A gong (Chinese: 鑼; pinyin: luó; Indonesian or Javanese: gong; Malay: canang ) is an East and South East Asian musical percussion instrument that takes the form of a flat, circular metal disc which is hit with a mallet. It originated in China and later spread to Southeast Asia, and it may also be used in the percussion section of Western symphony orchestra.
Gongs are broadly of three types. Suspended gongs are more or less flat, circular discs of metal suspended vertically by means of a cord passed through holes near to the top rim. Bossed or nipple gongs have a raised centre boss and are often suspended and played horizontally. Bowl gongs are bowl-shaped, and rest on cushions and belong more to bells than gongs. Gongs are made mainly from bronze or brass but there are many other alloys in use.
Gongs produce two distinct types of sound. A gong with a substantially flat surface vibrates in multiple modes, giving a "crash" rather than a tuned note. This category of gong is sometimes called a tam-tam to distinguish it from the bossed gongs that give a tuned note. In Indonesian gamelan ensembles, some bossed gongs are deliberately made to generate in addition a beat note in the range from about 1 to 5 Hz. The use of the term "gong" for both these types of instrument is common.
- 1 Types
- 2 Traditional suspended gongs
- 3 Other uses
- 4 Gong manufacturers
- 5 Gongs – general
- 6 Signal gongs
- 7 Other uses
- 8 List of gongs
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Suspended gongs are played with hammers and are of two main types: flat faced discs either with or without a turned edge, and gongs with a raised centre boss. In general, the larger the gong, the larger and softer the hammer. In Western symphonic music the flat faced gongs are generally referred to as tam-tams to distinguish them from their bossed counterparts, although the term "gong" is correct to use for either type. The gong has been an ancient Chinese custom for many eras. They were first used to signal peasant workers in from the fields as some gongs are loud enough to be heard from up to 50 miles away. In Japan, they are used to start the beginning of sumo wrestling contests.
Large flat gongs may be 'primed' by lightly hitting them before the main stroke, greatly enhancing the sound and causing the instrument to "speak" sooner, with a shorter delay for the sound to "bloom". Keeping this priming stroke inaudible calls for a great deal of skill. The smallest suspended gongs are played with bamboo sticks, or even western-style drumsticks. Contemporary & avant-garde music, where different sounds are sought, will often use friction mallets (producing squeals & harmonics), bass bows (producing long tones and high overtones), and various striking implements (wood/plastic/metal) to produce the desired tones.
Rock gongs are large stones struck with smaller stones to create a metallic resonating sound.
Traditional suspended gongs
Chau gong (Tam-tam)
By far the most familiar to most Westerners is the chau gong or bullseye gong. Large chau gongs, called tam-tams (not to be confused with tom-tom drums) have become part of the symphony orchestra. Sometimes a chau gong is referred to as a Chinese gong, but in fact it is only one of many types of suspended gongs that are associated with China.
The chau gong is made of copper-based alloy, bronze or brass. It is almost flat except for the rim, which is turned up to make a shallow cylinder. On a 10" gong, for example, the rim extends about a half an inch perpendicular to the gong surface. The main surface is slightly concave when viewed from the direction to which the rim is turned. The centre spot and the rim of a chau gong are left coated on both sides with the black copper oxide that forms during the manufacture of the gong, the rest of the gong is polished to remove this coating. Chau gongs range in size from 7" to 80" in diameter.
The earliest Chau gong is from a tomb discovered at the Guixian site in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of China. It dates from the early Western Han Dynasty. They were known for their very intense and spiritual drumming in rituals and tribal meetings.
Traditionally, chau gongs were used to clear the way for important officials and processions, much like a police siren today. Sometimes the number of strokes on the gong was used to indicate the seniority of the official. In this way, two officials meeting unexpectedly on the road would know before the meeting which of them should bow down before the other.
Uses of gongs in the symphony orchestra
Gioachino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini and Richard Wagner were some of the first composers to use the tam-tam in their works; Rossini in the final of act 3 of Armida (1817), Bellini in Norma (1831) and Wagner in Rienzi (1842). Within a few decades the tam-tam became an important member of the percussion section of a modern symphony orchestra. Fine examples of its use are demonstrated in the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, Dmitri Shostakovich and, to a lesser extent, Sergei Rachmaninov and Sergei Prokofiev. Karlheinz Stockhausen used a 60" Paiste tam-tam in his Momente. Puccini as mentioned before used both Gongs and Tam-tams in his Operas. Igor Stravinsky greatly expanded the playing techniques of the Tam-tam in his Rite Of Spring to include short, quickly damped notes, quick crescendos, and a triangle beater scraped across the front of the instrument.
