A Gamelan is a musical ensemble from Indonesia, primarily associated with the islands of Bali and Java though variations can be found throughout the Malay Archipelago.
The gongs of the gamelan are very distinctive, with a pronounced boss which can be either round or conical, a wide face and a deep rim sloping back towards the centre line of the gong. They are usually made from bronze though iron is not uncommon, and are made in a smithy known as a besalen.
The gongs of a Gamelan tend to fall into two categories: those that are suspended vertically and those that are supported horizontally on a rack, or on the knees or a cushion.
Vertically Suspended Gongs
The vertically suspended gongs are the largest in the gamelan. They are used to begin, end and punctuate different segments of the metric cycle. There are differences between Javanese and Balinese hanging gongs but all are sub-divided into three types – Bass Voice, Middle Voice and Treble Voice.
The bass voice gongs in Java consist of two types. The Gong Ageng is the largest and deepest of the gongs, often 40" (100cm) in diameter. The other bass voice gong is the Gong Suwouk. This is smaller than the Ageng and there are usually two per scale.
The bass voice gongs in Bali consist of the Gong Wadon and the Gong Lanang. The Gong Wadon is the largest Balinese gong at about 38" (95cm) diameter. It has a thinner face than the Lanang which means it vibrates more freely. The Lanang is smaller, slightly higher in pitch and has a thicker face. All these gongs have a beautiful deep bell-like boom and are rarely played forte, though the sustain is relatively short lived.
The Javanese middle voice gong is the Kempul. These are 15" (40cm) to 20" (50cm) in diameter, with one or more per scale. In Bali, the middle voice gongs are the Kempur, a gong 16" (42cm) to 25" (62cm) in diameter, punctuating the mid point of the cycle, and the Bheri, a gong with a recessed. boss. All of these gongs have a very clean, mid bell-like tone.
The treble voice gongs consist of the Kemong in both Bali and Java, which is high in pitch, and the Klintong which is only used in Bali. This latter gong is played with a wooden beater producing a piercing sound. All other gongs in this section are played with a padded mallet or occasionally as with the bass gongs, with the fleshy part of the fist.
The horizontal gongs are played either in racks, singularly supported on a box resonator, or in the lap. The Javanese version is the Bonang, a double horizontal row of 10 to 14 gongs with round bosses. Other types are the Bonang Panerus, an octave higher than the standard Bonang and the Bonang Panembung, which is an octave lower. Finally there is the Kenong, a large deep-rimmed gong suspended on a cord over a box resonator and used for dividing the musical cycle.
The Balinese versions are the Trompong, consisting of 12 gongs with conical bosses, played by one person and the Reong, a horizontal row of small gongs with conical bosses played by one or more players. The gongs in both countries are played with cord wound wooden sticks.
Both countries have several small hand held gongs, or ones that are supported on the lap or a resonator box. They are used in various parts of the cycle, often with cord wound beaters.