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Gamelan



A gamelan is a kind of musical ensemble of Indonesian origin typically featuring a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums, and gongs; bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings, and vocalists may also be included. The term refers more to the set of instruments than the players of those instruments. A gamelan as a set of instruments is a distinct entity, built and tuned to stay together - instruments from different gamelan are not interchangeable. The word "gamelan" comes from the Javanese word "gamel", meaning to strike or hammer, and the Malay-Indonesian suffix "an" makes the root a collective noun.

The gamelan orchestra has a large variety of instruments. Within the category of gongs, there are suspended gongs, of which there are multiple varieties each of bass gongs, middle voice gongs, and treble gongs. The other category of gongs is the horizontal gongs, of which there are various gong racks and handheld gongs. There are (many varieties of) metal, wood, and bamboo bar instruments ("xylophones"). There are cymbals, drums, flutes, and stringed instruments (bowed & plucked). The two usual scales used in gamelan music are slendro (pentatonic) and pelog (heptatonic-pentatonic). The full gamelan has pairs of instruments with one tuned in each scale. Both scales are often used simultaneously in the music. Tuning on a gamelan is distinct from the tuning on another gamelan. Indonesian music is often organized such that the lower registers provide the form, the middle registers are the melody, and embellishment is done through the higher registers.

Gamelan are found in the Indonesian islands of Java, Madura, Bali, and Lombok (and other Sunda Islands), in a wide variety of ensemble sizes and formations. In Bali and Lombok today, and in Java through the 18th century, the term "gong" has been preferred to or synonymous with gamelan. Traditions of gamelan-like ensembles (sometimes called "gong-chime ensembles" by ethnomusicologists) also exist in the Philippines, Malaysia and Suriname, sometimes due to emigration, trade, or diplomacy. More recently, through immigration and local enthusiasm, gamelan ensembles have become active throughout Europe, The Americas, Asia, and Australia.

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