Location: Montong Betok, East Lombok
Sound: Klentang (also spelled kelentang)
It’s not often I return to a music I’ve already shared - there’s too much new stuff out there waiting to be heard. Klentang is a worthy exception, though. I first wrote about this unique form of gamelan a year and a half ago, fresh off my latest trip to Lombok (an island, it’s turned out, which keeps calling me back for more.) Documentation of this art form is meager, so I felt it pressing to share, but in the end I had a nagging feeling that it wasn’t the best example. The group I’d recorded was thrown together in ten minutes, and the musicians themselves admitted they were out of practice. Since then, I’d dreamed of recording another klentang group, a fuller, more representative sample. Finally, here it is: the second in the ongoing Interlocking Lombok series.
I don’t want to repeat myself too much for those who’ve read the original; if you haven’t, check that post out now and return for more.
There's a handful of new insights to share. First is that there is likely no united terminology shared amongst the scattering of klentang groups still playing across Lombok. Whereas the group I’d recorded in Timbanuh had called the five tones of their ensemble penglima, pengempat, ceroncong, gegonteng, and pemotok, the group in Montong Betok seconded pengempat, penglima (calling it pelima), and pemotok, but also added the terms penengak and trompong (itself a name for various metallophones and gong chimes across Java, Bali and Lombok.) Each musician ideally knows the patterns required for each note, but that wasn’t always the case: I saw musicians calling their buddies to switch out when it came to a section in a gending that they were less familiar with.
The Montong Betok klentang also had the neat addition of an instrument they simply called gong. It's actually not a gong at all, but a row of instruments similar to the single-note klentang but with doubled-up iron bars hit by a special double-headed soft mallet. The twin bars of each instrument are slightly detuned to create that special acoustic beating called ombak or “wave.” The bassier tones of the gong play out a kind of bass line or frame melody, an added layer in the colotomic structure of the music.
The group was fleshed out in other ways: compared to the dozen or so individual metallophones in the Timbanuh group, this group had twenty-one, with multiple octaves and doubled notes represented (the group claims there can be as many as twenty-five in one group.) Also adding to the richer melodic texture is the addition of a suling, or bamboo flute, roughly following the melody being sketched out by the interlocking klentang.
Names of the klentang tunes or gending also begin to illuminate a connection to Balinese gamelan, with the piece “Mergepati” sharing the name and melody with a popular Balinese gending and dance form ("Margapati"), and the piece “Semarandana” may take its name from a variety of gamelan from the Island of the Gods next door. The more that I think about it, the more these Balinese roots are obvious. As was illuminated in my explorations of rebana reong, these Sasak interlocking arts seem to have roots especially in the interlocking figurations of the reong in the Balinese gamelan, right down to those intense tone clusters which shake the air when all notes ring out at once.
While the klentang remains on the periphery of modern musical life in Lombok, it became even clearer on this recent trip that it is a kind of touchstone for a variety of interlocking arts across the island, from rebana reong to tongkek and selober. This deconstructed gamelan may be hard to find these days, but its legacy still sings out across Lombok.
The village chief was a good man to know in these parts. Pak Kamrul, the kepala desa of Montong Betok, was doing everything he could to accomodate us in his one-street village deep in the heart of Lombok, even giving us a bed each and a full chicken to feast on for lunch. Kamrul’s son had uploaded a video of the Montong Betok klentang group to YouTube, and I’d quickly gotten in touch, as I do. Now here we were (my friends Logan, Jo, and I) being treated to the finest hospitality that Lombok has to offer.
Kamrul was an interesting man himself, a tough looking guy with a sleepy way of talking and a young wife who he told me, braggingly, was his late wife’s cousin. He’d made a decent fortune in the business of setting up jobless Sasak men with hard labor jobs in Malaysia -a big deal, we later realized, when we started to take in the sheer extent of unemployment and poverty in Lombok and the remarkable number of men we met who had done a stint in the neighboring country.
Perhaps because of this powerful position to decide the economic fates of desperate young men across the island, it seemed that all Pak Kamrul had to do was ask for something and it would be done. We arrived on a Thursday, not a day where the klentang group would generally have their routine practice. No matter, they’ll play tonight, we were told. You came here to hear klentang, he was saying, and I’ll make it happen.
That night we went to a nearby home where the dozens of anvil-like instruments were already strewn across a narrow indoor space. As we set up our recorders, men filed in one after another, all sarongs and secondhand baseball caps. Jidor drums were tuned and the men switched about, trying to find the klentang whose patterns they were most familiar with. We recorded a bit inside before somebody decided it was too claustrophobic: more musicians were coming, and we couldn’t even fit them all in the room.
At Pak Kamrul’s word, the whole huge ensemble migrated, lugging instruments to a dirt courtyard. Woven grass floormats and instruments were arranged in a nice, easily recordable oval, with the suling guy sitting outside it all, trying desperately to get his flute to sound through a questionable tangle of cables.
As Pak Kamrul told it, the band had only just decided to start playing again. Just like the group I met in Timbanuh, these guys hadn’t played klentang in years until recently. As Kamrul fancies himself a patron of the arts, he got the band together again (or at least, all the old guys in the village who remember how to play) and started routine practices again. The sound was still a bit sloppy, and understandably so: this is really quite difficult music to play. Melodic sections require musicians to hit their single iron bar at precisely the right moment to complete the melodic puzzle piece. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. But when they did, it sounded spectacular. Here was the klentang I’d always wanted to hear, in its full, fleshed-out glory.
Recordings mixed and mastered by Jo Lamont, with recording help from Logan Hallay. Thank you to Pak Kamrul, Yan, and the musicians of Montong Betok.