ANGKLUNG: A Bamboo Beat - Tourism Indonesia


Monday, August 13, 2007

ANGKLUNG: A Bamboo Beat

Traditionally, Sundanese dance and music have grown alongside the strata of a strictly hierarchical society. Dances such as the ketak tilu and provocative jaipongan were for the entertainment of the masses, whereas the more refined song poetry (tembang Sunda) and certain forms of gamelan were the preserve of the aristocracy.
These days the differences are fading as art forms follow social trends and feudal systems gradually disappear. Far from being diminished, however, Sundanese performing arts are flourishing, enhanced by an ever widening circle of influences.

Whilst the differing forms of gamelan music may sound rather similar to the inexperienced ear, Sundanese music is usually distinguishable from its Javanese and Balinese cousins by the presence of a clear melody in the foreground. Gamelan degung, traditionally played for the aristocracy, is led by the haunting tones of the suling, a bamboo flute. The more upbeat gamelan salendro - traditional "pop" gamelan - is led by a small, two-stringed fiddle, known as the rebab. Both are carried on the bubbling stream of the gamelan orchestra, a set of bronze percussion instruments producing sounds ranging from the pretty and xylophonic to deep, solemn gongs.

The most distinctive Sundanese sounds, however, come from the angklung - a wooden percussion instrument made from bamboo pipes of differing length and pitch. These are fixed loosely to a small wooden frame and shaken to produce a tremolo. Since each instrument only produces one or two different notes, an angklung group can consist of between 60 - 160 people. These are often children, for whom the angklung group is considered a means of self expression and education. Accompanied by the dog-dog (small drum), the bedug (large drum) and various bamboo glockenspiel-like instruments know as gambang, the combined effect of well-coordinated, interdependent individuals is a unique and magical sound.

The angklung originates from the Badui people of West Java, where it was first used to rouse soldiers' spirits as they went into battle. However, angklung instruments are used for many purposes, accompanying a variety of traditional and Islamic ceremonies ranging from weddings and circumcisions to planting ceremonies, where it is believed the music stimulates growth of newly sown seeds. They provide the entertainment at parties, school graduation ceremonies and anniversary celebrations, or any other modern social function at which a traditional Sundanese flavour is desired.

Deep in the kampungs off Jl. Padasuka in east Bandung lies Indonesia's most renowned centre of Sundanese music and dance. The Saung Angklung Pak Udjo (Pak Udjo's Angklung House) is a partially open air bamboo and thatch auditorium nestled within groves of tall, yellow and green bamboo plants. The front outer wall of the theatre is adorned with Arabic characters reflecting the devotions of a Sundanese community committed to gotong royong working together in harmony.

"You hear - you forget; you see - you remember; you do - you understand." Such is the philosophy underpinning Pak Udjo's educational art. "Through music, we educate people in the art of humanism." Audiences are invited to participate in his angklung performances, whether the music be traditional Sundanese or an angklung rendition of Strauss' The Blue Danube. "By playing the instruments," asserts Pak Udjo, "audiences gain a deeper insight into the nature of the music."
While audience participation and modern adaptations of the traditional musical ensemble reflect the Bandung of today, it is not a gimmick for the tourists. "I began my Saung Angklung to develop and preserve Sundanese art, music and dance," affirms Pak Udjo, a dignified patriarch in the midst of an elegant array of bronze and bamboo instruments. "Then comes Indonesian music; finally, Western music. My children do not perform just for the audiences - they play for themselves. I will make everybody happy for the future of our beautiful country."

Ambitious as this claim may seem, experiencing the musical ensemble in all its rich colour is one of Bandung's finest treats. Performances take place daily from 3.30 pm to approximately 5.30 pm, and the theatre has seating for over two hundred guests. As a prelude, there is a brief "Wayang Golek" puppet performance of key scenes from the Ramayana which will give you a taste of the full, nine-hour performances. The entrance fee is Rp 10,000 for weekdays, Rp 12,500 at weekends. The instruments are also made in the village, under the guidance of Pak Udjo, and individual pieces or whole sets can be bought at a range of prices.

"Many people come for the first time few come for the last," claims Pak Udjo with a knowing smile beneath his long white beard. Indeed, he has seen the trancelike effect of his work on tens of thousands of people in his Saung Angklung; he has been invited to perform for the King of Thailand, delighted audiences at the Edinburgh Festival, received an award from President Soeharto and gained adulation from Indonesia's film and rock idols. He has no doubts of the musical charms of the angklung.

Angklung and gamelan music can also be heard in many of Bandung's leading hotels. To experience the now popular jaipongan dance, which evolved from the more traditional ketuk tilu Sundanese performances, you can visit the Museum of West Java at 638 Jl. Otista. Performances are held regularly, in addition to cultural performances which are held every Sunday. If your feet won't keep still and you want to join in, visit Pak Baun Jaipong on the same road. Likewise you can join in the ketuk tilu dance (performed to gamelan music) at the Sanggar Langan Selna at 541 A Jl. Otista. Alternatively, the Institute of Fine Arts, ASTI, often stages performances of various Sundanese music and dances, or you can visit at any time to watch the students practice. Performance schedules are available at theTourist Information Office.

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