Analysis and Perception of Javanese Gamelan Tunings

  • Gerrit WendtEmail author
  • Rolf Bader
Part of the Current Research in Systematic Musicology book series (CRSM, volume 5)


Gamelan music as performed on the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali is one of the most well known and well studied non-European music traditions. Especially the tunings of gamelan ensembles have fascinated researchers since the early stages of the disciplines of Systematic and Comparative Musicology, as these tunings are considerably different from Western, Middle Eastern or other music traditions and even differ between gamelan ensembles. Additionally most instruments of the ensemble are percussion instruments with inharmonic overtone spectra. One way to explain certain characteristics of gamelan tunings is by relating the inharmonic sound spectra of the percussion instruments to the perception of dissonance. This theory is assuming that the psychoacoustic sensation described as auditory roughness is perceived as dissonant and is therefore avoided. This study investigates the influence of musical roughness on the perception of different gamelan tunings by correlating psychoacoustic measurements with a perception test in an online survey. Based on sound samples of an existing gamelan ensemble set based in Hamburg, Germany, a gamelan tune was built in a DAW. By detuning the sounds, several versions of the tune in different temperaments were built. It appears that the measured roughness perception and roughness measurements of the different tunes correlate very well for all detuned cases. Still the original piece does not correlate, pointing to a different perception strategy for the original ensemble tuning.



The instruments whose tones were recorded for the stimuli of this study are part of the Gamelan Margi Bodoyo that belongs to the Indonesian Consulate of Hamburg (KJRI). We thank the Consulate for their support.


  1. 1.
    Sutton, R. Anderson. (1985). Musical Pluralism in Java: Three Local Traditions. Ethnomusicology, Vol. 29 (1), 56–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Pickvance, Richard. (2005). A Gamelan Manual: A Player’s Guide to the Central Javanese Gamelan, London: Jaman Mas Books.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Hood, Mantle. (1980). The Evolution of the Javanese Gamelan: Book 1: Music of the Roaring Sea. Heinrichshofen.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Kieven, Lydia (2006). Sound and movement in stone - music and dance in ancient Javanese art. In: Andreas Lüderwaldt (eds.), Contemporary Gamelan Music: 3. Internationales Gamelan Musik Festival Bremen 2006. Jahrbuch XIV Überseemuseum Bremen. (pp. 9–22). Bremen.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Sumarsam. (1981). The Musical Practice of the Gamelan Sekaten. Asian Music, Vol. 12 (2), 54–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Brinner, Benjamin. (1993). A Musical Time Capsule from Java. Journal of the American Musicological Society, 46, (2), 221–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Vetter, Roger. (1989). A Retrospect on a Century of Gamelan Tone Measurements. Ethnomusicology, 33, (2), 217–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Hornbostel, E. M. (1927). Musikalische Tonsysteme. In H. Geiger & K. Scheel (Eds.), Handbuch der Physik (8th Edn., pp 425–449). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Sethares, William A. (2004). Tuning, Timbre, Spectrum, Scale. Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Fletcher, Harvey, ‘Auditory Patterns’, Rev. Mod. Phys., 12, (Jan, 1940), 47–65.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Helmholtz, Herman von (1863), Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage der für die Theorie der Musik, Braunschweig: Vieweg (3. Aufl. 1870, 5 Uaf. 1896, 6 Aufl. 1913)Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Vasilakis, Pantelis N. (2005). Auditory Roughness as a Means of Musical Expression. In Kendall, Roger A. & Savage, W.H (Eds.) Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology, 12: 119–144 (Special Issue: Perspectives in Systematic Musicology)Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Ramaer, Huib. (2004). Sinta Wullur and the Diatonic Gamelan. Balungan, 9–10, S. 30–33.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Suppangah, Rahayu. (2003). Campur Sari, A Reflection. Asian Music, Vol. 34 (2), 1–20.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Alves, Bill. (1997). “Pleng: Composing for a Justly Tuned Gender Barung,” Presented at the Fourth International Symposium and Festival of Intercultural Music, London, April 1996, Journal of the Just Intonation Network 1, 4–11.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Surjodiningrat, Wasisto, et al. (1972). Tone Measurements of Outstanding Javanese Gamelans in Jogakarta and Surakarta. Second ed., Jogjakarta: Gadjah Mada University Press.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Schneider, Albrecht., Ruschkowski, Arne., & Bader, Rolf. (2009). Klangliche Rauhigkeit, ihre Wahrnehmung und Messung., In Bader, Rolf. (Eds.) Musikalische Akustik, Neurokognition und Musikpsychologie. Hamburger Jahrbuch für Musikwissenschaft, 25, (pp. 103–149) Frankfurt am Main: Peter LandGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Systematic MusicologyHamburgGermany

Personalised recommendations