The manufacture of tuned percussion instruments in Indonesia and Africa: a selective study

Linwood, Jamie Murray (1995) The manufacture of tuned percussion instruments in Indonesia and Africa: a selective study. Doctoral thesis, London Guildhall University.


This dissertation is divided into three parts. The first examines the manufacture of Javanese gamelan percussion instruments, the second examines the manufacture of xylophones in Central African Republic, Ghana and Zambia, and the third examines the acoustics of xylophones.

Part I:
Gamelan is a generic term for a set of instruments consisting primarily of tuned gongs and metallophones. Two distinct forms of gamelan exist: those made of bronze which are forged, and those made of steel and/or brass which are usually cold-hammered. The manufacture of bronze gamelan is a highly specialised ancient tradition, whereas the making of steel/brass instruments is a more recent practice resulting from the availability of metal alloys in sheet form this century.

Central Java has been the centre of the bronze gamelan industry for centuries, supplying the royal courts, as well as producing gongs for export. The main source of published information on Javanese gong making is De Gong-Fabricatie te Semarang written in 1907 by Jacobson and van Hasselt. However, their study does not cover the tuning and voicing of gongs.

This dissertation documents the manufacturing techniques of bronze instruments with regard to the material, the workforce, workpractices and techniques and the tuning/voicing of gongs. The techniques of making steel/brass instruments are examined, which have so far remained undocumented.

Instrument makers subcontract frame building to specialist woodworkers. This work, concentrating on carving, is examined. Folk instruments, made from locally available materials, are popular throughout Indonesia. The manufacture of the instruments from one such tradition, the bamboo calung ensemble from Central Java, is studied.

Part II:
This part examines the role, significance and construction of a selected group of xylophones in Africa.

The LoDagaa and Sisaala peoples of northern Ghana use xylophones as their main means of musical expression. The xylophones are used for recreation, but more significantly, they provide the music for a number of cults and events, the most important of which is the funeral ceremony. Within recent years the Sisaala xylophone tradition has declined, whereas the LoDagaa tradition is still very strong: the reasons for this are discussed. The Lozi and Nkoya peoples in western Zambia have two distinct xylophone traditions: royal court music, which is serious in nature with a rigid adherence to custom, and folk music which is used for entertainment and for cults. The court tradition and its instruments are examined and compared to the folk tradition.

At the end of the nineteenth century the xylophone traditions of the Azande and Nzakara peoples of eastern Central African Republic were flourishing. Today, the tradition has almost completely died out. Chapter XI documents what remains, and examines the reasons for its decline.

Part III:
This part examines the acoustics of xylophones. An introduction mentions notable publications on the subject, and examines present acoustic theory of bars and air columns. Experimental work examines modes of vibrations of bars of uniform thickness but of different shapes, the effect of undercutting bars and the method for tuning second and third partials.

Published acoustic theory on bar idioPhones deals only with western orchestral instruments. The rest of Part III examines the acoustics of African xylophones. Bars have been made by the author of forms representing the main xylophone types found in Africa. Sympathetically tuned resonators of various forms and materials have been made and tested with different bars. A study has also been made on the use of mirlitons and their effect on tone. The tone of these bars and resonators has been studied using digital analysis to obtain objective results.

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