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Crescent Moon cultural day
Saturday 13 May 2006
10–10.45am and 1–1.45pm

Gadhon Nyamat gamelan ensemble

Musical ensembles composed predominantly of hanging gongs, gong-chimes, or drums are found throughout Southeast Asia. Gamelan ageng (large gamelan), which developed over the past 200 years in the courts of Central Java, represent high points in the coalescence and refinement of such ensembles. Though gamelan are probably best known for their metal percussion instruments, the strong vocal tradition of central Java has been important in the development of most gamelan music. In soft-playing pieces of the large gamelan, the vocal and vocal-oriented instrumental parts are more evident than in the strong-playing pieces, that once served to honour arriving guests, accompany processions, or signal the occurrence of court events, inside and outside the palace.

The instruments of a large gamelan divide into several functional groups. Metallophones play a one-octave condensation of the skeletal melody (balungan), which can be up to three octaves. Gongs of various sizes punctuate that melody at important structural points. Other instruments, such as a two-stringed spike fiddle (rebab), suspended bronze slabs (gender) and a pentatonic xylophone (gambang), play elaborating melodies of various complexities that wind around the skeletal melody. Drums set and maintain the rhythm and tempo.

In a large central Javanese gamelan, there are usually two tunings (laras) available; slendro and pelog. The intervals between the pitches of the fixed-pitch metal keys are not best measured according to principles of equal temperament. In fact, although general parameters for intervallic relationships exist, the theory of pitch organization in gamelan pieces leaves room for variation in horizontal pitch relationships. Moreover, modal practice (pathet) requires variation of interval size in the pentatonic tunings performed by the singers and the players of rebab.

Thus the tuning of the fixed-pitch instruments is a compromise of the various modal tunings executed by the performers. This compromise has been executed differently in each of the thousands of gamelan sets in Java. Although the instruments in one gamelan are usually in tune with one another, the tuning of that gamelan is slightly different from the tuning of every other gamelan in existence.

Gadhon Nyamat is a small ensemble consisting of instruments for playing soft-playing pieces. The ensemble showcases the mastery of the suspended bronze slabs (gender) which will elaborate the basic melody represented by the larger suspended bronze slabs (slenthem) and high pitched metallophones (peking), punctuated by the suspended gong and directed by the drums (kendhang); all in pelog tuning.

Members of Gadhon Nyamat gamelan ensemble

Soegito is Artist in Residence at Canberra School of Music, Australian National University. A familiar and greatly loved figure in Canberra’s performing arts, he has been training students in Central Javanese gamelan performance since 1991. Bapak Soegito has also been Director of the Australia Indonesia Association Gamelan Society since 1990. Soegito is an accomplished musician on all gamelan instruments but specializes on the gender, a front line instrument of extraordinary beauty, which takes a lyrical role in the ensemble.
Kate Hancock – slenthem
Agus – gong
Benjamin Penny – peking
Amrih Widodo – drums

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