CD Release date: September 17, 2006.
This CD contains all the tracks on Lokananta cassette ACD 018. The cassette was issued on the 12th of October, 1972. RRI Bandung gamelan led by E,Tjarmedi.
Lokananta ACD 018
Notes by Henry Spiller
Assistant Professor of Music, University of California, Davis
Gamelan Degung: Lingkungan Seni Parahyangan.
The Sundanese degung ensemble originated in the courts of the Sundanese bupati (hereditary regional rulers) and reached its first pinnacle in the early decades of the twentieth century. Its roots probably lie in archaic ceremonial gamelan ensembles that were brought to West Java centuries ago. Degung style and repertory developed independently of the more familiar Central Javanese gamelan; as a result, its instrumentation and idioms are quite distinct. Degung almost disappeared from the Sundanese landscape after World War II; however, the Bandung branch of Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI) initiated a revival in the 1950s when they asked Entjar Tjarmedi, along with a few old-time degung musicians, to form a group to play on the radio. They named the group "Parahyangan" after the old traditional name for the highland parts of West Java that means "land of the gods" (lingkungan seni is a translation of the Dutch term "kunstkring"; both mean "arts circle," which is a conventional label for Sundanese performing arts troupes). Faced with finding fresh ideas for their frequent broadcasts, Tjarmedi and his colleagues expanded the degung repertory by composing new pieces in the old style as well as adapting other kinds of Sundanese music for performance on the degung instruments. Over the course of twenty years or so, L.S. Parahyangan transformed the austere, courtly, exclusively instrumental degung tradition into a modern, versatile ensemble that could play a variety of interesting and lively styles of music.
This classic Lokananta recording highlights one of the group's earliest innovations: rampak sekar (choral singing). The old-style degung pieces, often called lagu klasik (classical pieces), were considered difficult to listen to because of their long, meandering melodies, unpredictable formal structures, and overall abstractness. Members of the group composed lyrics to go along with the lagu klasik to make them a bit less obtuse; since solo singing (especially by women) was associated with more popular musical styles, choral singing provided a means to preserve the pieces' classical dignity while appealing to a broader audience (later degung innovations involved solo singing; listen to another in this series LOK 003, "Beber Layar," for examples).
Modern Sundanese people look back to the medieval West Javanese kingdom of Pajajaran (1333 - 1579) as a homeland and for the roots of Sundanese culture. Stories and cultural images have developed a romanticized vision of Pajajaran as a mystical, ethical utopia of great beauty and and its rulers as models of wisdom and power; the memory of Pajajaran inspires modern Sundanese people to maintain a strong Sundanese identity. The uniquely Sundanese sound of the gamelan degung is a part of this vision. According to Imik Suwarsih (Tjarmedi's widow), Tjarmedi composed the piece in bed; she awoke one night to find him playing an imaginary bonang (gong chime) as he put the piece together.
The words (which were added later) recall the beauty of Pajajaran during the reign of its most famous ruler, Prabu Siliwangi. With its beautiful mountains (Pangrango, Gede, and Salak), from which rivers flow with clear running water for the rice fields, the romantic image of Pajajaran provides a potent symbol of identity for modern Sundanese people.
A favorite character in any Pajajaran story is the Lengser, an envoy of the king who is both wise and comical, and who successfully translates the inscrutable motives and actions of royalty into terms that common people can understand. Lengser characters played important roles in Sundanese stories that provided the plots for grand music-dramas called gending karesmen that were produced in Bandung in the 1960s. To evoke the appropriate Sundanese atmosphere, gamelan degung was a key component of gending karesmen accompaniments. Tjarmedi probably composed this dynamic piece for a production of the gending karesmen "Mundinglaya Sabarangit" in 1962.
