The gamelan ensemble is made up of sixteen bronze xylophones, several gongs and gong-chimes, drums, cymbals, and bamboo flutes—over forty instruments in total. This particular type of gamelan is a relatively new type known as gamelan semara dana. It has a special tuning and keyboard layout that makes it possible to play several of the many different types of gamelan repertoires from Bali—including the ancient selonding, the court-era semar pagulingan, the flashykebyar style of the 20th century, and even more recent works.
The instruments were custom-built in the workshop of I Wayan Beratha, one of Bali’s most beloved teachers, composers, and instrument makers. Beratha is shown here (on the left) playing drums with his former student, I Ketut Gede Asnawa, a lauded musician in his own right and one of our ensemble’s past guest directors.
The instruments are covered with elaborate carvings depicting important scenes from the Hindu epic the Ramayana and various other stories. (Photo courtesy Adam Grimshaw.)
Each gamelan ensemble functions as one gigantic instrument, with its own unique timbre and tuning. In the summer of 2009, our instruments required their first retuning. With assistance from a BYU Mentoring Environment Grant, we invited guest clinician Wayne Vitale, one of the foremost experts on Balinese music and tuning in the U.S., to campus to lead students in a tuning workshop. Several participants learned the craft of gamelan tuning hands-on under Vitale’s supervision. Over the course of four days Vitale and the students retuned each of the ensemble’s 180+ bars and gong-chimes.