In 1905, Beka made it’s first recordings in Indonesia, then called the Dutch East Indies. After first recording in Constantinople, Cairo, Calcutta and Rangoon, the team of Willy Bielefeld, Heinrich Blumb and William Hadert recorded examples of Javanese gamelan and the popular stamboul songs in the Dutch East Indies. Subsequent trips were made up until the outbreak of WWI. During the years before the war, both Beka and Odeon were acquired by the Carl Lindstroem company, with a few smaller labels as well, consolidating German recording activity under one company. Unfortunately, the war severely disrupted the German recording industry. But by the mid-1920s, things were going well and the Lindstroem lables began to recover. Beka had many hits with Miss Riboet and other stamboul stars, and they continued to record Gamelan music from Java as well. In 1928 they made their legendary trip to Bali, along with Odeon, making the only Balinese Gamelan recordings from the era, although the Balinese records were commercial failures at the time. Like all the Lindstroem labels, Beka was included in the mega-merger of 1931 that created EMI.
Max Birkhahn was one of the main recording engineers in Indonesia during this period, and in 1928 he recorded the record presented here. I don’t know much about the music contained herein, but maybe one of our enlightened Haji Maji readers can come to the rescue. The title refers to Indonesian coffee (kopi) made with condensed milk.
As many of you probably know, the term “gamelan” refers to an entire ensemble of instruments, as well as the music played by said ensemble. A gamelan consists of bronze gongs of different sizes and bronze keyed instruments that look something like a xylophone. Percussion, fiddle, flute and voice may also be included. Each gamelan is a unique set of instruments with it’s own sound, tuning and character. Instruments from one gamelan cannot be interchanged with another ensemble.
Most Balinese, Javanese and Sundanese gamelan are tuned to one of two main scale systems, pelog and slendro. Pelog has seven pitches and is reminiscent of a Western major scale, although notes don’t exactly match up. Slendro (or salendro in Sundanese) is a five note scale in which all the notes are basically equidistant, something not found in western music. It’s important to remember that each gamelan has a unique version of these tuning systems, not to mention the range in which it’s tuned.
The music played by a gamelan is built in layers. Generally speaking, the higher pitched instruments play a denser more elaborate melody, more notes per minute. Lower pitched instruments play versions of the melody that are simpler and sparse. The important thing is that all the instruments land on certain important notes together. This concept of simultaneous variation is common throughout Southeast Asia. Check out the Vietnamese Vong Co recordings on this site for some other striking examples of simultaneous variation. Gamelan music uses interlocking patterns to create a temporal structure. The combination is termed “polyphonic stratification.” An academic term that creates a nice mental picture. As a student at the University of Michigan, 20 years ago, I played in the Javanese gamelan ensemble and my favorite moment was always when the lowest (and largest) gong would sound at the endpoint of each cycle. The effect was monumental as all the instruments concluded their melody and the low gong rippled throughout the room. You feel it more than hear it.
Gamelan music is hundred’s of years old, but the first recording label to venture to Indonesia, which was then called the Dutch East Indies and controlled by the Dutch, was the German label Beka, in 1905. They were followed a year or two later by Odeon. The Gramophone Company lagged behind in entering the Indonesian market. In fact, Odeon had come to dominate the Indonesian market to such an extent that in 1909 Frederick Gaisberg complained, “The business in Java for the Odeon company has been wonderful for the last two years, they being the only company in the field. The Odeon Company, during the last two years, have made two recording trips to Java, and are now starting on a third.” (Paul Vernon, Odeon Records; Their Ethnic Output).
In 1911 Beka was absorbed by Odeon and around the time of this recording, in 1931, both labels were part of the huge EMI merger.
Here’s a piece in the pathet sanga. Pathet is the Indonesian version or modes, raga, maqam, etc. Sanga is one of the three central Javanese modes in slendro. I believe this piece is from Surabaya, in Eastern Java, so the version of pathet differs from the Central Javanese. It’s sung by the pasinden (female singer) M.A Soetinah.
Gamelan records are extremely hard to come by, highly sought after and usually pretty beat up. I’ll post a few of my more listenable records, but you should also check out 78 collector Mike Robertson’s youtube page. Mike has a fantastic collection of gamelan records (and more) which you can hear on youtube.
Somehow, they seem to fall right out of the sky and into Mike’s lap!
One thing that I love about Southeast Asian music is the sense of multiple melodies swirling around each other, weaving in and out, yet always seeming to end up in the right place. This is especially true of gambang kromong.
Gambang kromong is a vernacular music from the outskirts of Jakarta. It is the music of the Betawi, long time inhabitants of the Jakarta area of Java, as well as the Peranakan, people who are a mix of Chinese and Indonesian. The music is often performed at weddings or in musical theater.
The ensemble consists of gambang, an 18 key xylophone and the kromong, a small set of kettle gongs. Other instruments often included are a 2 string fiddle (tehyan) similar to the erhu, suling (flute), an array of percussion instruments and anything from western brass to electric guitar (see Folkway’s Music of Indonesia vol. 3).
Irama was Indonesia’s first independent record label, started in 1954 by Suyoso Karsono. Irama released a wide variety of traditional and popular music.
Miss Riboet’s popularity continued to grow, both on stage and on record. In 1929, the Dardanella theater troupe emerged and soon became rivals with Miss Riboet’s Orion troupe. Dardanella had several big stars in the troupe and in 1931 found themselves in court because one of their stars was also using the name “Miss Riboet.” Dardanella lost the case and their imitator had to switch to “Miss Riboet II.” I’m not sure how many songs she recorded, I’ve only seen one. Here’s Miss Riboet II pictured with another Dardanella star, Miss Dja:
Since this second post about Miss Riboet is about the second Miss Riboet, here’s the second side of the Miss Riboet record.
Thanks to Matthew Isaac Cohen for noticing that I had mistaken Miss Riboet II for the real thing in my previous post.
Miss Riboet was the first huge star of recording in Indonesia and the Malay peninsula. She was the lead actress of the Orion theatrical company, a tooneel troupe which was founded in 1925 in Batavia (Jakarta). In fact, she was so popular that by the time recording engineer Max Birkhahan made this recording in 1926 she already had her own series of “Miss Riboet Records.”
The label declares this a “Stamboel” recording, a western influenced genre of song that evolved out of the Indonesian theater known as “komedie stamboel.”
Komedie stamboel was a form of musical theater that started in the city of Surabaya in 1891 and quickly became a craze throughout Indonesia. At first, it featured plays of arabesque fantasy (Stamboel = Istanbul), mainly tales from the Arabian Nights, with Ali Baba being a favorite standard. The plays were sung and included musical numbers as in a western musical, using mostly western instruments. They were also influenced by Parsi theater. There is an excellent book by Matthew Isaac Cohen that gives an extremely detailed account of the origin of Komedie Stamboel.
By the mid-20s, when Miss Riboet began recording, komedie stamboel had already given way to the Malay theatrical form called bangsawan, and eventually tooneel, a more realistic form.
Apparently komedie stamboel had developed a somewhat unsavory reputation that led in part to it’s demise, some troupe leaders were accused of doubling as pimps for the actresses!
The music was often labeled as “Stamboel” on record, regardless of whether it was a stamboel, fox trot, tango, krontjong or traditional piece, such as this Javanese poetical form called Pankgkur.