Saron Techniques

Introduction

Fig. 1.jpg

Fig 1 Balinese Gamelan

Fig. 2.png

Fig 2 Javanese Gamelan

Gamelan is one of the Indonesian traditional ensembles.  There are three types of gamelan in Indonesia: Balinese gamelan, Javanese gamelan and Sundanese gamelan.  Balinese gamelan comes from Bali.  Javanese gamelan comes from Central Java and Yogyakarta.  Sundanese gamelan comes from West Java.  

Javanese Gamelan consists of slenthem, saron demung, saron barung, peking, bonang barung, bonang penerus, kenong, kendang, and gongs. There are three types of sarons based on their sizes: saron demung, saron barung and saron peking.  Saron demung is the largest saron and has the lowest range of the saron group.  Saron peking is the smallest saron and has the highest range of the saron group.  Saron barung has the medium size in the saron group and has a higher range than the demung, but lower range than the peking.  There are two types of saron based on the tunning: saron pelog and saron slendro.  

Fig. 4.jpg

Fig 3 Saron Slendro

Fig. 3.jpg

Fig 4 Saron Pelog

 

Techniques

1. Stroke Techniques

There are several stroke techniques including normal techniques, for the general purpose of playing in the traditional system for gamelan, and extended techniques for saron.

1.1 Normal Stroke

For general purposes, the right hand strikes the plate in the middle and dumps it after it rings for a time.  The right hand strikes the plate with a traditional mallet and then the left hand mutes the plate.  Fig 1 shows the notation for letting the plate the ring until the plate is damped  on the rest.  A few examples for normal playing of the saron are shown in Fig 1.2, Fig 1.3 and Fig 1.4.  Several composers write l.v. in the score as an indication to let the plates ring.

Fig. 1.1.jpg

Fig 1.1 Notation for normal playing

Fig. 1.2.jpg

Fig 1.2 Septian, Maghrib

Fig. 1.3.jpg

Fig 1.3 Joey, Retrospect

Fig. 1.4.jpg

Fig 1.4 Joey, If Flowers were to Bloom Again

1.2 Extended Techniques Stroke

There are several extended technique strokes that can be used to produce a variety of sounds.

1.2.1 Stroke more than one plates

It is possible to strike more than one plate at the same time on saron.  More than one mallet is required to play using this technique, especially if the plates that are to be played are far apart.  It is also possible to play four plates at the same time using two mallets.  In this case, the player needs to rotate the mallet horizontally as shown in Fig. 1.5.  

Fig. 1.5.jpg

Fig 1.5 Playing in a horizontal position

It is best to use mallets with a larger size for this technique because the mallet can then cover more plates.  Fig.1.6 shows an example of the notation used to indicate more than one note on saron.  The player needs to damp the plates with both right and left hand when striking more than one plate at once on saron.  Therefore, the damping technique is important when playing using this stroke technique. It is also possible to produce dynamics while using this technique.  

Fig 1.6 Notation to play more than one plate

Setyawan [1] used this technique in his composition Ngerumpy as shown in Fig. 1.7 to play four plates together on saron. 

Fig 1.7 Setyawan, Ngerumpy

In Fig. 1.9 we can see that Septian [2] wrote a sign above the time signature. This is as an indication to strike the plate with the mallet in a horizontal position.

Fig. 1.8.jpg

Fig 1.8 Septian,  Maghrib

Fig. 1.9.jpg

Fig 1.9 Septian, Maghrib

In Time After-Reset by Dieter Mack, the players plays more than one plate at a time using two saron mallets. 

1.2.2 Backend of Mallets

It is possible to use the backside of a traditional saron mallet to strike the plate. This can produce a more distinct sound effect if this technique is used in slenthem.  Fig. 1.10 shows how to play this technique.  One example of this technique is shown in Fig. 1.11 from a composition by Joey [3].  She wrote in the score to strike the plate in slenthem with the mallet head.  

