Gamelan Indonesia

The Traditional Sounds of Indonesia

trad-sounds-of-indonesiaBy Henry Spiller

‘Gamelan – The Traditional Sounds of Indonesia’ follows the pattern which has been laid down for the series as a whole which requires: an overall view of the music to be covered, followed by a more specific introduction to key areas, and finally by an in-depth study of one particular subject.

So, to look at the book briefly, in terms of these three areas, it opens with a panoramic chapter discussing the development of musical forms throughout the South-East Asian region.

The following section introduces Javanese and Balinese gamelan music, setting this in its historical and social context, and using as a first example the gamelan sekaten of Cirebon a fascinating choice. In both cases it includes the instruments, their tuning and musical forms and structure.

There are photographs, which are interesting, and diagrams, not always particularly helpful. The two following chapters are devoted to an in-depth study of gamelan in West Java and Sundanese dance traditions.

These chapters are meticulously presented with a wealth of detail and contain much extremely interesting information. This is a substantial book and this brief summary does not really do it justice.

I felt throughout that it was written from an ethnomusicological viewpoint, rather than from the more practical point of view of a player. Its greatest strengths are undoubtedly the enormous amount of information it contains on the historical and cultural background to gamelan in Indonesia today.

A CD is included. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the historical and cultural context of gamelan in general and about Sundanese gamelan and dance in particular.