The Making and the Makers
Bali's consummate gamelan instrument craftsmen live and work in the villages of Tihingan, Sawan, and Blahbatuh. These highly respected artisans have a profound knowledge of metallurgy, bronze-smithing, instrument-tuning, and woodworking.
The tone of each bronze key is matched against a wooden tuning stick, then laboriously filed to acquire just the right pitch. Similar instruments are slightly out of tune with each other to make a shimmering, more appealing sound.
Although all ensembles are tuned to roughly the same scale, there is no universally accepted reference. This is very much in keeping with the belief that each gamelan has its own spirit. For a Balinese, it's unthinkable to step over an instrument lest the unique spirit residing in it be offended.
The largest and most famous gong foundry (pabrik gong) is I Made Gabeleran's in Blahbatuh. After melting an alloy of tin and copper with hot coconut charcoal fires stoked with bamboo plungers, Pak Gabeleran's smiths forge magnificent sets of 'trompong' or cast 'reyong' in molds.
He has big room displaying completed instruments of an impressive small 'kendang batel' or glittering 'gangsa giing'. Specialists carve the ornate wooden frames and stands for the instruments in a rear courtyard.
The workshop complex, Sidha Karya-Kerajinan Gong, which produces five or six complete gamelan ensembles a year, is a must-see for the lover of gamelan.
In the Northern village of Sawan live four generations of gamelan-instrument makers. Workshops here turn out gender, 'gangsa', 'cengceng', and other instruments.
Of all the instrument-makers on Bali, Widandra gives the best explanation of the entire process. Or check out the poster in the showroom with photos and explanations of the steps involved. Instruments and small, carved, gilded stands are also for sale. If you don't buy anything, please leave a donation in appreciation of Widandra's time and effort.
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