Fig. 1.10.jpg

Fig 1.10 Backend of Mallet

Fig. 1.11.jpg

Fig 1.11 Joey, Retrospect

1.2.3 Side of Mallet

We can use the side of traditional saron mallet to play grace notes by sliding the mallet. One example of this technique from Retrospect by Joey [3] is shown in Fig 1.12. In this piece, the technique is for saron demung.  Joey wrote the instruction to use this technique in the score.  

Fig. 1.12.jpg

Fig 1.12 Joey, Retrospect

1.2.4. Tremolo on saron

A light mallet is needed to play tremolo on saron.  To produce good sound for tremolo on saron, we need to let the mallet bounce on the plate so it is better not to strike the plate too strongly.  The player can also use another type of mallet for percussion to produce a better tremolo sound.  It is easier to control the dynamic of the tremolo if the player uses a percussion mallet instead of a traditional saron mallet.  Fig. 1.13 is an example of tremolo on saron as notated in  Ngerumpy [1] with dynamic variation.   

Fig. 1.13.jpg

Fig 1.13 Setyawan, Ngerumpy

Septian [2] wrote tremolo for two plates and two instruments (saron pelog and saron slendro) as shown in Fig. 1.14.  In this case, the player needs to strike the plate with two mallets in horizontal position as shown in Fig 1.5.  In Maghrib [2], the player needs to use two mallets to play tremolo on saron pelog and saron slendro.  One mallet plays tremolo on saron pelog and another mallet strikes saron slendro.  Both mallets should be in horizontal position, so they can cover two plates.

Fig. 1.14.jpg

Fig 1.14 Septian, Maghrib

There is also another way to play tremolo on saron.  In The Time After-Reset by Dieter Mack [10], the players plays tremolo with a gradual dynamic shift on two plates using two saron mallets in vertical position.

Arham Aryadi, an Indonesian composer wrote a few compositions with this technique [4] [5] [6].  In the performances of his compositions, the player uses two saron mallets in vertical to play tremolo for two plates on one saron.

1.2.5 Glissando on Saron

We can use a saron mallet or a percussion mallet to play a glissando on saron. Fig. 1.15 shows the example of a descending glissando on saron. Fig. 1.16 shows an ascending glissando with gradual dynamic change from soft to loud.  In Maghrib [2], there are glissando for both saron pelog and saron slendro at the same time, as shown in Fig. 1.17.  In this case, the player needs to use two mallets to play glissandos in saron pelog and saron slendro.  The position of both mallets should be a bit horizontal so as to make it easier to play the glissandos.  To prevent all plates from ringing together, the player needs to damp the plate using hands placed in the middle of the plates.

Fig. 1.15.jpg

Fig 1.15 Septian, Maghrib

Fig. 1.16.jpg

Fig 1.16 Septian, Maghrib

Fig. 1.17.jpg

Fig 1.17 Septian, Maghrib

The Indonesian composer Dewa Alit wrote a composition, Siklus, in which the player must damp the plate while playing glissando [7].  In this composition, there is also another technique employed: the backend of mallet is used to play glissando.  

Damp while playing glissando

1.2.6 Edge of the plate

If it is desired for the saron to be played at a pianissimo dynamic, or to produce a very soft sound, the edge of the plate can be stroked gently.

 

2. Damping Techniques

There are several damping or muting techniques in saron, including normal damping, playing without damping, and extended techniques for damping.

2.1 Normal Damping

Normal damping is used for general purposes in playing in the traditional gamelan system. The left hand damps the edge of the plates after the right hand strikes. However, the player needs to let the plates ring for a moment before damping the plate [8].  As shown in Fig 2.1, a slur indicates that the player should let the plates ring before damping them at the rest.  If it is desired for the player to strike one plate right after another, as shown in Fig 2.2, the player needs to damp the plate which was just played before playing the next.  For the case in Fig 2.2, the player uses the left hand to mute the first plate at the same time that the fifth plate is struck with the right hand.  

