In the gamelan orchestra, gongs take on an important role. Technically speaking, more than half the ensemble comprises of gons, though not all are the usual "suspended-on-frame" type one is accustomed to seeing.

Of this more obvious variety, there are at least three types in the gamelan: the gong ageng (large gong), the smaller gong suwuk and the even tinier but no less resounding kempul.

The gong ageng can be as hugh as 1 metre in diameter and weigh as much as 30 kg. It is the most respected and expensive item, sounding the lowest notes of the double bass.

The gong suwuk is usually tuned to a definite pitch on the first or second notes of the five-note gamelan scale, the slendro. About 63 cm in diameter, it works with its larger counterpart to mark important points in the music.

The kempul is named after ths sound it makes - a throbbing puuuuul - when hit with cloth wrapped mallet. There can be up to 7 of them in the orchestra, each tuned to a different note.

All three types of gongs are played by one instrumetalist. The gong is struck as gently as possible, producing a revebrating deep sound which act as reference points for other instruments which may have gotten lost in the thich interwoven texture of the gamelan art.

Adapted from 'Big Brother is a softy', The ST, 3rd December 98

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