, the tone will be underlined.

In Gong Kebyar, many of the instruments are paired. Each member of a pair is tuned slightly differently (for example, the jegogan pair may differ by a three quarter tone) in order to create the shimmering sound characteristic of Gamelan Bali. In the gangsa family, each member of a pair is tuned slightly differently (for example, the jegogan pair may differ by a three quarter tone) in order to create the shimmering sound characteristic of Gamelan Bali. The lower pitched gangsa is termed pengumbang and the higher pitched gangsa is termed pengisep. The pengumbang gangsa are tuned to match each other where overlap in tones occur as are the pengisep gangsa (Ornstein, pp. 94-100). The pengisep is assigned the polos (roughly the on-beat part of the kotekan pattern) part in the kotekan and the pengumbang is assigned the sangsih (roughly the off-beat part of the kotekan pattern) part of the kotekan. The kotekan is also a part of the characteristic sound of Gong Kebyar.

The use of kotekan techniques also implies the physical arrangement of the instruments to coordinate the interlocking. Immediately to the right and left of the ugal there should be pengisep pemade playing polos; then further away from the ugal should be the pengumbang pemade playing sangsih. The second row consisting of sangsih and polos kantil should be set up to give the polos kantil a good view of the ugal.

The other unique characteristic of Gong Kebyar worthy of note is the large dynamic range in both volume and frequency of the ensemble. As noted above, collectively the gangsa cover many octaves. Also, in response to signals from the drums the pemade and kantil alter radically the volume of the music produced. Originally this was done to correspond to the sharp moves of the dancers and is termed "angsel" (sudden pause).







Updated April 5, 1996.