Fig. 2.1.jpg

Fig 2.1 Notation for normal damping

Fig. 2.2.jpg

Fig 2.2 Notation for normal damping

2.2 Without Damping

We can let the plates ring without damping the plates until further indication.  The notation to play saron without muting or damping is shown in Fig 2.3.

Fig. 2.3.jpg

Fig 2.3 Notation for playing without damping

2.3 Extended Techniques for Damping

There are a few extended techniques that can be played on saron to produce sounds with different articulations.

2.3.1 Damping for Staccato

To perform staccato in saron, the plates must be damped immediately after it is struck. This can be done by damping the plate with the left hand directly after right strikes so the plates will not ring for long. It is important to damp the plate quickly after it is struck so that the plate will not ring until the rest.  This technique is very different from normal traditional technique where players let the plate ring until the rest.  There is no special notation to write for this technique, only the normal staccato mark, as shown in Fig. 2.4. One example of staccato in saron is shown in Fig. 2.5 from a piece composed by Mahardika [9].

Fig. 2.4.jpg

Fig 2.4 Notation for Staccato

Fig. 2.5.jpg

Fig 2.5 Mahardika, Labyrith Trap

2.3.2 Damping the Plate during a Strike

This technique is good for producing a piercing attack on the saron.  The left hand should hold edge of the plates while the player strikes the plates.  Fig. 2.6 shows the notation for damping the plate during strike.

Fig. 2.6.jpg

Fig 2.6 Damp during the strike

Setyawan [1] used this technique in his composition Ngerumpy as shown in Fig. 2.7 to intensively damp the plate while stroking the plate.  Damping will not affect the dynamics.  Changes in the dynamics depend on the striking technique, so we still can play forte although the plate is dampened.  

Fig. 2.7.jpg

Fig 2.7 Setyawan, Ngerumpy

Joey [3] wrote the notation for this technique for slenthem in her composition as shown in Fig. 2.8, while Septian [2] notated this technique using another system as shown in Fig. 2.9.

Fig. 2.8.jpg

Fig 2.8 Joey, Retrospect

Fig. 2.9.jpg

Fig 2.9 Septian, Maghrib

2.3.2 Damp the plate during strike

This technique is used when the player needs to play more than one plate at the same time.  If we play more than one plate at the same time, both right hand and left hand are used to strike the plates.  Therefore, we need to use both right hand and left hand to damp the plates after we strike them.  The position for damping the plates is not always the edge of the plate.  It is a bit difficult to damp on the edge of the plate if one damps the plates using both right and left hand.  

Players can damp in the middle of the plate when they damp using both hands to avoid having one of the plates still ring after damping. This technique is also useful if the player needs to play staccato while letting other plates ring. A player can also use this technique when they play staccato on more than one plate at the same time.  In this case, damping should be done in the middle of the plates to prevent any unwanted resonance in the plates.  There is no special notation for this technique.  The notation to play for this technique is the same as the notation to play using a normal technique.  

 

This damping technique is also used when the player needs to damp the plate while playing glissando. Gamelan Salukat used this technique while performing Siklus [7], a composition by Dewa Alit. 

 

3. Other Extended Techniques

3.1 Kenong Are Turned Upside Down

In The Time After-Reset by Dieter Mack [10], kenong pelog and slendro are turned upside down.  This arrangement of kenong can produce a sound like that of a gong. 

3.2 Playing Kenong with a Bow

In The Time After-Reset by Dieter Mack [10], kenong pelog and slendro, which are turned upside down, are not only struck with a mallet, but also played with a bow.  

Example of playing the kenong with bow in The Time After-Reset by Dieter Mack [10], performed by Ensemble Kyai Fatahillah:

3.3 Bonang Are Turned Upside Down

In The Time After-Reset [10], a few gongs in bonang are also turned upside down.  These gongs are played with the wood bonang mallet.  Fig. 3.1 shows the instruction for turning a few bonang upside down.

Fig. 3.1.jpg

Fig 3.1 Mack, The Time After-Reset

3.4 Play Bonang with Gender Mallet

It is possible to play bonang or other instruments in gamelan with other types of mallets.  By using other types of mallets, players can produce different dynamics on the bonang and other instruments in gamelan.  