Midang means “going out”; the title might be translated as “Lengser on duty.” One particularly notable feature of "Lengser Midang" is its many contrasting sections, some of which are adaptations of previously existing degung songs; the different sections feature solo male, solo female, and female choral singing which suggest the various roles of the story. The words describe the Lengser and his entourage of dayang-dayang (female court servants) as he performs his duties spreading news of the king, as well as the beautiful scenery they encounter along the way.
Many of the old degung pieces are connected to water and to boating; sailing and fishing were among the favorite pastimes of Sundanese aristocrats. "Padayungan" means "rowing a boat" and is among the very old degung pieces whose composer is no longer remembered. Ono Sukarno, an old-time musician who played in the bupati of Bandung's degung group in the 1920s, composed these words, which have little to do with the title; they describe humming the tune of “Padayungan” while getting ready for the day’s work, in fellowship with the various kinds of laborers all over the countryside.
The title "Lambang Parahyangan" means "symbol of Parahyangan." Like "Lengser Midang," this piece is a suite formed from fragments of several pre-existing tunes. The free-rhythm vocal solo, for example, is from the tembang Sunda (sung poetry accompanied by kacapi [zither] and suling [bamboo flute]) repertory, and features singing in the refined tembang style.
The lyrics describe the city of Bandung, the capital of Parahyangan, and the bittersweet feelings of nostalgia that the area’s natural beauty evokes, by referring to a Sundanese version of the Oedipus myth. The legend relates how the hero Sangkuriang, as a baby, was separated from his mother, the goddess Dayang Sumbi. They met many years later and fell in love without knowing they were related. Dayang Sumbi eventually recognized Sangkuriang as her long-lost child when she saw an identifying scar on his head and realized she was about to wed her own son. To avoid an incestuous relationship, she set an impossible task for him to perform as a condition for their marriage; she demanded that he create for her a lake by damming the river, and build her a pleasure boat to sail in itall in a single night. With his superhuman talents, Sangkuriang was well on his way to completing the task when Dayang Sumbi called upon her own supernatural powers to bring the dawn early. Sangkuriang was so angry at his failure that he hurled the boat he was building to the shore; it landed upside down and formed the dramatic volcanic crater known as Tangkuban Prahu (which means "overturned boat") that dominates the horizon above the modern city of Bandung, where it serves as a symbol of Bandung and of the region known as Parahyangan.
Uking Sukri was a remarkable musician who, in addition to performing with the radio station's degung group, was a highly-regarded master of tembang Sunda and one of the pioneers of kacapi-suling, a form of instrumental music featuring the accompanying instruments of tembang. "Karang Ulun" is a title that Sundanese speakers find difficult to interpret, let alone translate: karang can refer to a reef or rock formation, but here also imply a literary work; ulun suggests paying respect or doing service. The lyrics praise the artists, pujangga (poets), musicians, and singers who have dedicated their lives to enriching and preserving Sundanese culture; they maintain the solid foundations of a uniquely Sundanese way of life despite the obstacles and distractions of modern times.
Wahyu Wibisana is a well-known Sundanese dramaturg who was the driving force behind gending karesmen in the 1960s. He claims that he heard the famous musician Haji Siti Rokayah humming the folk song "Kunang-kunang" and decided it would make a perfect piece for the stage, so he collaborated with Tjarmedi to create this composition.
Tjarmedi's arrangement opens with the stately processional tune called “Boboyongan,” which eventually settles into the catchy melody of "Kunang-kunang," which is presented in both fast and slow tempi.
Kunang-kunang means “fireflies”; although the lyrics don’t mention fireflies, the poetry evokes the playful darting to-and-fro of these magical insects through clever word play that displays the rhythms and sonorities of the Sundanese language. One verse features a Sundanese poetic device called kakawihan margaluyu, in which the first syllable of the first word of each line is a repetition of the last syllable of the previous line. The use of lively hand-drumming (rather than the more austere stick-drumming that characterizes classical degung compositions) enhances the song’s playfulness.
The instrumental piece "Jipang Lontang" (suitable for beginning and ending performances) is appended to the end of this final track to bring the recording to a satisfying close.
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