The Music of Indonesia

— People and Places —

The music of Indonesia is regarded as relatively obscure to the Western listener, distant in geography but also in musical and cultural aesthetics. Despite this, gamelan, which refers to various types of Indonesian orchestra and the different traditions and genres that such orchestras perform, has become increasingly prevalent in World Music circuits. While incomprehension sometimes relegates its overwhelming complexities and intricacies to Orientalist exoticism, gamelanoffers a rare projection of Indonesian culture that has been revered and respected far beyond the edges of the archipelago.

Country Profile

Situated in the Indian and Pacific oceans, the archipelago of Indonesia is the largest country in Southeast Asia and the most extensive island complex in the world, comprising more than 15,000 islands that are home to more than 240 million people. Its islands are grouped into four main regions: the Greater Sunda Islands, which include Java, Sumatra and Celebes; the Lesser Sunda Islands, a chain encompassing Bali to West Timor; the Moluccas, which include Halmahera, Obi, Ceram, Buru and Ambon; and the western part of Papua New Guinea. Indonesia is a very diverse society, having provided a passageway for peoples and cultures between Oceania and mainland Asia for millennia. Its national official language is Indonesian, but it also has more than 300 living local languages; its major religion is Islam, and it is home to the world’s largest Muslim population; and, although it is only marginally an urban society, with a 53% urban population, but, driven mainly by immigration, its rate of urbanisation of nearly 3% indicates that its urban population will most likely increase over the coming decades. Indonesia is relatively prosperous, with a democratically elected central government and an emerging world economy, but is plagued by waves of disturbance due to its susceptibility to seismic and volcanic natural disasters and persistent guerrilla conflicts from secessionist groups buoyed up by East Timor’s successful independence struggle (1999).

Cultural History

Ancient Indonesia was characterised by small estuary kingdoms. Rich in natural resources, these small settlement provinces, led by raka (‘rulers’), mostly traded with their neighbours without warfare. As no single hegemonic power emerged, the early history of Indonesia is the development of distinct regions that only gradually threaded together. Sailors from the archipelago became pioneering maritime explorers and merchants, establishing trade routes with places as far off as southern China and the east coast of Africa even in ancient times. Hinduism, brought to Indonesia by Brahmansfrom India (c.5thC), became dominant in the region, finding notable affinities with indigenous religious concepts (e.g. reverence for mountains) and practices (e.g. meditation). However, as the Srivijaya kingdom on Sumatra expanded its maritime influence and made firm commercial links with China and India, it also spread Buddhism into parts of Indonesia (7th-13thC), promoting a social structure in which leaders bore the responsibility of ensuring that all had the means of ascetic worship through religious learning and community rituals.

The Javanese king Kertanagara took control of great swathes of the archipelago under his empire (13thC) and, under the ‘glorious’ reign of the ‘divine king’ Hayam Wuruk, Javanese civilisation and prestige was embedded across and beyond the region (14thC). Islam, mainly in the form of its mystical Sufi sect, started to spread to Indonesia along trade lines with India and the Middle East (13thC). Eventually a number of predominantly Muslim mercantile kingdoms emerged (15th-16thC), with some like Aceh declaring themselves as explicitly Muslim states. In most areas, Hindu and Muslim kingdoms coexisted in harmony, finding affinities between the guruand the wali and their desire for divine communion, but in some, as in Java, there was open warfare between kingdoms who fought for the supremacy of their own culture and religion.

