An Analysis of a Gamelan Slendro Tuning

Abstract

Abstract

The tuning of Gamelan music has been poorly understood, obstructed by cultural barriers and practical difficulties. Using a few recordings of Gamelan instruments, sampled from the Javanese Gamelan ensemble at Arizona State University, we determine the frequencies of a Gamelan musical scale, and then compare whether and equal tempered scale or a just intoned scale better explain the musical intervals. We find that the frequencies match better with a specially devised just intonation scale, than with the equal tempered alternative. The measured music intervals still deviated, and we discuss some practical and stylistic reasons for this. We do make the reservation, that our specific conclusions are constrained only the the Javanese Gamelan ensemble at Arizona State University, but using other literature on Gamelan tuning, we entertain possibilities for all tuning systems in Gamelan music culture.

Background

I received my Bachelor of Science in Economics from the WP Carey school of business at Arizona State University. During my time at ASU I took Dr Ted Solis’ Gamelan Ensemble class twice, the first time for a necessary humanities credit and the second time for my own pleasure. I am currently not a student at ASU, but Dr Solis has been generous enough to let me participate in his fall 2015 Gamelan Ensemble class.

I was not a student of music, but I am an everyday musician and I have self studied various areas of music. I would estimate that I have read about 1,500 pages of academic music material. For this paper, Harry Partch’s ‘Genesis of a Music’ has been most insightful, providing me with a good understanding of the history, mechanics, and mathematics of tuning systems from around the world.