Gamelan in the Night

The hours went by and evening drew on...

This is the main courtyard outside the inner temple, which is through the tall split gates. After a while, the gamelan players moved into the temple and started to take their places at the instruments. Offerings of flowers, fruit, incense, and holy water were made to the gongs, which are considered highly spiritually charged, and holy water was also sprinkled over the other instruments, since they too are considered sacred, as they are used to channel the music of the gods from Heaven

After the instruments and players had received their holy water, the gamelan began playing. Incredible music, a wonderful sound coming from such a large and evidently very important orchestra. Don't forget you can click on these photos for a larger image.

We felt incredibly privileged to be present at such an amazing event. As gamelan players, it was a real thrill to see and hear such a great gamelan, right up close.

One of the most important instruments in this group was the trompong - similar to a reyong but played as a solo instrument, with extra long sticks to allow the player to reach the pots at the extreme ends of the instrument. Behind the trompong you can see the two drummers, and the rest of the orchestra.

The orchestra would play a few pieces and then stop and take a break. It was all very relaxed and informal.

This is a beleganjur coming in from the dark and arriving into the outer temple. The gong is decorated with the mystical Hindu-Buddhist swastika and other magical symbols. You can see the people just ahead of the gong playing the red-tassled ceng-cengs.

We loved the piece this group was playing so much, we transcribed it and it is now the main marching gamelan piece we play with the UCSC and Anak Swarasanti gamelans back home. The music was slow and spooky, but majestic and mystical at the same time.

Once they were finished, the main gamelan struck up once again. The guys next to the drummers are playing ceng-ceng - the sitting version - a set of small finger cymbals which lend a crashing punctuation to the piece, and often played by the drummer's apprentice. In this orchestra, however, the two ceng-ceng players played a fabulous interlocked section, in which they became featured instruments in their own right - something we'd never seen before.

During the breaks, Pak Dibia told us some more about the Tall Barongs. Apparently the story goes that a man was involved in an adulterous relationship with another woman. The man's wife complained to the priest - a powerful practitioner of magic - who turned the man and his mistress into giants. The Tall Barongs, or Barong Landungs of this village are the images of the adulterous man and his mistress, forever doomed to wander the earth as giants. Also in this village is yet another extremely rare Barong - a Barong in the shape of a boar. If we were lucky we would see this one too...

Another person we met at Singapadu was a French-Canadian guy, Pierre-Olivier, from Montreal. He was interested in gamelan too, and was really interested when he heard that we had a set of instruments and were taking lessons from Pak Sedana. We decided to invite him to join our group and play jegog.

This is a procession of villagers passing by in the night. From the packed up offerings on their heads it looks like they are on their way home from another temple. It was a busy night that night, being a big festival day, and we saw processions of people passing by, sometimes with their own marching gamelans and Barongs.

While the gamelan orchestra took a break, the kids of the village would come up and play around on the instruments. It was quite ok for them to do this - nobody minded. Children in Bali are treated quite wonderfully, and seem to be a part of even the most sacred ceremonies. It's perfectly natural to have children running around in the temple - it's all part of life. The children are actually considered to be recently returned from Heaven and just beginning a new incarnation on Earth, so are treated with special respect. If you look closely you can see the palm-leaf offerings tied onto the ends of the instruments for Tumpuk Landep - click on the picture for a closer look.

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Photos: Astrid, Martin and Julia Randall
All content copyright (c) 2002, Astrid, Martin and Julia Randall