The gangsa is a metallophone idiophone of the Balinese people of Bali, Indonesia. It is a melodic instrument that is part of a Balinese gamelan gong kebyar. Traditionally, a single gamelan craftsman’s workshop would construct, upon commission, a unified and uniquely tuned set of bronze instruments, numbering twenty or more, the sum total of which would constitute a gamelan gong kebyar. Sometime in the latter half of the 20th century, Balinese gamelan craftsmen realized there was a market, comprised mostly of foreign gamelan enthusiasts, interested in procuring single instruments. The gangsa pictured here is a product of this market niche. In a complete Balinese gamelan gong kebyar there would be, typically, nine gangsa of three different sizes and pitch registers called, from the largest and lowest-pitched to the smallest and highest-pitched: ugal, pemade, and kantilan. Each of these varieties of gangsa has ten keys suspended over tuned-bamboo resonators and are tuned to a pentatonic scale over the range of two octaves. The gangsa pictured here would, in the context of a full gamelan gong kebyar, be called a pemade. The wood casings of all gamelan gong kebyar instruments are typically ornately carved and often painted in vibrant shades of red and gold. Although not painted, the gangsa pictured here displays robust and deep carving on its surfaces consisting of stylized vegetation motifs (see detail #1) also found throughout the island of Bali on Hindu temples and other traditional architecture. Dating back to only the 1910s, the gamelan gong kebyar tradition has become the most iconic of Bali’s many types of sacred and secular gamelan traditions. Sets are found in many villages and neighborhoods of towns and cities, manned by musicians from all walks of life. They are performed for religious celebrations, at arts schools and conservatories, for competitions, and at tourist venues, playing both instrumental compositions and for the accompaniment of dances.
The gangsa is a two-octave metallophone with ten rectangular-shaped keys (don) suspended by rope and posts over tuned tube resonators (tiying or bumbung). The keys of this gangsa are made from bronze (krawang). Graduated in size, the keys are arranged in a horizontal plane from the longest, widest and thinnest one at one end of the case to the shortest, narrowest, and thickest one at the other end (see detail #2 and detail #3). Holes to receive the cord by which a key is suspended are drilled at one-quarter of a key’s total length from both its ends. These are nodal (dead) points in the mode of vibration for rectangular keys. The keys are suspended over a teakwood casing (plawah) and above cylindrical tube resonators (bumbung) made from bamboo (tiying), one for each of the instrument’s ten keys. Vertical wooden spacers are placed between the bumbung to keep them in alignment with their respective keys. Although externally the resonators are all the same length, internally they are stopped by a natural node that articulates a cavity of air which will maximally resonate the frequency of the key suspended above it (the differing positions of these nodes can be seen in detail #4). A row of metal posts is located on each of the two upward-facing flat surfaces of the case between pairs of keys, and upon these rest leather cords the ends of which are securely tied to the shoulders of the case. Each cord runs through and back out the hole at one end of each key. The loop thus formed on the bottom-side of a key has a short bamboo stop-pin inserted in it so that when the cord is pulled taut it blocks the cord from exiting the hole (see detail #5). This system of suspension involves minimal contact between non-sonorous material and the key itself, allowing it to vibrate freely for a long period of time after being struck. One wooden hammer-shaped beater (panggul) is used to strike the bars (detail #6).
Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production
A single performer seated on the ground plays the instrument; from the player’s perspective, the longer, lower-pitched keys are to his left, the shorter, higher-pitched keys to his right. Each keyis tuned to a specific pitch and the keys are sequenced to produce a scale over a range of two octaves (these pitches are not equally tempered and the series to follow is the closest approximation playable on a piano): C4 – D-flat4 – F4 – G-flat4 – B-flat4 – C5 – D-flat5 – F5 – G-flat5 – B-flat5. The Balinese label this sequence of intervals selisir. Striking the keys near their middle with the beater (held in the right hand), the performer at times sounds a composition’s melody but frequently participates in intricate interlocking kotekan, which Tenzer describes as “the crackling ornamental fireworks of Balinese music” (p. 46). Kotekan can be heard in audio #1; as you listen to this you should remember that nine individuals are contributing to this figuration. Because the beater is unpadded, the produced tones are bright and produce a sustained tone that necessitates a damping technique involving the player pinching the nearest end of a ringing key with the thumb and the index finger of the left hand.
Though the ten-key gangsa-type instruments of the gamelan gong kebyar are an innovation of the early 20th century, they are really simply a new variation on a centuries-old instrument type called the gendèr gantung (gendèr with hanging keys). Single-octave gendèr gantung instruments played with a single hammer-like or padded-stick beater are found in several different types of Balinese gamelans, some of which are quite old. There are also a few types of old ensembles that have two or more gendèr with ten, thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen keys, depending on the type of gamelan, sounded with two stick beaters with disc heads, one held in each hand of the performer. It is this latter type of gendèr gantung that is considered to be the morphological progenitor of all the others. It is very similar to the Javanese gendèr barung, an instrument form that might have been introduced to Bali 500 years ago when Hindu-Javanese nobility took refuge there as Islam was being established as the state religion on Java. However, such an intercultural transference of a type of instrument is difficult to prove due to scant historical records.
McPhee, Colin. 1966. Music in Bali: A Study in Form and Instrumental Organization in Balinese Orchestral Music. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.Tenzer, Michael. 1991. Balinese Music. Berkeley and Singapore: Periplus Editions.