Saturday, March 26, 2016

Music of Bali: Gamelan Semar Pegulingan

This excellent Lyrichord release, from field recordings made in the Balinese village of Ketewel at a Hindu temple, presents five tracks of gamelan music.

This blogger first encountered gamelan in the early Nineties and was immediately captivated by its otherworldly sounds, stately, gently hypnotic and highly rhythmic.

The liner notes by Wayne Vitale, who recorded the music, observe that there are some 20 variants of gamelan on Bali, with some of the oldest elements of the form played by an ensemble representing the Gamelan Semar Pegulingan, basing its work on the Balinese god of love, Semara.

Twenty-five musicians comprise the ensemble with families of instruments grouped together and the music utilized paired tuning, in which the tone of one instrument has a partner in another, tuned just higher or lower, for a mesmerizing effect through the use of tremolo, which gives that distinctive shimmering sound for which gamelan is so noted.

There are several metallophones, tuned at different octaves; tuned gongs; drums and cymbals, and flutes which accompany the main metallophone (the gender tetulas).

This music was performed for royalty for the purposes of relaxation, so it has the elements of manis (sweet) and halus (refined) sounds dedicated to that end, but in the village of Ketewel, the music takes on a religious dimension for rituals and celebrations at the temple.  The structure and the instruments used in the recording are said to date back more than 400 years.

The instruments are considered sacred and can only be used after offerings and rituals have been made and carried out to provide the proper spiritual environment for the making of the music and the ritualized masked dancing that accompanies some of it.

It is believed that this type of gamelan has healing powers and there are many people throughout the world who say that music does just that--has a restorative power for the health of the listener.  Westerners may tend to be skeptical of the medicinal effects of music, but there is no question that this music, once a listener accounts for the type of tuning and scales used and the melodic bent entailed in it, is strikingly beautiful and relaxing.  Why couldn't this be conducive to an improved mental, if not physical, well-being?

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