Location: Huta Godang, Ulu Pungkut, North Sumatra
Sound: Gondang dua
[To read a more complete summary of the context and history behind Mandailing percussion, check out the post on gordang sambilan here.]
Gondang dua may be named after its two double-headed drums (the name translates to "two gondang [drums]), but it's a strange little bit of synecdoche. In the related gordang sambilan ensemble, the drums are king, the nine huge gordang clearly taking center stage. However, with gondang dua, there's a refreshing sense of equality amongst the instruments involved, from the mongmongan handheld gong-chimes, male and female ogung gongs and tali sasayak cymbals to the gondang drums themselves.
This patchwork leaves a surprising amount of sonic space, so threading through the locked-in percussive loops are the free-floating tones of the saleot (also called sarune) a unique little single-reed bamboo wind instrument with a unique construction: the reed is a vibrating slither carved off of the bamboo's side, under which sits a disk made of bone, four finger holes and a buffalo horn "bell". In this recording, the saleot trades off verses with a single vocalist intoning mournful poetic couplets called marungut-ungut. This moaning vocal art was described to me as lonely music, the saleot and vocals often played by one man, solo, when in a state of romantic or existential distress.
Unlike the royal gordang sambilan, whose massive size and intense ritual importance put it out of reach to most normal folks in Mandailing society, the gondang dua was traditionally music by and for the commoners. As such, it was (and still is, to a lesser degree) played at small weddings and funerals and other celebrations such as birthdays and circumcision celebrations.
Despite lacking the intensity of the roaring gordang sambilan, Margaret Kartomi notes in her book, Musical Travels in Sumatra, that the gondang dua is considered by many local musicians as producing "the most elegant balance of sound" of the three main Mandailing percussion ensembles (the third being gordang lima.) As the gongs hold back and the drums subtly beat out soft rhythms, the saleot and vocals can truly breathe, creating a musical texture unlike any other in Sumatra.
This recording was made at the same day and occasion as the gordang sambilan session: you can read more about the situation and feeling that day at the gordang post here.