FROM VIETNAMESE LITHOPHONES TO BALINESE GAMELANS: A HISTORY OF TUNED PERCUSSION IN THE INDO-PACIFIC REGION

Roger Blench

Abstract


Southeast Asia and adjacent regions are part of a general area defined musically by ensembles of tuned percussion instruments played in a heterophonic style. It has been argued that there is some link between African and Southeast Asian xylophones, but this is almost certainly erroneous. Tuned percussion instruments are bounded by India in the west, Laos in the North and China in the east, spreading down into island Indonesia but stopping short of Melanesia. The instruments used in these ensembles vary greatly, although wooden and metal xylophones are the most common. However, tuned stones, bronze vessels (bell, gongs etc.), struck hanging bamboo tubes and others have all been adapted to the same principle. Some of these instruments leave more archaeological traces than others; tuned stones (notably Chinese lithophones) have a high profile archaeologically, along with bronze bells, which may over-emphasise their importance in relation to wooden and bamboo instruments. This type of music is now of vanishingly low importance in China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea but dominant in Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia, suggesting that over time, the centre of gravity of the style has shifted and become elaborated, as well as spreading to new instrument types. The paper presents evidence for the current distribution together with the limited evidence from excavation and historical documents and discusses the type of archaeological finds that might be relevant to enriching current models.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7152/bippa.v26i0.11993