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  Forms of Gamelan Orchestra

The Balinese themselves refer to their orchestra simply as gong, as in 'gong gede' or 'gong kebyar', and each set of instruments is given names such as 'Sea of Honey' or 'Floating Cloud'.

There's a gong for almost every occasion-weddings, cremations, cultural performances, birthdays. Special music accompanies long processions to the sea, or lures the gods from their celestial heights. Other melodies induce a trance, entertain the masses with musical comedy, or accompany all-night operas for the elite.

Ensemble size ranges from the huge 40 member gamelan gong to the mini-xylophonic quintets carried on multistoried pyres in funeral processions.

In between you'll find 30-piece bronze percussion orchestras, small angklung, bamboo gamelan, orchestras entirely of lutes and mouth-harps, and small quartets playing the accompanying music for choral symphonies composed of chants and grunts.

Each ensemble differs in the instruments that make it up, the scale used, and the sonority. Many types of orchestras can be pared down so that they can be played by marching bands.

Since the 1960s, credit goes to tourists for keeping alive some forms of gamelan which might otherwise have succumbed to the pervasive influence of modernism, though experimentation with new styles never ceases.

The Western music inundating Bali is now looked upon as a stimulus rather than a threat, but youthful composers also look to older traditional Balinese forms for inspiration, and forms are always coming in and out of style.

The seven-tone 'semar pegulingan' orchestra in which some instruments are played with two hands has now become the most sought-after ensemble for the creations of contemporary Balinese composers.

The archaic and rare 'gong selonding' features metallophones with iron keys and very simple trough resonators. The highly distinctive, classical 'tektekan' orchestra of Krambitan in Tabanan is made up of men carrying split bamboo drums and giant cowbells around their necks. Exorcising malignant spirits when pestilence strikes the village, this is the only orchestra of its type in Bali.

The refined 'gong gede' and 'gong pelegongan' prevalent in the early years of this century, essentially as temple orchestras, were superseded in the 1920s and 30s by more up-tempo 'gong kebyar', which started catching on in northern Bali in 1915.

Until recently, it was the most popular and widespread type of orchestra, but has reached a state of saturation both in numbers and style. A few older ensembles are coming back in popularity.

Revived in the past five years is the spectacular 'gamelan jegog' of the western Jembrana Regency which consists of mammoth tubes of bamboo, the largest measuring up to 30 cm in diameter and over two meters in length. When struck with a big, padded mallet, the sound made by the resonating 'jegog' tubes can be heard over a great distance.

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