gong ageng

Also:       gong gedhé      

Title: demo: Javanese gong ageng. Format: DAT.

Contextual Associations

The gong ageng is a metal gong idiophone of the Javanese people of Java, Indonesia. It is the largest (three feet in diameter) and lowest-pitched instrument in the Javanese gamelan. This gong ageng pictured here is part of an iron gamelan and therefore the details of the physical description to follow differ from those for the same instrument found in bronze gamelans. 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 gong ageng pictured and described here, and when well constructed they can produce a musically satisfying alternative to their far more costly counterparts in bronze gamelans. When a gamelan or a particular gong ageng is given a personal name it will often be written on the backside of the gong ageng (see the detail image, which shows the reverse side of the gong ageng of Grinnell's gamelan where its name ‘Kyahi Biwara’ [‘Venerable Herald/Messenger’] is painted both in Arabic and Javanese scripts).


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 one (rai) around the pencu, and a depressed one around the rai. Such contouring of the face is essential to achieving a gong with definite pitch. Further hammering turns the rim (bau) inwards. The pencu is reinforced with a brass cap that is riveted to the iron knob. The gong is hung vertically from a wooden rack with a sturdy rope the ends of which run through holes drilled in the gong's rim. A heavily padded wooden stick beater (tabuh) is used to strike the boss of the gong.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A single player performs the instrument by striking its knob/boss with the tabuh; any competent gamelan musician can play the instrument. See Gamelan Besi (Iron) from Central Java for tuning and register information for the gong ageng in this gamelan. It is a punctuating instrument that contributes to the articulation of the underlying cyclical formal structure of a piece (gendhing) by being sounded at the end of each repetition of that structure. A deep, sonorous sound with a soft attack and very long decay is produced. The sound has a definite pitch and usually a slow vibrato, called an ombak (wave). It is played at a single dynamic level.


It is very likely that tuned gongs and the technology to produce them were developed first outside of Indonesia. When and by whom they were introduced to Java is not known. Kunst gives the earliest mention of gong-type instruments in Indonesia to be the 9th century CE, although how close those gongs were to the contemporary gong in size and shape is unclear. Mostly small, and one medium-sized, gongs are seen in reliefs on the 14th century CE Javanese Panataran temple, constituting the earliest depiction in Java of this instrument type. It is safe to say that even the most ancient extant gamelans include gongs (some of these sets are comprised almost entirely of this type of instrument), although dating these sets almost always involves speculation. Some gong ageng in extant archaic gamelans could be argued to have been manufactured in the 17th century or earlier, but just how much earlier is not possible to say with certainty.

Bibliographic Citations

Becker, Judith. 1988. "Earth, Fire, Sakti, and the Javanese Gamelan," Ethnomusicology 32/3: 385-391.

Kartomi, Margaret, and Ruby Ornstein. 1984.  “Gong ageng,” NGDMI v.2: 63.

Kunst, Jaap. 1968. Hindu-Javanese Musical Instruments. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

________. 1973. Music in Java. 3rd ed. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

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


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Indonesia

Formation: Javanese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.241.11 idiophone--bossed percussion vessel gong, flat gong (with flange), and intermediate types

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: one

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - direct

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - stick with padded ball end

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: definite pitch

Sound modification: none


36 in. diameter 10.5 in. height

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter