Bali Bamboo Music

When in Bali in 1984, I was walking home one night sometime past midnight. In the distant I heard a deep percussive sound that led me behind a few buildings to a covered performance area. It was a full performance of Jegog Bumbung, a dance drama where a cocky young man chased a single woman dancer. She coyly flirted with him until he caught her and then submitted to his charms. After an intermission there was a scream and the man flew out behind the screen in fear chased by his newly married wife who is now obviously in the dominant role. The music was performed by an orchestra of struck bamboo tubes open on one end with a large tongues carved on one side, suspended in frames. The largest of these instruments had pipes at least three metres long. They were accompanied by a number of sets of progressively smaller instruments playing the characteristic Balinese interlocking rhythms. This ensemble of instruments is called Gamelan Grantang. The sound of the big instruments was very round and deep and traveled well in the night air. This performance went on for hours and although I was the only non-Balinese there I sat listening and watching to almost dawn.


A few weeks later, I ran into another version of a bamboo gamelan in a small village close to where I had found a small cabin to rent on the beach (see Bali Night). One morning I again followed music in the air and came upon two men sitting on their porch playing a matched pair of bamboo instruments called tingklik, which looked identical to the smallest of the instruments played in the Gamelan Grantang. Although they played very fast interlocking parts, they didn’t seem to tire as they played for almost an hour.

The older man invited me to sit down, served me tea and they continued to play. After playing for a while, he asked me if I would like to try the instrument, and handed me the mallets. Although the tingklik is about a dozen hollow tuned bamboo tubes suspended from a small frame the technique for playing it is quite complex. The left hand plays a rather simple melody on the lower tubes, while the right hand plays the rapid intricate patterns following the melody while interlocking with the second instrument.

On just hearing the piece, I was only able to remember a few notes on the right hand before making a mistake at which point my impromptu teacher, took the mallets from my hand and played the piece again, all fifteen minutes of it! He then calmly handed the mallets back to me and asked me to try again. I only managed to play a few more notes correctly before running into problems, and again the mallets were politely taken from my hands, and the full fifteen-minute piece was played again. This process continued well into the afternoon, with my teacher patiently playing the full piece again and again as I muddled my way through it.

Obviously this was a normal for my teacher, and he seemed to have all the time and patience in the world. After many hours, I was exhausted and somewhat frustrated, and we sat for a while to talk and drink tea. While we talked his five year-old son picked up a mallet and slowly but accurately played the whole piece. I realized that I had the wrong teacher, as it would have been easier for me to learn from the five year-old! When I asked how long my teacher had been teaching his son, he replied “Oh I haven’t taught him anything, he has just heard me play so much, He knows all the pieces by heart.”

Our modern world doesn’t allow us to have the time or patience for this type of musical transmission, and I didn’t have the time to stay and study this amazing instrument, although I really wanted to. I imagine that growing up from birth hearing these sounds would implant the music far deeper in your psyche than any other form of learning. Maybe I was born in the wrong time.

I was so intrigued by these instrumental discoveries that I explored more and found that there were pockets of unique music and instruments everywhere in Bali. The two tingklik played together is often referred to as Gamelan Rindik, although a full Rindik often uses a suling, and there is also another large bamboo ensemble called Gamelan Jegog that uses a four-note scale. I have recently learned that there are versions in Java as well. (see: Aural Archipelago)

Mystery gamelan
Mystery gamelan

A month after my impromptu lesson, I traveled to a small village in northern Bali to discover a single bamboo xylophone that was quite different in shape than any other that I had seen on the island. It had bamboo slats of different sizes for keys and bamboo tube resonators. I asked some local people where the instrument was from. “From here,” they replied, “it’s native to our village.” “Do you know anybody who can play it?” I asked. “There is no-one left who knows how to play it,” they replied, “the last person died a year ago.” “Are there any recordings or books on how to play it?” I asked. “No,” was the reply, “nothing at all. The music is lost.” Hearing this was a shock and it deeply saddened me. Since then I have given a good portion of my life to support and preserve traditional instruments and music wherever I could.

