Cover photo: Tower of Meditation, Kraton Kasunanan
Gamelan of Java - One. Kraton Kasunanan
A COMMENTARY – by Sumarsam
Born in East Java, Bapak Sumarsam received formal gamelan education and grew up as musician in Surakarta (Central Java). He is Adjunct Professor and former Chair of the Music Department at Wesleyan University (Middletown, Conn) and an internationally renowned gamelan musician. He conducts workshops and concerts throughout the world. He has written “Gamelan - Cultural Interaction and Musical Development in Central Java”, University of Chicago Press, 1995.
In recent years John Noise Manis has been fulfilling a commendable commitment to provide students of gamelan and gamelan enthusiasts with the opportunity of listening to a varied range of Javanese ensembles and musical repertoire through published recordings. With the present CD the producer begins a new series of recordings – with Lyrichord this time.
In this CD we hear two gamelans of the court of Surakarta: the well-known Kyai Kaduk Manis (pelog) Manis Rengga (slendro) and the historic Kyai Lokananta (slendro). I hope that in the future we can also hear the gamelan named Kyai Semar Ngigel (the dancing Semar), the pelog gamelan that is commonly paired to Lokananta.
A prominent court musician and leader of the court gamelan, Warsodiningrat, informs us that Kaduk Manis Manis Rengga was acquired by Paku Buwana IV (r. 1788-1880) from a wealthy Chinese in Surakarta. On the other hand, Lokananta is a much older gamelan, originated from Demak. This implies that Lokananta was constructed around the 16th century. Although there is no hard evidence to support Warsodiningrat’s claim, the possibility of this to happen cannot be ruled out. We learn from history that during this period the north coastal area experienced an economic boom and, by extension, intense cultural development. This is the period before the emergence of the Mataram kingdom (the predecessor of the courts of Surakarta and Yogyakarta) in the inland of central Java.
What I find remarkable about the Lokananta gamelan is the physical size of the instruments. It is much smaller than many more recent gamelans. Yet, Lokananta produces a powerful sound that is not much different than many contemporary gamelans.
The present volume focuses on two genres of the gamelan repertoire: gendhing bonang and gendhing bedhaya-serimpi. The former genre is represented by two gendhing bonang, Babar Layar in the pelog scale and Laya in the slendro scale, while the latter genre is represented by the Ketawang part of the 40-minute gendhing bedhayan Duradasih.
Gendhing bonang is usually defined as instrumental piece simply because it is performed without the presence of singing and soft-sounding instruments; rebab, gender, gambang, as well as vocalists are absent in this genre. While this is true, actually a vocal melody is also embodied in gendhing bonang. When musicians try to remember passages of a gendhing bonang, they hum a vocal melody. Two things make a gendhing bonang different from a gendhing rebab: (a) passages in gendhing bonang often reach, and at times stay for a while, in low-octave; (b) the second section of a gendhing bonang is always performed in loud-playing style.
This CD presents two gendhing bonang, as we said. The reader should know that this is not usual for a programme of a normal klenengan (gamelan concert). Of course, one CD could not accomodate the entire programme of a typical concert (two-three hours long). But it is also true that the producer, in this and other cases, makes choices that do not follow the traditional sequence of genres in a performance context. He also at times asks that the thickness of the gamelan texture be thinned to offer the listener a clearer sound of the gamelan. Here, for example, the two gendhing bonang are performed without the peking part. The producer takes full responsibility for his choices, which are conscious and based on aesthetic considerations. From my discussions with him I understand that he aims at offering a gamelan repertoire and performance style that come closer to the culturally-formed taste of Western listeners, especially on a first encounter. I must say that excellent recording and skillful disc mastering do fulfil the aim of offering the listener a clear textural sound.
The two bonang pieces require patient listening. This is because the first section of the gendhing is composed in the most expansive gongan cycle. The gongan cycle is called kethuk 4 arang, having a length which is defined by the number of the basic pulses per gongan cycle – in this case, 256 beats. For this length, the gong player must wait about 10 minutes to strike the gong to mark the end of the cycle.
