Saron Techniques

Introduction

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Fig 1 Balinese Gamelan

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Fig 2 Javanese Gamelan

Gamelan is one of the Indonesian traditional instruments.  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 biggest saron and has the lowest octave of the saron group.  Saron peking is the smallest saron and has the highest octave of the saron group.  Saron barung has the medium size in saron group and has higher octave than demung, but lower octave than peking.  There are two types of saron based on the tunning: saron pelog and saron slendro.  

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Fig 3 Saron Slendro

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Fig 4 Saron Pelog

 

Techniques

1. Stroke Techniques

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

1.1 Normal Stroke

For general purpose playing, right hand strikes the plates in the middle and dumps the plate after ringing for a while.  Right hand strikes the plate with a traditional mallet, then left hand mute the plate.  Fig 1 show the notation to let the plate the ring until we damp the plate on the rest.  There are few examples for normal playing of saron as shown in Fig 1.2, Fig 1.3 and Fig 1.4.  Several composers wrote l.v. in the score as indication to let the plates ring.

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Fig 1.1 Notation for normal playing

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Fig 1.2 Septian, Maghrib

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Fig 1.3 Joey, Retrospect

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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 in saron.  More than one mallets are required to play for this technique, especially if the plates that we play are far apart from each other.  We could also play four plates at the same time by using two mallets.  In that case, we need to rotate the mallet horizontally as shown in Fig. 1.5.  

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Fig 1.5 Play with horizontal position

It is better to use the mallets with bigger size for this technique because the mallet can cover more plates.  Fig.1.6 shows the example of the notation to write more than one notes in saron.  As mention in section dampening technique that we need to damp the plate with both right and left hand while we strike more than one plate in saron.  Therefore, the damping technique is important if we play this stroke technique. It is also possible to produce dynamics while we play 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 in saron. 

Fig 1.7 Setyawan, Ngerumpy

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

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Fig 1.8 Septian,  Maghrib

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Fig 1.9 Septian, Maghrib

In Time After-Reset by Dieter Mack, the players play more than plate using two saron mallets. 

1.2.2 Backend of Mallets

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

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Fig 1.10 Backend of Mallet

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Fig 1.11 Joey, Retrospect

1.2.3 Side of Mallet

If we play grace not in the saron, we can use side of traditional saron mallet by sliding the mallet.  One example of this technique is in the Fig 1.12, Retrospect by Joey [3], use this technique in saron demung.  Joey wrote the instruction to play this technique in the score.  

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Fig 1.12 Joey, Retrospect

1.2.4. Tremolo in saron

Light mallet is needed to play tremolo in saron.  To produce good sound for tremolo in saron, we need to let the mallet bounce on the plate, so it is better not to stroke the plate strongly.  We could also use another type of mallet for percussion to produce better sound for tremolo.  It is also easier to control the dynamic for tremolo if we use percussion mallet, not traditional saron mallet.  Fig. 1.13 is an example of tremolo in saron in Ngerumpy [1] with different dynamics.   

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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, we need to strike the plate with two mallets in horizontal position as in the Fig 1.5.  In Maghrib [2], we need to use two mallets to play tremolo in saron pelog and saron slendro.  One mallet plays tremolo saron pelog and another mallet strikes saron slendro.  Both mallet should be in horizontal position, so it can cover two plates in a saron.

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Fig 1.14 Septian, Maghrib

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

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

1.2.5 Glissando in Saron

We can use saron mallet or percussion mallet to play glissando in saron. Fig. 1.15 shows the example of descending glissando in saron, while Fig. 1.16 shows ascending glissando with gradual dynamic from soft to loud.  In Maghrib [2], there is glissando in 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 glissando in saron pelog and saron slendro.  The position of both mallets should be a bit horizontal so it will be easier to play glissando.  To prevent all plates ringing together, we need to damp the plate using hand in the middle of the plates

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Fig 1.15 Septian, Maghrib

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Fig 1.16 Septian, Maghrib

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Fig 1.17 Septian, Maghrib

One of the Indonesian composers Dewa Alit, wrote a composition, Siklus, to damp the plate while playing glissando [7].  In that composition, there is also another technique to use backend of mallet to play glissando.  

Damp while playing glissando

1.2.6 Edge of the plate

If we want to play saron with pp dynamic or produce very soft sound, we could stroke in the edge of the plate with gently.

