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Jegog, and the secret of its four-tone scale

JEGOG, AND THE SECRET OF ITS FOUR-TONE SCALE

Jegog, indigenous to Bali’s western Jembrana Regency and in particular a number of villages around the Jembranan capital, Negara, is a musical performance born of the giant bamboo. One ‘orchestra’ is composed of fourteen bamboo xylophones, whose tubes may reach lengths of three metres, with walls 3cm dense, and a diameter of 20cm. When struck these mammoth instruments resonate at the deepest and lowest levels that the human ear can discern, producing sound waves that penetrate their surrounds and their audience as if nothing stands between them and infinity.

The jegog orchestra is the world’s only bamboo percussion with a four-tone scale. The four tones signify the four directions of north, south, east and west; in Bali’s own Bali-Hindu religion each direction houses its own god, and in the centre of all is the highest god, Shiva. The instruments’ logic and sound derive very strongly from the Bali-Hindu cosmology and philosophy, and this special connection makes them all the more unique in the world of gamelan.

JEGOG AND ITS LINKS TO BALANCE IN OUR WORLD

There are 11 components of harmony in the world within which we live.

This cosmic harmony and order is set by the eight directions and three gods: Vishnu, the Preserver; Brahma, the Creator; and Shiva, the Transformer, for a total of 11 components.

But it is also dictated by the equilibrium between complimentary pairs such as man and woman, heaven and earth, or dark and light; an upset amongst these results, it is believed, in the emergence of natural disasters and conflicts.

Bali’s traditional performing arts are all performed with consideration for such harmony. This is because they derive from music and musical tones that are born from prayer, which is considered the essential link between people and their gods. It is said that you will find both prayer and thanks embedded in music, and thus is music always a thing of beauty and enjoyment.

The four tones produced by jegog each express one of the four geographic directions, accompanied by a specific colour, and simultaneously embody the four gods dwelling within them.

DIAGRAM

Tone 1: North/Black/Vishnu (god of water)
Tone 2: East/White/Iswara (god of the sun)
Tone 3: South/Red/Brahma (god of fire)
Tone 4: West/Yellow/Mahadewa (god of the earth)

In turn, the four tones as a whole symbolise the centre of the four directions and the combination of the four colours—which come together in Shiva, the Protector.

The deep, low notes that rumble up from the earth; the sweet, high notes that spring around invitingly; these combined tones first clash, vigorously, before melding harmoniously. In jegog, the sounds become vertical waves and connect directly with the spirit, the core of everything that surrounds them: outdoors, they penetrate the earth, the trees and plants, the buildings; indoors, they also return to be re-absorbed, in an endless cycle. Wherever jegog is played it resonates with the unseen and inherent spiritual energy that is taksu.

JEGOG'S DESIGN AND ITS MANY PARTS

The jegog orchestra is made up of 14 tingklik (individual bamboo gamelan) of varying sizes.

Three barangan form the orchestra’s front row.
The barangan are the "melody keepers”. The musician playing in the middle of the three is this section’s leader.

Three kancil line up in the second row.
The kancil’s role is to maintain the rhythm.

The third row has three small suir in the centre. They are the high-pitched brothers of the kancil—more rhythm makers.

The suir are flanked by two celuluk. Also high-pitched, they contribute to the melody.

The grand jegog, or jegogan, is the centrepiece of the final row—and the namesake of both the orchestra and the music style.

On each side stand an undir. These three big guns, with tones so deep and low that they test human hearing, are the music band equivalent of the bass line.

All the instruments are played with mallets made of wood, but the heads are coated with thick, black rubber to play the jegog and undir.

The tubes of each of these instruments, of course, are made of bamboo, but it is the giant form that is indigenous to Jembrana Regency: the dendrocalamus giganteus. Twenty centimetres in diameter, the bamboo is cut to three metre lengths—and impossible to play from the standing position that is standard for the rest of the orchestra. Instead, a jegog player must sit on top of the tubes or, more explicitly, perch above on a wooden plank. And he is not alone—it takes two musicians to cover the full breadth.

The low boom of the jegog is enveloped by the similarly low resonance of the neighbouring undir, and it is thanks in part to the soft hit of the rubber mallet-heads that the notes sustain for so long, like a pipe organ.

Unusually, all the instruments are tuned slightly apart, so that when played as an ensemble the music has a particular rolling quality.

NOW LISTEN TO SOME JEGOG BY VISITING OUR "Audio" PAGE