Composition and improvisation in cross-cultural perspective
Composition and improvisation in cross-cultural perspective

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Composition and improvisation in cross-cultural perspective

3.1.1 Background information

Gamelan is the name given to a number of related musical ensembles in Indonesia. These ensembles comprise various types of instruments, the majority made of metal and most struck with beaters. There are several gamelan traditions, of which three are particularly well-known. These three are, moving from east to west, the Balinese, Javanese and Sundanese gamelans. (The term Javanese gamelan normally refers to the tradition developed in central Java; the Sundanese, who occupy the western part of the same island, consider themselves culturally distinct from the Javanese rather as the Scots are distinguished from the English.)

Most gamelan music is performed without the aid of notation, yet involves the co-ordination of many parts, which interlock and overlap in a variety of ways. The obvious question is, therefore, how can the members of the group keep together and produce coherent music, without either playing from notation or memorising impossibly large amounts of music?


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