Gamelan gong luang : ritual, time, place, music, and change in a Balinese sacred ensemble

Wayan Sudirana (sudirana.isi@gmail.com)
UBC School of Music, University of British Columbia
April, 2013
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Abstract

Gamelan gong luang is a rare and sacred music ensemble performed in Bali, Indonesia. Its origins are only speculative, but it is believed to have existed before the arrival of migrants from Hindu Majahapahit Java in the 14th century. Today few Balinese have interest in learning to perform this music, which is intimately intertwined with ritual practices. My research involves the study of two interrelated aspects of this complex musical tradition. First, I focus on gamelan gong luang’s history, instrumentation, social organization, and function within Balinese society. And second, I focus on gamelan gong luang’s musical structure using analytical perspectives. Additionally, and in consideration of the results of my research, I reflect on gamelan gong luang’s future. I have two goals in writing this dissertation. First, I want to challenge younger generations of Balinese musicians that often fail to recognize the value of this musical tradition. Today, more diverse and rapidly developing modern musics, like the exciting world of gamelan gong kebyar, capture the attention of young musicians. To these young people gamelan gong luang is old-fashioned and unexciting. This research elucidates many of the unique characteristics of gamelan gong luang, and highlights new potentialities for its appreciation and thus continuance. I will also show that musical characteristics of gamelan gong luang live on in their transformation at the hands of many Balinese composers. My conclusion is that the loss of this ensemble would seriously damage the continuity of social and religious life in some places that rely heavily on its use in ritual, and for all of Bali and the world at large, a loss of cultural heritage. I also want to challenge misleading representations of Balinese music produced by non-Balinese scholars. In earlier publications, Western scholars (Small 1977, Kramer 1988) have stated that Balinese music is non-linear, with cyclic structures that repeat seemingly without end. Utilizing research methods acquired throughout my graduate studies in the Western scholarly world, and my lifelong training as a Balinese musician, I have created an in-depth analysis of gamelan gong luang music that shows that such interpretations are mistaken.