SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Track 4: The Dance of Merdah (Bali)

Kembang Kirang

Balinese Gamelan Angklung

Gamelan Angklung is a village ceremonial orchestra which, although considered to be one of the oldest of Balinese gamelans, is still very common today. Most villages have at least one Gamelan Angklung which is used for all temple ceremonies and village festivals, and in most areas for cremations, tooth filings and purification ceremonies. As it is small and portable, the Gamelan Angklung is often carried and played in procession.

The name derives from the shaken bamboo angklung kocok which at one time was used with the ensemble but which has now virtually disappeared in Bali. The modern Gamelan Angklung is bronze and usually has a four-note scale derived from the more common five-note slendro scale used to accompany wayang kulit. As in many Balinese gamelan ensembles the instruments are paired and tuned slighapart to create a characteristic 'beating sound'.

The music is purely instrumental and the ensemble includes:

  • Two large jegog (low-pitched metallophones) which carry the main melody (pokok) and are echoed by the small kantilan.
  • The melody is elaborated by the medium-sized metallophones: two gender, and four barangan. These play two interlocking parts called polos ('simple') and sangsih ('differing') which unite to create the kotekan. The ensemble is usually led by one of the gender.
  • Two reong (each a set of four small bronze pots) reinforce the kotekan.
  • Punctuation is provided by the kempur (a small hanging gong), tawa-tawa and kelenang (small horizontal gong chimes). Two small drums (kendang angklung) and a set of cymbals (ceng-ceng or rincik) contribute to the rhythmic excitement.
  • Sometimes one or more suling (small bamboo flutes) are included, and on rare occasions the angklung kocuk.

Piece: Ipuk Merdah

The piece played here is called "Ipuk Merdah", which means "the dance of Merdah", one of the characters (a clown servant in the wayang kulit shadow puppet theatre). This particular version comes from Banjar Bedil, Sukawati in South Bali where is its used for ingabe, a cremation ceremony. However, pieces and names of pieces vary enormously from one village to another.

Like most "Klasik" angklung pieces Ipuk Merdah has three sections, each introduced by one of the gender:

  • pemungkah - opening section, played once fast and loud;
  • pengawak - literally the 'body' of the piece, more lyrical, usually repeated (played twice here);
  • pengecet - a livelier ending section with shorter gong cycles and indeterminate length.

Gamelan kembang Kirang

This gamelan originates from Gentong in central south Bali where the instruments were buried beneath a temple for some eighty years to escape a curse. It was discovered by Chris Geddes who brought it to Britain in 1988.

The group was formed in 1992 by Andy Channing and is based at SOAS. The name Kembang Kirang (missing flower) refers to the fact that the gamelan angklung uses a four-note scale rather than the more common five-note slendro scale.


Andy Channing (musical director)

Andy Channing studied gamelan in Java and Bali from 1989 to 1991 and now teaches both Javanese and Balinese gamelan at SOAS and elsewhere in the UK, whilst returning to Indonesia occasionally for inspiration.

Sophie Covey-Crump, Tim Diggins, Barbara Gaskin, Nick Gray, Robert Hills, Jo Hoskin, Vicky Lidchi, Xerxes Mazda, Nye Parry, Fiddy Sayer, Dave Stewart, Anne Wolfe.