Saturday, March 31, 2012

Last ceremonies in Bali

My enjoyment of my last two ceremonies in Bali were marred by a thankfully painless but bothersome stomach bug and computer troubles.

A family temple in the village had its birthday odalan complete with gong kebyar. In the morning priests and the women who help them set out low spirit offerings and prayed before them. At about noon the cengceng section of the gamelan trapsed out and back in with one of the frequent circumambulations to invite the gods to arrive. Times of day are believed to be ruled by different spirits: morning for low spirits and afternoon for gods.

I ate white rice with salt and was passing out from faintness and fever by the time the dances started. Playing tenor suling was a mistake -- it requires much more air than the soprano. Three variously trained young girls performed a welcome dance followed by the bird courtship kebyar Cendrawasih. Then half-mask comic bondres started and I was trapped behind attentive audience members. I'm starting to get that there are words of wisdom as well as slapstick comedy in there.

When the sacred mask came out for final offerings around 6pm I managed to slip out.

The next day was a little better: I filled up on coconut water right from the fruit before helping set up instruments in a family compound. This funeral was odd in that it culminated in a burial at the cremation grounds. It was also a little odd because the appropriate offerings hadn't arrived so the seka waited almost two hours before we could play. At this point I decided I was ready for a course of Immodium and maybe Cipro and wished there were time for someone to run an errand to town.

In the afternoon the seka went home to be replaced by the Banjar Pasut angklung and four laid-back men from Padang Bulia playing rare gambang with my teacher. I'd never seen my teacher's instruments before: he crafted the keys from thick bamboo instead of traditional wood but the sound is unmistakably gambang. I spent hours studying the parts and composition as they played and I am still puzzled.

One man doubled on the bronze sarong melody instruments. Two on one side played the extremely asymmetrical gambang kotekan, interlocking pattern while two on the other side played a kotekan more like the kind of ornamentation reyong does, on soprano kantil instruments. As for the septatonic scale for pieces in pentatonic modes, the keys are laid out three in the left hand and four in the right. If you haven't seen gambang before, you'd notice first the mallets branched much like four-mallet vibraphone playing. The 3 + 4 key groupings are octavated 3 3' 4 4' so each player plays octaves with each stroke. But the octaves aren't tuned consistently -- I'll have to ask Pak Terip.

Photos may come, but after a long time -- I asked an attentive European photographer to send some when she gets home.

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