 

2. Damping Techniques

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

2.1 Normal Damping

Normal damping is used for general purpose playing in traditional system for gamelan.  Left hand damp the edge of the plates after right hand strike the plates, but we need to let the plates ring before we damp the plates [8].  As shown in Fig 2.1, the slur indicates that we need to let the plates ring before we damp the plate at the rest.  If we want to play as shown in Fig 2.2, during we strike another plate, we need to damp the plate which is already played before.  For the case in Fig 2.2, we use left hand to mute first plate at the same time we strike the fifth plate with right hand.  

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Fig 2.1 Notation for normal damping

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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 muted or dampened is shown in Fig 2.3.

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Fig 2.3 Notation for playing without damped

2.3 Extended Techniques for Damping

There are few extended techniques that can be played in saron to produce sound with different articulation.

2.3.1 Damping for Staccato

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

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Fig 2.4 Notation for Staccato

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Fig 2.5 Mahardika, Labyrith Trap

2.3.2 Damp the plate during strike

This technique is good to produce piercing attack in saron.  Left hand should hold edge of the plates while we strike the plates.  Fig. 2.6 shows the notation for damp the plate during strike.

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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 stroking technique, so we still can play forte although the plate is dampened.  

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Fig 2.7 Setyawan, Ngerumpy

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

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Fig 2.8 Joey, Retrospect

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Fig 2.9 Septian, Maghrib

2.3.2 Damp the plate during strike

This technique is used while we need to play more than one plates together at the same times.  If we play more one plates 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 the plates.  The position for damping the plates is not always on the edge of the plate.  It is a bit difficult to damp on the edge of the plate if damp the plates using right and left hand.  

 

We can damp in the middle of the plate while we damp using both hands to avoid one of the plates still ringing after damping. This technique is also useful if we need to play staccato while let other plates ring. We could also use this technique when we play staccato for more than plate at the same time.  In this case, damping should be done in the middle of the plates to prevent any resonance in the plates.  There is no special notation for this technique.  The notation to play for this technique is same as the notation to play normal technique.  

 

This damping technique is also used if we need to damp the plate while playing glissando. Gamelan Salukat used this technique while performing Siklus [7], a composition by Dewa Alit. They damped the plate in the middle of the plate while playing glissando.  

 

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 gong. 

3.2 Play Kenong with Bow

In The Time After-Reset by Dieter Mack [10], kenong pelog and slendro which are turned upside down are not only strike with mallet, but also played with the 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], few gongs in bonang are also turned upside down.  These gongs are played with the wood bonang mallet.  Fig. 3.1 shows the instruction that few bonang are turned upside down.

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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 mallet.  By using other types of mallet, we can produce different dynamics to play bonang and other instruments in gamelan.  

 

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

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Fig 3.2 Mack, The Time After-Reset

It is already mentioned before that few bonang are turned upside down in The Time After-Reset by Dieter Mack [10].  This turned upside down bonang are not only strike using bonang mallet, but also strike using another type of mallet.  In The Time After-Reset by Dieter Mack [10], the performer plays bonang which are turned upside down with gender mallet.  The player strikes the edge of the turned upside down of bonang with gender mallet.  Striking turned upside down bonang with gender mallet will produce very soft sound.  

3.5 Play More Than One Instruments

It is possible for one player to play more than one gamelan instruments at the same time.  Septian composed Maghrib [2] for saron pelog and saron slendro which are played only by one player as shown in Fig. 3.3.  In Maghrib [2], saron pelog is located on in front of saron slendro, so it will be 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 to plates ring too long.  Damping in very short time can 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, then play notes in another saron as shown in Fig. 3.4.  In order to prevent the plates ringing too long until the rest as in Fig. 3.4, the player needs to damp all the plates in saron slendro using one hand in the middle of the plates, so the sound in saron slendro will be not blended with the sound in saron pelog.  In the Fig 3.3, instruction g.m means to play using gender mallet, while s.m means to play using 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 mallet, two saron mallets are needed for two saron, However, the player needs to put the mallet in horizontal position as mentioned before, so the player can play four plates together at the same time as shown in Fig. 3.3.  

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Fig 3.3 Septian, Maghrib

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Fig 3.4 Septian, Maghrib

Another composition which used more than one gamelan instruments which are 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 one saron also located in front of another saron.  

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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], there is another extended technique to play the sarons using double bass bow.  Septian wrote the instruction of this technique using a symbol in the score as 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 of the bow. 

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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 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)

 

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