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The difference between Balinese and Javanese Gamalan Music

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Bethany Stark

on 9 March 2015

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Transcript of The difference between Balinese and Javanese Gamalan Music

The difference between Javanese and Balinese Gamalan Music
An ensemble from Indonesia comprised primarily of membranophones and metallophones.
Tuning systems in Indonesian Gamelan orchestras
There are two different tuning systems,
. Most ensembles will have at least two of each instrument, one tuned to each system. The two are placed at right angles and musicians face the instrument tuned to the scale that the composition requires while practicing and performing
Javanese music is based on a
colotonic structure
, meaning that its music is organized into cycles defined by periodic punctuation played by a specific instrument–in this case, hanging gongs.
Another notable distinction of Balinese music
A musical concept called the “shimmer effect”. This shimmering sound is most evident in the wavering tones of the small metallophones on long sustained pitches. The effect is produced by the use of pairs of identical instruments tuned slightly apart. When the instruments are played simultaneously on the same pitch, the slight tuning difference in frequency produces a perceptible pulsation due to minimal increase in volume as the pitch frequencies overlap. Therefore, a complete Balinese gamelan must include identical pairs of metallophones, with separate players on each instrument playing the same notes but with slightly different tuning.
Bali is a source for more contemporary genres of gamelan. Western influences into Bali have created a gamelan fusion genre that encourages many different types of composition.
The music of the Balinese is filled with dynamic energy. A feeling of continual agitation pervades the music as it accelerates, slows, crescendos, and relaxes. Just when you think you may have figured it out, it takes another unexpected direction.
The principal melody of Javanese music is typically provided by either voices and/or melodic instruments, such as rack gongs, metal-keyed instruments called metallophones, wooden-keyed instruments called xylophones, or non-idiophones called the fiddle or bamboo flute. Other rack gongs, metallophones, and xylophones embellish this melody by filling in the aural space, giving its “misty” quality
Usually made of bronze but can be
made of other metals.
the octave is divided into five equidistant intervals (each one approximately 1.25 tones) that are not meant to be exactly equivalent and vary slightly between each gamelan.
system divides the octave into seven intervals of varying sizes
All seven tones are on instruments tuned to the
system but generally only five of these are used for any one composition
In Bali, three different modes of
are used (
selisir, tembung
The omitted tones are spaced apart two or three notes, for example, in
the fourth and seventh tones are omitted and in
the third and seventh are omitted. In a similar way to the Javanese system, certain tones are given a greater importance.
Javanese gamelan is more traditional and suited to palaces and temples, it is a gentler and lower pitched style of gamelan that accommodates vocalists and rhythmic patterns.
The music of the Javanese court gamelan is divided into two basic styles,
– a “misty” quality that is mellow and tranquil, reminiscent of an early morning fog lifting as the sun rises from the ocean
– bold and loud; more reflective of the midday sun watching over hard-working rice farmers during a harvest

Balinese music is also based on a colotonic structure, but it is not always as evident. Many compositions are through-composed, meaning that the melody does not repeat in a series of continuous cycles.
In Balinese gamelan music, similar instruments are used, including bronze gongs, metallophones, flutes, and drums, but the character of the music continually shifts, with sudden bursts of brilliant virtuosity contrasting with airy melodic phrases.
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