When Sir Francis Drake visited Java in 1580 during his circumnavigation of the world, he wrote of encountering music ‘of a very strange kind, pleasant and delightful.’
He was almost certainly describing the shimmering, ethereal sound we know today as gamelan. Unique to the Indonesian islands of Java, Bali and Lombok, gamelan ensembles essentially consist of tuned percussion in the form of gongs, metallophones and drums sometimes augmented by singers, bamboo flutes and spike fiddles.
Within the genre, there exists a surprisingly diverse range of gamelan styles from stately ceremonial court music to joyously spirited village styles.
Numerous Western composers from Debussy to Benjamin Britten have been strongly influenced by gamelan’s sonorous exoticism.