 

For example, In The Time After-Reset by Dieter Mack, the player strikes bonang with a gender mallet.  The player plays tremolo in bonang with a gender mallet to produce a very soft sound,  as shown in Fig 3.2.  Moreover, the gender mallet is smaller than the bonang mallet, so it is easier to play tremolo at a pianissimo dynamics using a gender mallet than a bonang mallet. 

Fig. 3.2.jpg

Fig 3.2 Mack, The Time After-Reset

As mentioned previously, a few bonang are turned upside down in The Time After-Reset by Dieter Mack [10].  These upside down bonang are not only struck using the bonang mallet, but also using a gender mallet.  Striking upside down bonang with a gender mallet produces a very soft sound.  

3.5 Play More Than One Instrument

It is possible for one player to play more than one gamelan instrument at the same time. Septian composed Maghrib [2] for saron pelog and saron slendro which are played by only one player, as shown in Fig. 3.3.  In Maghrib [2], saron pelog is located in front of saron slendro, so it is easier for a player to play both sarons at the same time.  The player can use two saron mallets and four gender mallets to play this composition.  The player also needs to damp the plate using both right hand and left hand to prevent the plates from ringing for too long. Damping in a very short time should be done using both hands in the middle of the plates, not on the edge of the plates, especially if the player plays glissando in one saron and then plays notes in another saron, as shown in Fig. 3.4.  In order to prevent the plates from ringing too long, until the rest as in Fig. 3.4, the player needs to damp all the plates in the saron slendro using one hand in the middle of the plates. This way the sound of the saron slendro will not be blended with the sound of saron pelog.  In the Fig 3.3, the instruction g.m tells the player to play using the gender mallet, while s.m tells the player to play using the saron mallet.  The player needs to use four gender mallets if the player plays more than one plate in saron as shown in Fig. 3.3.  If the player plays more than one saron using saron mallets, two saron mallets are needed for the two sarons. However, the player needs to put the mallets in a horizontal position, as mentioned before, so that the player can play four plates together at the same time, as shown in Fig. 3.3.  

Fig. 3.3.jpg

Fig 3.3 Septian, Maghrib

Fig. 3.4.jpg

Fig 3.4 Septian, Maghrib

Another composition which used more than one gamelan instrument played by one player is The Time After-Reset by Dieter Mack [10], as shown in Fig 3.5.  In this composition, several players play two gamelan instruments at the same time.  The set-up of sarons is for one saron to be located in front of another.  

Fig. 3.5.jpg

Fig 3.5 Mack, The Time After-Reset

3.6 Play With String

In Siklus composed by Dewa Alit, the players swipe the edge of the plates with the string of the bow.  

 

The example of this technique in Siklus by Dewa Alit, performed by Gamelan Salukat:

3.7 Play With Bow

In Magrib [2], the sarons are played using a double bass bow.  Septian wrote the instruction for this technique using the symbol shown in Fig. 3.6.  For this technique, the player needs to put the bow on the edge of the plates, then play from the tip of the bow to the frog. 

Fig. 3.6.jpg

Fig 3.6 Septian, Maghrib

This technique is also used in The Time After-Reset [10].  In this composition, the player plays the kenong using the bow. 

 

References

[1] C. B. Setyawan, Ngerumpy (2019)
[2] D.C. Septian, Maghrib (2020)
[3] Y. Zhe Qi Joey, Retrospect (2018)
[4] M.A. Aryadi, Spectrum (2017)
[5] M.A. Aryadi, Candi (2012)
[6] M.A. Aryadi, Kesurupan (2016)
[7] D. Alit, Siklus (2019)
[8] W.A. Sethares, The Gamelan. Tuning, Timbre, Spectrum, Scale. Springer, 2005.
[9] H. R. Mahardika, Labyrinth Trap (2019)
[10] D. Mack, The Time After Reset (2020)

 

Dini Pratiwi.jpg

Dini Pratiwi
Indonesia