Gong

Title

Gong

Physical description

The largest hanging gong that has the lowest pitch among the gamelan instruments is called “gong ageng” (ageng means large), with a diameter of around 34 inches. It is hung on a stand. A full gamelan set may have a pair of gongs, although it is also not uncommon for gamelan to have only one gong. There is also medium sized hanging gong, with a diameter of around 24 inches that has the same function as gong ageng; it is called gong suwukan. A full gamelan set has one gong suwukan, although there are also gamelan that have two or more gong suwukan.

Musical, Cultural, and Social Contexts

The gong ageng or gong suwukan has an important function in the gamelan ensemble. As one of the instruments that delineates the formal structure of a gendhing, the gong marks the end of a longer musical unit; it gives a feeling of balance after the longest melodic section of a gendhing. The importance of the gong in marking the end of a gendhing formal structure leads to the naming of this structure itself as “gongan.”

Historical background

There is some pictorial evidence of gongs of different sizes on the walls of a number of temples from the 14th to 15th century. Reports from travelers, Dutch traders, and officials mention gong manufacturers and gong ensembles in Java in the 16th and 17th centuries, including some hand drawings. However, the lack of collaborative evidence prevents us from reconstructing the musical use of gongs at that time. In any event, gongs became important symbols of power and wealth among Javanese rulers. The gong, especially the large gong, maintains its high status when the gamelan ensemble developed into an expansive ensemble. Besides its important function musically, the gong is the most respected instrument in the ensemble. This is because people believe that gamelan endows supernatural powers, and the large gong particularly, is the most supernaturally charged instrument.

Playing technique

The gong ageng is played with a round, heavily padded beater.

Geography

Java, Indonesia

Classification

111.241.21 (idiophone) Sets of bossed, flat gongs (with flange) and intermediate types (the vibration is strongest near the vertex)

Ensemble

Javanese gamelan

Contributors

Sumarsam (2004)

Collection

Citation

“Gong,” Wesleyan University Virtual Instrument Museum 2.0, accessed April 13, 2024, https://wesomeka.wesleyan.edu/vim2/items/show/15.