With the expansion of European imperialism, Portuguese traders and subsequently the forces of the Dutch and English East India Companies took control of the Indonesian trade routes (16th-18thC). Despite rebel struggles and religious resistance, the Dutch seized Java and the inner islands as a colony (19thC) and imposed capitalist production systems, which decreased mercantile trade in favour of increased agricultural and industrial exports. This brought severe hardship for the Javanese workers themselves, leading to civil unrest and even conflicts like the Padri and Java Wars. Subsequently, the Dutch expanded their territories, annexing the whole of modern-day Indonesia (late 19th-early 20thC), and an influx of Dutch settlers created a sharp divide between the modern cities that they made their home and the traditional villages that protected indigenous civilisation and culture. The so-called ‘Ethical Policy’ (20thC) aimed to alleviate the people’s suffering through welfare provision and social change such as the inclusion of Indonesian elites in colonial rule, although its achievements in reality were rather modest. The formation of cultural organisations like Budi Utomo (‘Noble Endeavour’)(1908) and Sarekat Islam (‘Islamic Association’)(1912) represented the emergence of organised Indonesian nationalism, which not only resisted Dutch rule but also supported restructuring the modern state on the foundations of traditional civilisation and ethnic diversity. However, by the late 1920s, a unified independence movement arose, focusing on anticolonial resistance rather than sectarian political or religious identities. This culminated in the creation of the Indonesian Nationalist Party (1927), and its leader Sukarno pledged to create one Indonesian motherland for one Indonesian people, founding a common language and initiating the struggle for the united nation.

Repressive action was taken against the organisation and its leaders until World War II, when the Japanese defeated the Dutch in the East Indies and occupied Java. After the chaos of conflict between the Japanese and Allied forces on the island, brutal Dutch police action against the Indonesian people and successive leftist revolts, the Netherlands, under pressure from the United Nations, transferred sovereignty to a federal and democratic United States of Indonesia (1949). However, after growing discontent with postcolonial strife, disillusionment with Western liberal democracy and a series of regional rebellions, president Sukarno instituted ‘Guided Democracy’ (1959-1965), which transformed the republic in line with village-based traditional models of government such as musyawarah (prolonged deliberation) and mufakat (consensus). His regime reinforced national unity through cultural spectacles, grand monuments, patriotic slogans and the Pancasila(Five Principles) of monotheism, nationalism, humanitarianism, democracy and social justice, but increasingly positioned Indonesia against the West, culminating in its withdrawal from the UN (1965). This sparked a military coup led by Suharto, who took power from Sukarno and implemented a ‘New Order’ (1965-1998) focused on economic development, social reform and rapprochement with the West. After economic crisis hit Southeast Asia (1997), deep political turmoil caused Suharto to resign (1998) and subsequent elections (1998-2004) put four different presidents in power who strengthened freedoms and democracy in Indonesia but also faced rising separatism, with East Timor achieving independence (1999), and violent ethnic and religious militancy. However, over the next decade, a series of severe earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, while devastating the country and its people, quelled much of the unrest and united the nation, enabling President Yudhoyono (2004-2013) to instigate political and economic reform and, since then, Indonesia has experienced a more prosperous and peaceful period.

Music Culture

Islands Traditions

With its immense scope in terms of peoples and languages, it is perhaps unsurprising that Indonesia is deeply culturally and musically diverse. Given that its fragmented islands only became a cohesive territory during the last century, unified notions of traditional ‘Indonesian culture’ or ‘Indonesian music’ are themselves somewhat contentious, and are clouded further by the array of different extraneous influences on the islands that derive from its longstanding position as a nexus of global trade. Indeed, the government has attempted to foster national music traditions to embody its slogan Bhinnéka Tunggal Ika(‘Unity in Diversity’) and certain traditions has become particularly successful in the contexts of ethnomusicology and subsequently ‘World Music’ (especially Javanese and Balinese gamelan), but the reality is that the traditional musics of Indonesia are immensely diverse not only in the use of different languages but also in terms of their very musical language, their aesthetic soundworlds and their cultural purposes. As such, few generalisations can be made about the whole country and, thus, the preferred way to approach, and to start to appreciate, these vast music traditions is to examine them selectively by focusing in on a certain traditional form, albeit with recognition of how this fits into regional cultural trends (principally, Bali, Central Java, East Java, West Java, Lombok, Sumatra and Outer Islands) and historical strata (Indigenous, Hindu, Islamic, European and post-European). In line with this approach, this article will focus mainly on the tradition of gamelan.

