Influences | The Gamelan | World of Music | Classical
Gamelan music had a great influence in the West, notably at the 1889 Grand Universal Exhibition in Paris, where the shimmering timbre of the orchestra made a profound impression on Debussy and Ravel. The gamelan was introduced to the United States at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. This musical style comes from the very diverse Indonesian culture that embraces peoples living in more than 3,000 islands speaking over 250 languages, variously subject to Mongol, Arab, Indian, Chinese and European influences. The music is made up of homogeneous percussive sounds, with a rich timbre and intricate patterns. A full gamelan has two sets of instruments, each using one of the two principal scales, the five-note slendro and the seven-note pelog. These can be performed in several modes (pathet) that specify the correct pitches, cadences, and time of day. The compositions employ polyphony and interlocking patterns, with each player adding a series of notes to the total melody to produce fast, complex pieces without making excessive demands on any one musician.
The Javanese gamelan is the best known and most thoroughly studied of this particular style. With typically 25 instrumentalists in an ensemble, gamelan is played in concert as well as to accompany religious and state ceremonies, theatre, dance and puppet plays. The gamelan orchestras of Bali share many features with those found in Java, but are distinguished by the paired metallophones – one of which is tuned slightly higher than the other – that give it a uniquely transparent, shimmering texture.
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