The second section of the piece, the inggah, is called minggah kethuk 8 (ascending to 8 kethuk). Joined by the kempyang, kethuk is played 8 times within the 32-pulse kenongan cycle. It is the treatment of the inggah that gives the gendhing bonang its special characteristics. Unlike gendhing rebab (except a few), when a gendhing bonang enters the inggah section (after a transitional moment with a temporal acceleration in the merong), this section begins to settle down in a particular temporal and density level called irama dadi (dadi means “to be” or “to settle down”). After the gongan cycle is repeated a few times, in the middle of a cycle, the ensemble, led by the drum, gradually accelerates. As the gongan cycle gets to the same place of the accelerated point, another acceleration takes place, bringing the piece to a fast tempo while the density level drops to a half (i.e., irama change). At this moment the musicians treat the music in ‘sesegan’ and ‘soran’ (fast and loud-sounding style) in irama tanggung. This is the climax of any gendhing bonang: the intense percussive sound of the bronze becomes the focus of the enjoyment. This is the practice which is emphasized in gamelan sekaten.
Besides loud-playing style, there are changes in playing techniques of a few instruments: (a) the two demung play interlocking patterns, one demung playing on the beat, the other off-beat; (b) the slenthem, which is heard only every other beat, plays a reductive form of the melodic skeleton in the style of the bonang panembung in sekaten gamelan or in Yogyakarta gamelan tradition.
Between the two gendhing bonang, the CD offers us a section of a larger gendhing that accompanies a bedhaya dance called Dura Dasih or Dora Dasih (meaning “deceitful love”). Bedhaya is a genre of court ceremonial dances. Performed by seven or nine female dancers, the dance evokes a solemn and peaceful atmosphere. The section included in the CD is ketawang Kinanthi Dura Dasih. It is a piece composed on the basis of macapat Kinanthi, one of the forms of sung-poetry.
As the name of this dance indicates, “love” is the theme of the piece. This is made explicit by the fact that the sung texts, especially the beginning and middle sections of the entire piece, connote love and eroticism. The text is composed following certain rules of macapat poems: fixed number of lines per stanza, fixed number of syllables per line, and fixed end-vowel in each of the lines. This fact, compounded with the symbolism of the text, makes very difficult to decipher the precise meaning. This is true for all of the song-texts of the gendhing, and the text of ketawang Kinanthi Dura Dasih is particularly allusive. I was told by my gamelan teachers that actually the song-text of this section describes an act of sexual union. Fish, red lotus, mosses, and weed refer to private organs. A sentence such as kasereg roning tarate bang (penetrated is the red lotus leaf) and kagyat dening iwak molah (startled [is she] by the movement of the fish) suggest a sexual act. So far I have not heard anyone else to interpret the text in this way. In any event, I should mention that the dance movements and configurations which this piece accompanies do not in anyway convey the message of the text. In fact, the dance in this section is not much different than other serimpi dances. This suggests that the meaning of the song-text does not necessarily relate to the meaning of the music or the dance, a common practice in gamelan literature.
Gendhing Bedhayan DURADASIH slendro manyura
Saya nengah denya adus, andhe
Ganggeng irim-irim arum
Kinanthi sidadal banyu
Sun kekembanging wong agung
Note about translation of the Javanese text
As he swims closer to the middle
The fragrant flower of the water weed
Carried away by the current
I am the symbol of a great man
The one who baths is gradually moving to the middle
The fragrance of irim-irim weed is sweet
Kinanthi song of those to be washed out by water
I am the flower of a great man
Track 1 Gendhing bonang BABAR LAYAR pelog lima, Kyai Kaduk Manis 21:15
The gamelan Kyai Kaduk Manis/Manis Rengga was playing at the front of the main pendopo Sasono Sewoko. The gamelan Kyai Lokananta was playing inside the pavillion Androvino.
Pesindhen (female singers):
Recordings made on June 29, 2007, with the gracious permission of Princess Dra. G.R.Ay. Koes Murtiyah (Gusti Mung)
Musical design, mastering, and photos: John Noise Manis