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Indigenous orchestra of Java and Bali and, more generally, of Indonesia and Malaysia. A gamelan usually consists largely of gongs, xylophones, and metallophones (rows of tuned metal bars struck with a mallet). Gamelan polyphony is complex and many-voiced. The melody is taken by the voice, flute, or rebab (a bowed stringed instrument); under it, most of the other instruments provide rhythmic paraphrases of the melody, producing a shimmering, variegated texture. The gamelan has influenced many Western composers, including Claude Debussy, Olivier Messiaen, John Cage, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on gamelan, visit Britannica.com.