Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Raffles Gamelan

The British Musuem will be displaying the gong and gambang in a small exhibition going up in April 2009, and I was brought in by curator Anouska Komlosy to the BM stores in Hackney to have a look at the instruments and consult on this yesterday. We also had a look at some of the other Raffles artefacts - a selection of wayang kulit, masks and the dolls that Anthony Forge has written about (

The Raffles gamelan at the BM is one of two gamelan collected by Raffles and shipping to England. I have yet to see the other gamelan at Claydon House - though I have read pictures and descriptions. The BM gamelan though is fascinating. All the instruments I have seen are heavily ornamented. The rancak of the gambang, for example, take the form of a peacock, while the gong has two garuda and instead of the customary naga on top of the gong stand has two chimeras - part naga, part bird, part fish. The painting is red cinnabar and gold leaf against a neutral black. It is pretty spectacular and so different from all other gamelan in Java that it is clear that Raffles commissioned this for display/exhibition purposes.

Many of the instruments and tabuh show little signs of use. An exception to this is the tabuh for the gambang - we could only find one of these tabuh in the box, it is not clear if the second will be found. Raffles in his History of Java (1817) records that Raden Rana Dipura (a consultant who accompanied him on his voyage back from Java) did a number of demonstrations on the gambang - including one ‘before an eminent composer.’ This seems to be the first performance in Europe by a Javanese musician. The tabuh of the gambang shows heavy signs of use. Also quite beat up are the 2 gong (gong gede and gong suwuk). I think that these come from a different foundry than the keys of the other instruments and might well have been purchased used. There is some writing inside the gong stand that might contain information about where the instruments were made... More to follow...

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