What is the Angklung musical instrument?
You may not have heard of the Angklung, but if you’ve ever been to Indonesia, you’ll almost certainly have heard its signature melodic rattle. Originating from West Java, this unique instrument was made by the Sundanese people and has been hailed by UNESCO as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. Let’s take a closer look.
The Angklung consists of two to four bamboo tubes suspended in a bamboo frame bound together with rattan cord. Making one of these instruments is a lengthy process, with master craftsmen carefully whittling the tubes to certain sizes. When the bamboo frame is shaken or tapped, each of these tubes produces a specific note. The Angklung, therefore, is a member of the idiophone family of musical instruments, which also includes the singing bowl, steel-tongue drum and the marimba – all instruments that produce sound by vibrating themselves.
Some Angklung produce just one note or chord, meaning players must form Angklung orchestras to perform melodic pieces. Others feature multiple tubes, each producing different notes. Traditional Angklungs use the pentatonic scale. Such scales are a Western invention and were likely introduced during the colonial era. Before then, Angklung melodies were probably microtonal. In 1938, musician Daeng Soetigna introduced Angklungs that used the diatonic scale. These became known as Angklung Padaeng.
the Angklung is an important aspect of Indonesia’s cultural identity, with the instrument featuring heavily in traditional customs and arts. It is often played during rice planting, harvest and circumcision ceremonies. Traditionally, the black bamboo used for making the Angklung is harvested in the two weeks of the year when the cicadas sing. The canes are always cut three segments above the soil line, allowing for continued growth. Information such as this, as well as traditional songs, are passed down orally from generation to generation.