Gamelan: Orchestral Ensemble & Musical Style

Gamelan(thought to derive from the low Javanese word gamel, ‘to hammer’) refers to both a gong-based orchestral ensemble and to the musical styles associated with such ensembles.Regionally,gamelan style is highly diverse and gamelan orchestras themselves differ in size, tunings, timbres, instruments and combinations to the extent each gamelan constitutes a unique set. As a result, instruments are never swapped between ensembles and different ensembles can sound markedly different from one another. However, despite this, all gamelan comprise three core instrumental groups: melodic tuned percussion (metallophones and smaller kettle-gongs struck with mallets), structural tuned percussion (larger kettle-gongs and hanging gongs struck with mallets) and rhythmic untuned percussion (membranophones struck with hands or sticks), though they often also include other melodic instruments.

As such, a gamelan in the Central Javanese traditionusually includes some combination of: gender (metallophones of thin bronze keys suspended over resonator tubes in three sizes: slenthem (large), barung (medium) and panerus (small));saron (metallophones of thick bronze keys suspended over a wooden resonator in three sizes: demun g (large), barung (medium) and peking (small)); bonang (a wooden rack of smaller kettle-gongs of various sizes); kenong (a wooden rack of larger kettle-gongs of various sizes); kempul (a wooden rack of small hanging gongs); suwukan (a medium hanging gong); gong ageng  (a massive hanging gong); and kendhang (hand-beaten double-headed barrel drums in various sizes) and bedhung (stick-beaten double-headed barrel drums in various sizes); as well as often featuring additional instrumentalists for performances such as the suling (a piercing bamboo flute),rebab (two-string heart-shaped thin wooden fiddle), gambang (xylophone with thin wooden keys suspended over a wooden resonator), siter (a small plucked zither), idiophonic percussion (e.g. cymbals) and/or singers (usually a gerong(male chorus) or a sinden (solo female singer)).

Instruments are decorated with ornate carvings, usually of local and regional symbols (e.g. Solonese gamelanoften feature the naga (a folkloric mystical snake creature derived from Indian mythology)).

Gamelan is an oral tradition where its compositions are created for the community and where such compositions and musical techniques are transmitted orally, learned and internalised aurally and performed from memory. Despite the diversity of styles across the islands, gamelan encompasses a unitary system of musical aesthetics with common structural principles for composition and performance. These complex aesthetics principles (with terms as they appear in Central Javanese tradition) include slendroand pelong tuning, pathet modality, balungang melody, colotomic structureandirama texture.

Slendro and pelong refer to the two tuning systems used in Central Javanese gamelan: the former is a pentatonic scale of five pitches in approximately equidistant rising intervals around 1½ tones apart (i.e. assuming it started on C, roughly: C, D+, F-; G (ish), A+); and the latter is a heptatonic scale of seven pitches with varying intervals (i.e. assuming it started on C, roughly: C, Db+, E-, F#-, G+, Ab, B+). Importantly, these schematics only serve as rough guides, and each ensemble actually forges their own unique tuning. Additionally, if a gamelanis to play compositions in both slendroand pelong, it requires two sets of the same instruments (one set tuned for slendroand the other for pelong).

Pathet (‘moods’) is the modal system which prescribes melodic emphases and contours, cadential patterns, characteristic ‘moods’ and even cultural functions. There are six core pathet, three for slendro and three for pelong. Though often compared to the Indian raga, the pathet are not aesthetic frameworks for spontaneous composition/performance but, rather, modal outlines that come with hundreds of gendhing (precomposed traditional cycles).

These gendhing each contain a balungang (a short fundamental melody). The balungang not only provides the basic melody of a performance of the composition but also sets the gatra (metre), which is dictated by length of the gongan (one full cycle of the fundamental melody). All the other instruments in the gamelan provide melodic and rhythmic ‘punctuation’ or ‘elaboration’ of this balungang, with the ‘punctuations’ outlined by their colotomicrelationship with the balungang and heterophonic ‘elaborations’ determined by the irama (textual density).

The colotomic relationship refers to the way in whichgamelan can be conceptualised in terms of cyclical metrical (and melodic and rhythmic) divisions of the overall gongan cycle: the gongan punctuates the completebalungangcycle and is played by the gong ageng; half and/or quarter units punctuate divisions of the full balungang cycle and are played by the other hanging gongs and the kenong; the balungang itself is played by the gender slenthem and the saron demung and saron barung; and smaller and smaller divisions elaborate the balungang and are played by the other saron, the bonang and any additional melodic instruments.

In this context, theirama speaks to the scope of this ‘elaboration’: for example, irama tangung, features just 2 elaboration notes on the saron peking for every 1 balungang, and thus tends to be used for faster balungangor to fashion a sparse texture, while irama rangkep, features 16 elaboration notes for every 1 balungang note, and so is generally used for slower melodies or to make busier surface textures. The melodic content of the elaborations comprise diverse heterogeneous variations on the balungang, based on the idea of garapan (that the whole gamelan is ‘working out’ different forms of the balungang by playing it, punctuating it or elaborating it through the pathet framework).

The lead kendhangand/or bedhung drummer directs the tempo and mood of the composition and punctuates the metric framework, signalling structural changes in the music, though they also elaborate with accented syncopations (especially 3-3-2; X..X..X.). Finally, performances of a gendhing often bring in additional instruments, which all function in various ways as elaboration: the suling, with its loud and piercing timbre, tends to heterogeneously sound out the balungan; the gambang and the siter improvise fast staccato patterns based on the balungan; the rebab plays highly e xpressive and ornamented improvised motifs as a counterpoint to the balungan; and the gerong,drawing on folk stories or poetry, mainly sing precomposed countermelodies over the texture of the gamelanwhile the sinden, in a similar way to the rebab, engages in an elaboration role by improvising free melismatic vocalisations and high lyricisms that glide over the pulsations of the gamelan.

The way these instrumental models and stylistic frameworks are diversified on a regional level is exemplified by the differences between the Solonese-style gamelan(Central Java), the Yogyanese-style gamelan (Southern Java), the Arèk-stylegamelan (Eastern Java) and the Balinese-style gamelan(Bali). With its aesthetic notion of alus (‘refinement’), Solonese-style gamelan tends to utilise complex balungang, with intricate, extensive and sophisticated improvisations, and performed with an overall smooth, soft and elegant performance practice. By contrast the more archaic Yogyanese-stylegamelan, typically employs shorter balungang, expanded in a strict traditional fashion with more austere iramaand an earthier performance style, in the service of their concept of gagah (‘strength’). The Arèk-style gamelan, pursuing kasar (‘coarseness’), employs brisk balungang, expanded with sharp, loud timbres, syncopated rhythms and complex rhythmic elaborations (e.g. anticipation, passing intricate rhythmic patterns through different levels). Finally, the Balinese-style gamelan is notably different from the others because, despite sharing the same core instruments and structural principles, it places far less emphasis on pathet and iramaand, instead, focuses more on the colotomic relationships themselves, resulting in fast and dynamic interlocking melodies/rhythms which are struck out using bright and explosive timbres (e.g. their mallets are not padded and they make far more use of the smaller gongs and idiophones) and high physicality in their performance practice.

Gamelan: Historical Context & Social Function

The core social functions and purposes of gamelan have varied across different contexts, times and places. The cultural origins of the gamelan and indeed of the bossed bronze ‘gong’ (an onomatopoeic word assumed to be of Javanese origin) itself are somewhat unclear.

The current prevailing theory is that the instrumental ancestors of the ‘gong’ are the large bronze drums imported from the Đông Sơn culture of Ancient Vietnam into Java, Bali and Sumatra (3rd-2ndC BCE) but that, because the kettle-drums were mainly used as artistic objects and symbols of power and status for kingdom leaders, the stylistic and cultural ancestors of the gamelan were actually devotional bamboo ensembles, such as the angklungorchestras of Java, Bali, Sumatra and Kalimantan (The angklungis an idiophonic tuned four-tone bamboo tubes held in a bamboo resonator frame).

These ensembles consisted of various sizes, tunings and timbres of angklung, accompanied by bamboo flutes (like the suling), wooden xylophones (like thegambang) and double-headed drums (like the kendhang) and percussion (e.g. cymbals) and performed in colotomic structures that were prototypal of pathet aesthetics. The ensembles were associated closely with religiosity, and were considered capable of communicating with the ancestral spirits, and they performed devotional, ceremonial and multifaceted artistic roles in religious temples, royal courts and community performances that would be adopted by gamelan.

Historical literary texts shows that bossed gongs had been crafted as early as 1stC CE and prototypal ‘gong-chime’ forms of the gamelan ensembleseem to have emerged by the 9thC. By the 12thC,gamelan had been developed in forms and functions that resemble the contemporary tradition in Central Java, and spread across the Javanese Kingdom and even to its main trading partners on Bali and Kalimantan. Like the angklung before them, all gamelan had spiritual associations as its meditative pulsations and its interlocking melodies/rhythms were regarded as capable of merging the human and the spiritual realms and thus invoking and conversing with the ancestral spirits. As such, incense is habitually burned as an act of consecration before gamelanperformances and it is still considered highly disrespected and unlucky to walk over, rather than around, the instruments.

However, the key difference from the gamelan today was the division into ‘loud’ or ‘soft’ ensembles, the former of gongs, metallophones and drums and the latter of gongs, wooden xylophones, a few key metallophones and flutes. The ‘loud’ gamelanwere used for outdoor ceremonial purposes in the kraton (royal courts), in community processions and in elaborate religious festivals, and also notably for rain-dance rituals out in the rice fields, while the ‘soft’ gamelanwere used for indoor ritual functions such as spiritual trance rites in temples and for entertainment by playing as part of community artistic performances. Archetypal of such entertainment was the klenèngan, an all-night musical, cultural and social marathon revolving around the gamelan, which included absolute musical performance as well as song, storytelling, dance and theatre performances, that sustained traditional culture (the concept of garapan, ‘working out’ of compositions, requires their development in cultural as well as musical terms) and reinforced community values and identity. Though the ‘loud’ and ‘soft’ ensembles would later be merged in form and function into a unified gamelan tradition(17thC), the legacy of the division still persists in certain ways: for example, older ‘ceremonial’ gamelan styles, such as the Javanese gamelan munggang, are mainly reserved for specific ritual functions like festive processions and celebrations; indeed, the ceremonialgamelan salunding of the Bali Aga (‘indigenous Balinese’ peoples)are only permitted to be touched and played on certain sacred occasions.

It is worth pointing out that, despite the Hinduization of the arts (5th-13thC) during this period (e.g. kakawin emerged as a form of indigenised Indian poetry), gamelanseems to have been relatively unaffected by Indian music, instead evidencing the maintenance of pre-Hindu indigenous musical aesthetics. Yet, this process of Hinduization did have a notable indirect impact on gamelan tradition in the sense that it cultivated new approaches to performance and new forms of associated song, dance and theatre. Narrative folk songs involved storytelling of local indigenous folk tales through stylised characterisations (e.g. putri (the female) through contained and intricate motion; alusan (the refined male) through smooth and open actions; gagahan (the strong male) through bold and angular gestures; buta(the ogre) through strong and heavy movements; and punakawan (the clown) through quick, light and comic motion) with accompaniment, reflecting the narrative, from the gamelan. Lyric songs offered expressions of poetic verse and also as guidance, lament, social censure and so on but usually assimilated into the gamelan style in the sense that the singing acted as an elaboration in the iramatexture. In certain specialised gamelansong genres (e.g. the jemblung tradition in Southern Java), heterophonic singing between a male chorus and an elaborative free-metre female soloist reflects the roles and styles as a form of ‘vocal gamelan’.

Dance included a whole host of localised traditions, but perhaps the most common were a form of masked dance and singer-dancer traditions (known as topèng and tayubanrespectivelyin Central Javanese terminology). Masked dances drew on traditional narrative dance performed by men and women and directed by the music of the gamelan; most involved performers entering a state of ‘trance’, whipped up by the music of the gamelan, in which they enacted traditional dances that emulated the movements of animals (e.g. barongan, ‘dance of the lion’) and mystical beings (réyog Ponorogo, ‘dance of the masked spirits’). In East Java and Bali, these pethilan (dance tales) draw on local martial arts traditions for stylised dances that embody mythic warriors and perform folk tales of their great deeds. The narrative of the stories is accompanied and directed by the musicof the gamelan(e.g. the Balinese gamelan beleganjur, ‘gamelanof the walking warriors’, features a procession of dancers who fight off evil spirit forces and is thus often used in rituals for the dead).

The tradition of the singer-dancer, influenced by the Indian courtesan tradition, involved women but also men dressed in female attire performed erotic songs and dances to the pulsations of the gamelan; men would pay for the pleasure of dancing with singer-dancer while women and children ridicule them. Later, ‘respectable’ versions of these traditions developed, such as the gambyong, which emphasised the presentation of sensual artistic movement.

However, the core of the theatre tradition is wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre), which was developed underMajapahit rulebased on Indian theatrical forms. The wayang kulit are based on Hindu epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and are performed by a dhalang (master puppeteer), who voices the narrate and the dialogue, operates the motions and gestures of the puppet characters against a shadow screen, directs the gamelan musicians using a metal beater held by one foot that is struck against the puppet box and strikes two metal plates held by the other foot at key moments to add dramatic impulse to the story. Performances were usually held at night and traditionally lasted for up to nine hours, requiring immense skills of stamina and concentration from the dhalang.

As such, the pre-Hindu and Majapahit periods established the main musical styles, cultural purposes and social functions of gamelan, most of which are maintained today. Islam had some impact on the gamelan tradition, though it did not make significant impressions. Sufi concepts like sama (‘listening’, roughly spiritual communication and transcendence through music) and ecstatic Sufi rituals added another level of mystique and devotional spirituality to theklenènganand other ritual and communitycelebrations. Specific ceremonial gamelan traditions were developed for particular Muslim festivals, such as the devotional artform for the holy week in the Javanese month of Mulud (the Islamic month of Rabi I) for which the ceremonial gamelan sekati were hauled out of the courts and into the mosque to perform a specific set of sacred repertoire throughout the days and nights as an act of religious commitment.

Amongst orthodox groups (like the santriJavanese), gamelan ensembles were not held in high regard and were even banned in some places, where recitation of theQur’anand the chanting of sacred poetry (both not considered as music in Orthodox Muslim aesthetics) as well as certain devotional singing traditions, such as the dikir (a song style based on Arabic vocality and melodic and verbal forms accompanied only by frame drum) replaced its ceremonial, devotional and community roles.

European rule also made only modest impressions on gamelan tradition. By introducing competing musical forms, such as military marching bands, Western religious music and later Western popular music bands, it did encourage the unification of ‘loud’ and ‘soft’ gamelan ensembles into the contemporary unitary ensemble capable of performing different styles and functions. It was during the colonial period that Javanese gamelanfirst achieved international fame, particularly after an appearance at the Paris Exposition Universelle(1889), which inspired imitations by several Western classical music composers, most notably Claude Debussy.

