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Which types of Balinese gamelan are rarely seen or heard? Part I  

by on Tuesday, 10 March 2009No Comment | 2,023 views

Gambang Perfomance

In Bali, there are in fact around thirty-five different types of gamelan which could be considered rare. Among the very rarely seen or heard is the sweet-sounding seven tone semara pagulingan, a remnant of the court era. According to a number of researchers, there are perhaps only a handful of original sets left in Bali and perhaps only two or three which can be seen in any state of activity. As with most ancient Balinese gamelan, the semara pagulingan has seven tones and its repertoire is made up of dreamy melodies which modulate between up to seven five tone scales. This type of gamelan was played while king was sleeping, said to have to power to induce deep slumber. Today, the original court repertoires are either desperately endangered or, in many cases, extinct.


The selonding is another rare gamelan which can be found in a number of villages in Bali, particularly in the east and in the north. Identified as pre-Majapahit music, the Bali Aga village of Tenganan in Karangasem is famous for its energetic selonding style. Here, the group is active and play only for special rituals, notably rejang and perang pandan. Tenganan’s three selonding sets are considered so sacred that no outsiders are allowed to see or touch them, and there are also a number of pieces in the repertoire which may not be recorded. Selonding is also seven tone but most sets are made of iron, rather than the more common bronze used for other types of gamelan.


Gambang is also an endangered type of gamelan ensemble, so archaic that it is found in some of the Central Javanese Prambanan reliefs. A gambang set, played by six players, is made up of both thick-keyed squat bronze metallophones and large, low-pitched bamboo xylophones. Perhaps the most intellectual type of Balinese gamelan, you can hear the ancient melodies and rhythms of gambang at large cremation ceremonies all over Bali, as well as at certain temple ceremonies in the eastern villages.

Vaughan Hatch has immersed himself with Balinese culture, living with locals in Bali since 1997. He speaks fluent Indonesian and Balinese, and is unashamedly addicted to playing gamelan. A linguistic, archaeology and publishing graduate, he works for indOKiwi ‘linguistic and cultural solutions’ in Sanur. Email him on for further queries.

Link: Mekar Bhuana Conservatory

Copyright © Vaughan Hatch 2009

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