Location: Timbanuh, Kec. Pringgasela, East Lombok
Sound: Klentang (also spelled kelentang or kelenang, and locally called celencong)
Playing in a gamelan, with its motley assortment of metallophones, gongs, drums and more, is an exercise in teamwork. Sure, this could be said of any music group, but gamelan surely takes it to the next level - every instrument has its place, and if one gear in the great gamelan machine doesn't turn quite right, everything falls to pieces. Part of this has to do with the way that gamelan music is organized, with key melodies shared note-by-note in interlocking fashion between instruments and great structural weight placed on the single boom of a gong.
Klentang takes this teamwork up yet another notch. A rare variety of gamelan found in pockets around Lombok, its made up of a number of instruments that are a bit, shall we say "limited," on their own. That's because the majority of a klentang ensemble is like an exploded, deconstructed xylophone, with each resonant metal bar separated from its brethren and given a resonator of its own. Looking more like a collection of anvils than the makings of a musical ensemble, the individually simplistic instruments come together and, in a feat of musical alchemy, produce remarkably cohesive melodies.
In the ensemble documented here, twelve melodic instruments were played, named after the five tones of the pentatonic pelog scale that they collectively sing out: penglima, pengempal, ceroncong, gegonteng, and pemotok (how these five names are mapped onto the twelve or more instruments present was not explained!) While the instruments, with their flat steel keys, look like a deconstructed xylophone (or metallophone, to be precise), they function more like gong-chimes in ensembles like gendang beleq. In that and similar ensembles like the belaganjur marching band in Bali next door, melodies are pieced together by precisely timed striking and damping of small gongs, one or two to a person. In klentang, each musician typically plays one instrument, but in the hastily thrown together ensemble I recorded, a number of men were playing two or even three instruments out of necessity. In addition, a well-rounded klentang ensemble should have a rythmic foundation of gong, kendang (the common double-headed barrel-shaped drum) and jidur (a large, single-headed cylindrical drum), although at the time of recording only the jidur was around.
The musicians explained that klentang is traditionally played for weddings as well as circumcision ceremonies, where at the moment of the "snip," the band erupts into song. In this way, klentang shares a similar cultural function with the more well-known gendang beleq, and the musicians made this likeness clear, even demonstrating that songs traditionally played by gendang beleq ensembles can be transferred to the unique instrumentation of the klentang.
Even after some fairly obsessive research, I'd never heard of klentang until I was in Lombok, at which point I heard rumors of ensembles in villages across the island. When asked what kind of music it was, I received cryptic answers: sederhana, they told me - "simple." Satu alat, satu nada, they said - "one instrument, one note." With that description, it sounded not unlike angklung music I'd recorded in West Java, with melodies shared amongst simple bamboo shakers.
Finally, when staying in the village of Pringgasela in East Lombok, I had the chance to hear for myself: there was a klentang group in a village in the nearby hills, and my friend offered to drive me there. How could I say no?
Driven by curiosity (my friend had never heard the music either, despite being a local), we set off into the cool foothills that roll out from the epic peak of Mount Merapi, Lombok's famous volcano. We headed upward over aggressively bad rock-and-mud roads, stopping occasionally to ask a nearby farmer for directions. After reaching the village of Tinambuh, we asked around about klentang until finally getting a reply along the lines of "Oh that old stuff?"
We were led to a small communal space in which, in a cobwebby corner, sat the odd instruments of the klentang ensemble, dusty and unused. "We mostly play gendang beleq these days - we haven't played in at least four years" they told us. Is there any way we could record it? we asked. Sure, just give us a few minutes.
We'd already amassed quite the crowd just being newcomers to the village, not to mention that one of them was a white guy asking weird questions in Indonesian. A few men young and old emerged from the crowd and started to spread the instruments out in the space, searching for wooden beaters and testing to make sure the metal bars were still playable. As we sat and sipped coffee, men streamed in and took their places behind the instruments as if they were attending a regular rehearsal. After a few minutes of getting their bearings with these forgotten instruments, they blasted into a tune, single notes coalescing in the air to form a raucous, clanging melody.
After we'd recorded a few songs, one of the old men who'd played sat down next to me and shook his head with a smile.
"This music was sleeping before," he said. He turned and looked at the instruments all lined up, freshly charged with musical energy.
"You've just woken it up."
*Musicians Credits: Nuraini, Amaq Nosi, Amaq Sur, Amaq Ulfa, Amaq Anggra, Amaq Sahab, Amaq Isnun, Amaq Rika, Papuk Al. Terima kasih banyak semuanya!