Music of Indonesia

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Indonesia is an archipelago or group of islands in Southeast Asia and Oceania and is home to over two hundred thirty eight million people. So as one can imagine the overall culture of the area already differs island by island. The thousands of islands result in hundreds of forms of music. The islands of Java, Sumatra, Bali and Flores have been documented and recorded in respect to music, because of the regions huge size scholars are still studying other islands. The largest ethnic group is the Javanese; because of this the most popular form of Indonesian music is gamelan. Gamelan is an ensemble of percussion instruments including metallophones, drums, and gongs.

Rhythm is defined as how the sounds and silences of music are organized in time. Gamelan has a rhythm that is not necessarily metric, free or layered ostinatos. The rhythm of a gamelan piece is based upon cycles of time, which are oriented around gong cycles. So in most gamelan pieces there is a gong cycle, then what Westerners would consider an ostinato and then the gong cycle is either repeated or ornamented.

Another element, timbre, is defined as the color of sound. Gamelan has an overall bright timbre because of the gongs and metallophones. There are of course exceptions to this because there are instruments that accompany the gongs and metallophones like drums and bamboo flutes. There are also certain pieces of music that have a more haunted and dreary timbre over them rather than the typical happy and bright timbre.

In respect to music, form is defined as large-scale dimension of musical organization. In most of Java gamelan is meticulously and intricately laid out. The metallophone is placed in the center of the ensemble and is responsible for the central melody. In the rear of the ensemble the gongs punctuate the music slowly, while the frontal instruments are responsible for ornamentation and elaboration. The tuning process for these ensembles is also complex and the two most common...
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