Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

8.4: Indonesia

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    The Republic of Indonesia consists of a string of about 6,000 islands, including Java, Sumatra, New Guinea, and Bali, that lie between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The main instrumental ensemble of Indonesia is the gamelan, a percussion ensemble of up to 80 musicians that accompanies ceremonial plays, religious rituals, community events, and dancing in Indonesia. All gamelan traditions are rooted in Hindu-Buddhism, and gamelan performance is deeply connected with rituals. Gamelan instruments can be made of wood and bamboo, but the ensemble’s distinctive sound derives from the preponderance of instruments made of bronze — large tuned gongs, kettles of various sizes, and bars of different lengths in a xylophone-like arrangement. The instruments are themselves charged with charismatic power and are often intricately carved and brilliantly painted with figures and designs that replicate elements of the universe. In Bali, gamelans belong to village communities, in Java also to families and the state.

    Each gamelan composition is based on one fixed and unique melody, in Java balungan, in Bali pokok. There are thousands of these melodies, which have been passed on mainly through oral transmission. The melodic material is derived from numerous ways of dividing the octave into five or seven pitches, thereby producing a variety of scales. In the course of a performance, the performers execute highly complex variations, with the tempo of the ensemble controlled by drummers playing interlocking rhythmic patterns. The resulting layers of related melodies, which coincide at points punctuated by the sound of huge gongs, mirror the overlapping and interweaving of cosmological forces.

    This page titled 8.4: Indonesia is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Douglas Cohen (Brooklyn College Library and Academic IT) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

    • Was this article helpful?