Title: demo: Javanese kempyang. Format: DAT.

Contextual Associations

The kempyang is a metal gong idiophone of the Javanese people of Java, Indonesia. It is a punctuating instrument that is part of the Yogyanese style Javanese gamelan in laras pélog. The two gongs that comprise the kempyang are basically miniature kenong jaler (‘jaler’ means ‘male’), so it carries a gender association due to its shape (see bonang barung for further interpretation regarding this association). Although Javanese forged bronze gongs in general are remarkable products of highly skilled and admired craftsmen (see goöng), gongs made from iron are not accorded the same level of admiration. Nonetheless, it takes a team of specialized craftsmen to construct iron gongs such as the kempyang pictured and described here, and when well constructed they can produce a musically satisfying alternative to their far more costly counterparts in bronze gamelans.


The kempyang described here is part of an iron gamelan and therefore the details of the physical description to follow differ from those of the gong instruments found in bronze gamelans. Each of its two gongs is constructed from three interlocking pieces of sheet iron, one circular and the other two elongated rectangular strips.  The strips are connected end-to-end with rivets to form the gong's circular side/rim, which in turn is attached to the edge of the circular face by folding (accomplished with much cold hammering) to create an integral vessel. With further hammering a central knob/boss (pencu) is articulated as well as two concentric surface areas: a flat rai around the pencu, and a sloping recep (brunjung) around the rai. Such contouring of the face is essential to achieving a gong with definite pitch. The pencu is reinforced with a brass cap that is riveted to the iron knob. All seams are soldered and then filed smooth. The gong rests horizontally on ropes running diagonally between the corners of its square wooden rack. The performer uses two wooden stick beaters (tabuh) padded with tightly wound cord to strike the pencu of gongs.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A single player, seated on the floor performs the instrument by striking its knobs/bosses simultaneously with two tabuh; any competent gamelan musician can play the instrument. Sometimes this musician will also be performing the kenong and/or kethuk. See Gamelan Besi (Iron) from Central Java for tuning and register information for the kempyang in this gamelan. It contributes to the articulation of the underlying cyclical formal structure of many pieces (gendhing) in the laras pélog by being sounded at prescribed points of that structure. The sound has a definite pitch with a sharp attack and moderately fast decay. It is normally played at a fairly loud dynamic level, but can be played at a lower level when necessary.


Many of the oldest extant archaic/ceremonial gamelans in Java, such as the mid-18th century gamelan sekati of Yogyakarta, include a kempyang. According to inventories from the Sultan's palace in Yogyakarta, non-ceremonial laras pélog gamelans in their holdings manufactured in the 18th century or earlier included the kempyang.

Bibliographic Citations

Kartomi, Margaret. 1984. “Kempyang,” NGDMI v.2: 373.

Kunst, Jaap. 1973. Music in Java. 3rd ed. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Pickvance, Richard. 2005. A Gamelan Manual. London: Jaman Mas Books.

Vetter, Roger. 2001. "More than Meets the Eye and Ear: Gamelans and Their Meaning in a Javanese Palace," Asian Music 32/2: 41-92.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Indonesia

Formation: Javanese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.241.21 idiophone--set of percussion vessel bossed, flat (with flange), and intermediate types of gongs

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: plate - contoured with folded-over rim

Sound objects per instrument: two sounded collectively

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - direct

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - partially padded stick/s

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: definite pitch

Sound modification: none


8.8 in. diameter (each gong) 7 in. height (each gong)

Primary Materials




Entry Author

Roger Vetter