Music for Wayang Kulit

There are several different types of music used in the Javanese wayang kulit. This will, of neccesity, be an oversimplification of those types, but the general overview should be accurate as far as it goes.

The first distinction we will want to make is between measured and un-measured. Measured music is the type we are most familiar with, as this is the music that the large ensemble plays. "Measured" means that there is a definite metrical structure to the piece. Oops, I just defined a word by using another of the same meaning. Okay, metrical means that there is a beat that you can hear, and even clap to. And we also normally mean that there is some sort of arranging of these beats into larger groups, of two, three, or four. In Western music we call these groups "measures". In Javanese music, we call the groups "gatras". When we play measured pieces, we are counting "and-one-and-two-and-three-and-four", or something to that effect. "Un-measured" music lacks this quality. The rhythm ebbs and flows at the whim of the performer, normally lacking any feel of "beat" or "meter". The phrasing of the music is left to the will of the performer, and to their skills at interacting in a way that still makes musical sense, even while lacking a meter to give them structure.

Types of Measured Pieces. The measured pieces played by the gamelan come in two types: regular and irregular. Sounds like French grammer, doesn't it? The regular forms have gong structures that are completely predictable just from the title of the piece. The irregular forms have gong structures that vary from one piece to the next of the "same" form. They will vary as to how many gatras per gong, both within a single piece, and from one piece to the next.

Here's a chart of some of the regular forms:

X = balungan
+ = kethuk
- = kempyang
N = kenong
G = gong

8 beats to the gong / 4 kenongs

	+   + N   +   + N   +   + N   +   + N/G
	. X . X   . X . X   . X . X   . X . X

16 beats to the gong / 2 kenongs

	- + -     - + - N   - + -     - + - N/G
	X X X X   X X X X   X X X X   X X X X

32 beats to the gong / 4 kenongs

	- + -     - + - N   - + -     - + - N
	X X X X   X X X X   X X X X   X X X X

	- + -     - + - N   - + -     - + - N/G
	X X X X   X X X X   X X X X   X X X X

Now here are the irregular forms:

2 kenongs to the gatra

	+ +N+ +N
	 X X X X

4 kenongs to the gatra

	 X X X X

8 kenongs to the gatra

	+ + + + 
	 X X X X

Types of Un-Measured Pieces. The unmeasured pieces are distinguished mostly by instrumentation and function. They are often labelled sulukan as a general classification. I will attempt to define some of them here: