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date: 21 January 2020


  • David Harnish


A term that refers to musical ensembles of various sizes that originated in Java, Bali, and a few other areas of Indonesia. In the early 2010s they were found throughout the world and were common in universities, communities, schools, and museums in the United States. Gamelans usually consist of gongs, gong-chimes, metallophones, cymbals, flutes, and drums, and often xylophones, bowed and plucked lutes, oboes, solo singers, and chorus.

Most gamelans are tuned in either an anhemitonic pentatonic system (sléndro) or a hemitonic heptatonic system (pélog), and most compositions use pentatonic modes. A wide variety of new tunings—diatonic, just intonation, multi-tonic—have been found both within and outside of Indonesia. Composers throughout the world have utilized gamelans in ever-innovative ways; some Americans have written compositions within the idiom of gamelan, while others have used the instruments as sound resources.

The first gamelan to arrive in the United States was performed at the Chicago Exposition in ...

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