Murdoch’s Indonesian orchestra hits the right note

January 15, 2015

An international expert has travelled from Indonesia to tune an 80 piece Indonesian orchestra which is housed at Murdoch University, a process which involves days of painstaking adjustment and heavy grinding of bronze instruments as well as the approval of the spirits.

The Western Australian Gamelan Orchestra, entrusted to Murdoch’s Indonesian Studies program by the state government, was gifted to the people of Western Australia in 1993 by the provincial government of East Java.

Professor David Hill, Chair of the South East Asian Studies, said the gift acted as a symbol to strengthen ties between WA and East Java by means of cultural understanding and exchange.

“The orchestra is housed in a purpose built pendopo which is based on customary Javanese structures and is named Joglo Rahayu, meaning Peace Pavilion,” Professor Hill said.

“The storage area is thermostatically controlled to ensure the instruments retain their musical and visual quality.”

Gamelans have a long history in Indonesia and were originally the traditional court instruments of the Royal Family.

As there is no one in Western Australia with the expertise to tune the orchestra, Murdoch’s Gamelan instructor Tom Suffling arranged for Gamelan specialist, Sutendri Yusuf to travel from Indonesia to assist.  It is the second time the orchestra has been tuned since it was gifted to WA.

Mr Yusuf plays, builds and repairs Gamelans and was taught by his father.

“We believe there is a creative spirit which lives in the Gamelan,” Mr Yusuf said.

“We must ask permission of the spirit to undertake repairs and offer the spirit coffee, incense and cigarettes.

“If we do this, it ensures the repairs go smoothly.”

Mr Yusuf tunes the instruments by ear – using an angle grinder or chisel to adjust the instruments.  As the temperature can change the sound of the bronze instruments he must place them in water to cool them and get a true sound. The whole process takes between four days and a week to complete.

It is believed that every Gamelan has its own personality.  Mr Yusuf was given the honour of naming the orchestra and calls it ‘Kyai Kanyut Raras’ which roughly translates as ‘Harmony for Peace’.

A Gamelan Club, made up of members of the Indonesian community and those with an interest in Indonesian culture, meet regularly to play the Gamelan in the Peace Pavilion throughout summer.  Mr Suffling also provides workshops to high school students who wish to gain instruction on the Gamelan.

Murdoch University was given the opportunity to house the orchestra because of its strong Indonesian program.  For more information about the program, studying Indonesian language at Murdoch or the Gamelan Club contact Professor Hill on

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