Slendro

Slendro

Slendro (called "salendro" by the Sundanese) is a pentatonic scale, one of the two most common scales ("laras") used in Indonesian gamelan music, the other being pélog. Its five pitches are roughly equally spaced within the octave.

Tuning

From one region of Indonesia to another the slendro scale often varies widely. The amount of variation also varies from region to region. For example, Slendro in Central Java varies much less from gamelan to gamelan than it does in Bali, where ensembles from the same village may be tuned very differently.

As in pelog, although the intervals vary from one gamelan to the next, the intervals between notes in a scale are very close to identical for different instruments within the same gamelan. It is common in Balinese gamelan that instruments are played in pairs which are tuned slightly apart so as to produce interference beating which are ideally at a consistent speed for all pairs of notes in all registers. It is thought that this contributes to the very "busy" and "shimmering" sound of gamelan ensembles. In the religious ceremonies that contain Gamelan, these interference beats are meant to give the listener a feeling of a god's presence or a stepping stone to a meditative state.

For the instruments that do not need fixed pitches (such as suling and rebab) and the voice, other pitches are sometimes inserted into the scale. The Sundanese musicologist/teacher R. Machjar Angga Kusumadinata identified 17 vocal pitches used in slendro. [R. Machjar Angga Kusumadinata. "Ringkěsan Pangawikan Riněnggaswara". Jakarta: Noordhoff-Kollff, c. 1950, page 17. Cited in Mantle Hood. "The Nuclear Theme as a Determinant of Pathet in Javanese Music". New York: Da Capo, 1977.] These microtonal adjustments bear some similarity to Indian śruti.

Note names

The notes of the slendro scale can be designated in different ways; one common way is the use of numbers often called by their names in Javanese, especially in a shortened form. An older set uses names derived from parts of the body. Notice that both systems have the same designations for 5 and 6. There is no 4; possibly this is because it appears as an unusual tone in pelog and is not used when modulating between the systems.

The name "barang" is also sometimes used for 1 in slendro (it is the usual name for 7 in pelog); the octave is then designated as "barang alit".

Connotations

For experienced participants in gamelan music, the pelog and slendro scales each have a particular feeling, related to the rituals and circumstances in which the scale is used. For example, in Bali, slendro is felt to have a sad sound because it is used as the tuning of gamelan angklung, the traditional ensemble for cremation ceremonies.

The connotation also depends on the pathet (roughly, the mode) used. There are three slendro pathet used in Javanese gamelan, "nem", "sanga", and "manyura". That is the order in which they appear in a wayang performance, which historically used only slendro pathet. Consequently, they have the implications of where they appear in the evening.

Origin

The origin of the slendro scale is unknown. It is similar to scales used in Indian and Chinese music as well as other areas of Asia and they all may have a common origin. This is very difficult if not impossible to determine.

Even within Indonesia it is difficult to determine the evolution of scales. For example, scales used in Banyuwangi, at the eastern tip of Java, are very similar to scales used in Jembrana, a short distance away on Bali. There is probably no way to document which region influenced the other, or if they both evolved together.

References


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