Jogeg Bambung with the  Gamelan Grantang:

Gamelan Rindik:

The four note scale Gamelan Jegog:

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

2 thoughts on “Bali Bamboo Music”

  1. Hey Randy, thanks for sharing your experience as well as linking to my blog – much appreciated!

    Rindik/tingklik/grantang, perhaps because of it’s ubiquity and status as “tourist” music, has not been granted the serious attention it deserves. Ethnomusicologist Kendra Stepputat was the first to make a serious ethnomusicological investigation into this instrument – her article is a must-read (you can see it on JSTOR here:

    Stepputat interestingly mentions that Kunst had written about an instrument surprisingly similar to the playerless one you encountered in N. Bali:

    “In 1925, Kunst described an instrument he called the tingklik as “een soort van bamboe-genders” (a kind of bamboo-gender6). He adds that the keys are placed over bamboo-resonators: “De toetsen bevinden zich elk zwevende boven een bamboe-klankbuis” (Kunst 1925, 126). In addition to the instrument tingklik, he mentions another bamboo-xylophone called the grantang. Kunst defines the grantang as an instrument with tube-shaped bamboo keys (Kunst
    1925, 104f).”

    Interestingly, at the time, that instrument was called tingklik! Stepputat explains how the names for these various bamboo instruments have been shifting in confusing ways over the past hundred years – even now, there is no one “true” name.

    Another fascinating point in this paper on the origins of rindik/tingklik: “Due to handed-down, common knowledge on Bali, underpinned by the one recorded source from McPhee, it appears that the rindik was originally used the same way it is today: as a solo instrument for leisure, played in rural surroundings.33 It looks as if another performance context did not exist at that time. Only later did people begin to combine two instruments and play the rindik the way almost all Balinese gamelan instruments are played-as isep and umbang.”

    So the rindik’s origins are in an instrument like the one you encountered in N. Bali, as well as the angklung paglak I wrote about – non-performative farmer’s music. Actually, later in the paper, Stepputat hypothesizes that the context of rindik today as a performative art using paired rindiks in fact likely evolved from it’s use as “background music” for tourists, as it is often encountered today. I like how this complicates traditional notions of “authenticity” – the context and form of rindik music today may not be as it is if it were not for the “interference” of Western tourists in the Balinese music scene!

    I have a story myself about my first encounter with joged bumbung music during my first trip to Bali. I had been invited to a cremation ceremony by some gamelan musicians in a village near Jatiluwih. I was surprised to find the group set up on the street outside the temple – while the gamelan, as sacred music, so often plays within a temple, the joged bumbung, as secular folk music, was to be played outside it’s walls. I would soon see why.

    After the sun set, the band began to play, and just as you’d seen, a woman dressed in beautiful elaborate costume, burning incense in hair and all, gracefully made her way to the center of the street. A man emerged from the audience (the whole village seemed to be there) and began to flirtatiously approach her through dance, with the woman coyly refusing his advances. Sounds similar to what you saw, right? What happened next was unexpected: the man approached the woman from behind, bent her over, and proceeded to graphically simulate intercourse in the middle of the street. The woman did not resist, merely shyly twitching her fan.

    I thought the man must surely be a drunk troublemaker, an anomaly! But after he was “finished,” another man emerged from the audience, then another, all performing graphic, thrusting simulations in the street. This continued throughout the night with multiple female dancers. I would later learn that this “joged bumbung nakal” – “naughty joged bumbung” – is something of a dirty little secret in Balinese culture. A quick YouTube search will show that what I encountered was not some isolated moment of debauchery, but a real, salacious variety of the traditional joged bumbung dance.


    1. Palmer
      Thanks for the comments. Authenticity is as you know is often quite contentious, as musical traditions are dynamic and may contain many divergent influences. A good example is Walter Spies influence on Kecak, the Monkey Chant. I personally have had an influence on a couple of different musical styles. In actions that I took, sometimes innocently, I stepped away from the observer/outsider position to recontextualize music from social/ritualistic to performative, in an effort to preserve it.

      A good example is my efforts to start the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, to provide a venue for traditional music to be performed alongside the traditional musics of other cultures. The festival sparked a resurgence of cultural identity within the Dayak peoples of the region whom prior to the festival were being absorbed by mainstream culture driven by political forces. Traditional instruments are being embraced by the youth of the region, but the music has substantially changed. The sape being the main instrument of choice, followed by gongs and drums. Authenticity has suffered, but identity is strong. The bright side is that some youth have been introduced to the instruments through pop uses, but then further explore the tradition and are now performing it. However, no-one local that I know of is exploring the older styles of pre-Missionary music that can still be found in rapidly diminishing amounts in the longhouses.

      Your comments on joged bumbung nakal are amusing. For those that idealize other cultures, something like this can be quite a shock. Humans are always full of surprises!


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