The word gamelan refers to a set of predominantly percussive instruments featuring tuned bronze gongs, bronze-keyed instruments, and drums (as well as a zither, flute, fiddle, and singing). Similar ensembles are found throughout Southeast Asia, but the gamelans of Java and Bali have received the most world-wide attention and aclaim. The gamelan owned by UCR is from Java and in the five-tone sléndro tuning. Gamelans are performed as concert music or to accompany dance and theater. Depending on the experience of the group, performances may range from simple concerts to magnificent multi-media productions of dance drama or shadow puppet theater. The music itself is based on a simple, repetitive central melody played on certain bronze-keyed instruments, punctuated at different points by various kinds of gongs.
Still other keyed and gong-chime instruments elaborate on the central melody. The more difficult elaborating instruments involve improvisation, in some ways similar to jazz improvisation. The total effect is a kind of dense texture of musical layering with percussive instrumental parts moving through time at different rates. Over this lush texture, one will also hear singing, as well as the fiddle and flute parts, all apparently "floating" above the highly rhythmical percussion instruments. Thus, gamelan is initially easy to learn yet, depending on the instrument and the composition, it can increase in difficulty and complexity as one gains more skills. Each gamelan is a unique product of superb craftmanship and instrument building, both visually and aurally stunning. The wooden frames and cases of the instruments are elaborately carved and painted with detailed motifs. Gongs range from sets of small kettle-shaped forms that make up gong-chime instruments to massive knobbed gongs (some a meter or more in diameter) suspended from large wooden frames. A complete gamelan is made up of approximately forty instruments and includes (in addition to the gongs, drums, and bronze-keyed instruments) flutes, fiddles, and zithers.[The word "gamelan" refers to a musical tradition that has existed on the islands of Java and Bali for several hundred years before Earth Web appropriated the term for their World Wide Web directory of "Java" program resources.]
In 2004, UCR purchased a second gamelan set, named Kyai Telaga Semu (Venerable Lake of Illusions), from Klaten, Central Java. The new UCR gamelan set is absolutely gorgeous in both sound and appearance with instruments of high grade bronze gongs or keys set on elaborately carved and painted (brown and gold) cases. It is a large set with both sléndro and pélog tuning systems: in addition to the conventional bonang, bonang panerus, gendèr, gendèr panerus, gambang, siter, rebab, it has a total of four saron demung, eight saron barung (including two sléndro saron sanga) along with an expanded set of kenong, kempul, and gong siyem. The gamelan was purchased with the assistance of master musician Rasito Purwopangrawit who also named it. Arie Setyaningrum Pamungkas assisted in handling the transfer of funds and shipping arrangements.