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Photographer's Note

The national music of Bali is gamelan, a jangly clashing of syncopated sounds once described by the writer Miguel Covarrubias as being like "an Oriental ultra-modern Bach fugue, an astounding combination of bells, machinery and thunder". The highly structured compositions are in fact produced by a group of 25 or more musicians seated cross-legged on the ground at a variety of bronze percussion instruments - gongs, metallophones, and cymbals with a couple of optional wind and stringed instruments tuned either to a five-or (less commonly) a seven-tone scale, and most are performed at an incredible speed. One recent study of a gamelan performance found that each instrumentalist played an average of seven notes per second.

Gamelan is actually the Javanese word for the bronze instruments, and the music probably came over from Java around the fourteenth century, but the Balinese duly adapted it to suit their own personality, and now the sounds of the Javanese and Balinese gamelan are distinctive even to the untrained ear. Javanese gamelan music is more restrained. This modern Balinese style, known as gong kebyar (gong means orchestra, kebyar translates, aptly, as lightning flashes), has been around since the early 1900s, emerging at a time of great political upheaval on the island, when the role of Bali's royal houses was irreparably dented by Dutch colonial aggression.

The most common orchestra, the gong kebyar, is composed of at least 25 individual instruments, and always features half a dozen tuned gongs, a few sets of metallophones, two drums, a few sets of cymbals and one or more flutes.

Over eighty years later, gamelan orchestras are an essential part of village life. Every banjar that can afford to buy a set of instruments has its own sekeha (music club), and a recent census found that there are currently 1500 active gong kebyar orchestras on the island.

Every evening in Bali, one can hear strains of Gamelan music floating from the village halls....Balinese take gamelan very seriously & practise daily, almost as a ritual. Children are ‘baptised’ into the music at an early age & there are even gamelan bands of children, who have won awards in many festivals. Here we see some kids trying their hand out, albeit playfully, on the ‘gangsas’.

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Additional Photos by Angshuman Chatterjee (Angshu) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 7851 W: 324 N: 16060] (56760)
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