The weakening of the royal courts, especially in Bali, promoted social changes that, somewhat ironically, democratised the tradition under colonial rule. This led to the proliferation of the community and artistic forms of gamelan, stimulating for example the rise of the Balinese gamelan gong kebyar(‘flowing’, perhaps the best knownBalinese gamelantradition featuring sharp and brilliant sounds, explosive changes of tempo, texture, timbre and dynamics and idiomatic interlocking melodic and rhythmic patterns with complex syncopations).

The rise of nationalism coincided with the rise of the recording industry and radio broadcasting, which disseminated local musics, including a huge variety of gamelan tradition, across the islands. Gamelan, alongside indigenous folk and popular music forms likedangdut (the songs of the urban poor which combined indigenous vocality and texts with Indian and Malaysian filmi styles), thus became a potent political symbol of indigeneity and cultural sovereignty in the struggle for independence. In the post-colonial context, some musical forms maintained this trend in serving as political symbols for separatist groups, like the use of Acehnese folk songs in their own sectarian struggle, and the Indonesian governmentattempted to use gamelan as something of an antidote to divisions by propagating it as an emblem of ‘national culture’. The linguistic, musical and cultural diversity of the tradition itself have meant this has only achieved a degree of success, though it did to some extent spread certain gamelanforms (especially Solonese-style gamelan forms and Balinese gamelan gong kebyar) across the islands; and it certainly elevated these traditions on an international level first through recordings and through universities, a number of whom acquired full gamelan orchestras, and, later, through the performance networks of the ‘World Music’ industry.

James Nissen (The University of Manchester), April 2017

Sources & Reading Suggestions

American Gamelan Institute [Online Resource], <>.

Gamelan Music of Java [Documentary Film] (East West Center, 1983).

Gamelan of Java and Bali [Online Resource], <>.

‘Music of Indonesia Series’, Smithsonian Folkways Online, <>.

Out of Asia: Gamelan [Documentary Film] (Museum of Instrumental Music (Phoenix), 2007).

World Routes: Gamelan Journeys [Documentary Film] (BBC, 2004).

Bakan, Michael, Music of death and new creation: experiences in the world of Balinese gamelan beleganjur (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

Belo, Jane, Traditional Balinese Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970).

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Heaton, Jennry and Simon Steptoe, ‘Indonesia: Gamelan’, in Simon Broughton, Mark Ellington and John Lusk (eds.), The Rough Guide to World Music (London: Rough Guides, 2000).

Heimarck, Brita, Balinese discourses on music and modernization : village voices and urban views (London: Routledge, 2014).

Jha, Alok, ‘What is the most complicated music in the world? Javanese Gamelan’, The Guardian Online, 15 January 2004, <>.

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Kartomi, Margaret, ‘Music and Trace in Central Java’, Ethnomusicology, 17 (1973).

Pickvance, Richard, A Gamelan Manual: A Player’s Guide to the Central Javanese Gamelan (London: Jaman Mas, 2005).

Schaareman, Danker (ed.), Balinese Music in Context (Winterthur: Amadeus-Verlag, 1992).

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Sources of Images

Header Image: Flickr

Map of Indonesia: Britannica

Prambanan Hindu Temple Compound: Unesco

Sculpture of King Kertanagara: Britannica

President Sukarno: Britannica

Ground plan of common Central Javanese Gamelan setup:

Javanese Gamelan from Yogyakarta: Freer and Sackler Galleries

Gong ageng: National Music Museum

Kenong:National Music Museum

Siter:National Music Museum

Suling musician: Suzanne Teng, The Flute Portal

Rebab musician: National Music Museum

Kendhang Drummer: National Music Museum

Đông Sơn Bronze Drum: National Music Museum

Angklung Instruments:National Music Museum

Angklung Performance: Smithsonian

Ceremonial gamelan munggang: National Music Museum

Javanese Pethilan: National Music Museum

Wayang Kulit shadow puppet theatre: Asia Society

Gamelan at Paris Exhibition 1889: Annegret Fauser(University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Women’s Gamelan Gong Kebyar: Wikimedia Commons