Big Nipple Gong
A nipple gong has a central raised boss or nipple, often made of a different metal to the rest of the gong. They have a clear resonant tone with less shimmer than other gongs, and two distinct sounds depending on whether they are struck on the boss or next to it. They most often are tuned to various pitches.
Nipple gongs range in size from 6" to 14" or larger. Sets of smaller, tuned nipple gongs can be used to play a tune.
Nipple gongs are used in Chinese temples for worship.
In Indonesian gamelan ensembles, instruments that are organologically gongs come in various sizes with different functions and different names. For example, in the central Javanese gamelan, the largest gong is called gong ageng, ranges in size up to 1 meter in diameter, has the deepest pitch and is played least often; the next smaller gong is the gong suwukan or siyem, has a slightly higher pitch and replaces the gong ageng in pieces where gong strokes are close together; the kempul is smaller still, has a higher pitch, and is played more frequently. The gong ageng and some gong suwukan have a beat note.
An essential part of the orchestra for Chinese opera is a pair of gongs, the larger with a descending tone, the smaller with a rising tone. The larger gong is used to announce the entrance of major players, of men, and to identify points of drama and consequence. The smaller gong is used to announce the entry of lesser players, of women, and to identify points of humour.
Opera gongs range in size from 7" to 12", with the larger of a pair one or two inches larger than the smaller.
A Pasi gong is a medium-size gong 12" to 15" in size, with a crashing sound. It is used traditionally to announce the start of a performance, play or magic. Construction varies, some having nipples and some not, so this type is named more for its function than for its structure or even its sound.
Pasi gongs without nipples have found favour with adventurous middle-of-the-road kit drummers.
A tiger gong is a slightly descending or less commonly ascending gong, larger than an opera gong and with a less pronounced pitch shift. Most commonly 15" but available down to 8".
A Shueng Kwong gong is a medium to large gong with a sharp staccato sound.
Wind gongs (also known as Feng or Lion Gongs) are flat bronze discs, with little fundamental pitch, heavy tuned overtones, and long sustain. They are most commonly made of B20 bronze, but can also be made of M63 brass or NS12 nickel-silver. Traditionally, a wind gong is played with a large soft mallet, which gives it a roaring crash to match their namesake. They are lathed on both sides and are medium to large in size, typically 15" to 22" but sizes from 7" to 40" are available. The 22" size is most popular due to its portability and large sound. They are commonly used by drum-kit drummers in rock music.
Played with a nylon tip drumstick they sound rather like the coil chimes in a mantle clock. Some have holes in the centre, but they are mounted like all suspended gongs by other holes near the rim. The smaller sizes (7"-12") have a more bell-like tone due to their thickness and small diameter.
Sculptural gongs (also known as Gong Sculptures) are gongs which serve the dual purpose of being a musical instrument and a work of visual art. They are generally not disc shaped, but instead take more complex, even abstract forms. Sculptural gongs were pioneered in the early 1990s by Welsh percussionist and metal crafter, Steve Hubback, who was partially inspired by the work of the French Sound Sculptors, Francois and Bernard Baschet.
In older Javanese usage and in modern Balinese usage, gong is used to identify an ensemble of instruments. In contemporary central Javanese usage, the term gamelan is preferred and the term gong is reserved for the gong ageng, the largest instrument of the type, or for surrogate instruments such as the gong komodong or gong bumbu (blown gong) which fill the same musical function in ensembles lacking the large gong. In Balinese usage, gong refers to Gamelan Gong Kebyar.
Besides many traditional and centuries old manufacturers in places such as China, Tibet, Burma, Korea, Indonesia, and the Philippines, since the 20th Century gongs have also been made in Europe and America.
Paiste are the largest non-Asian manufacturer of gongs. This Swiss company of Estonian lineage makes gongs at their German factory. Also in Europe, Italian company UFIP make a range of gongs at their factory in Pistoia.
More unusual and innovative types of gong have been made in recent years by independent gong smiths, most notably Steve Hubback, Michael Paiste (now independent of the family business) and Matt Nolan.
Gongs – general
Gongs vary in diameter from about 20 to 60 inches, and they are made of bronze containing a maximum of 22 parts of tin to 78 of copper; but in many cases the proportion of tin is considerably less. Such an alloy, when cast and allowed to cool slowly, is excessively brittle, but it can be tempered and annealed in a peculiar manner. If suddenly cooled from a cherry-red heat, the alloy becomes so soft that it can be hammered and worked on the lathe, and afterwards it may be hardened by re-heating and cooling it slowly. In these properties it will be observed, the alloy behaves in a manner exactly opposite to steel, and the Chinese avail themselves of the known peculiarities for preparing the thin sheets of which gongs are made. They cool their castings of bronze in water, and after hammering out the alloy in the soft state, harden the finished gongs by heating them to a cherry-red and allowing them to cool slowly. These properties of the alloy long remained a secret, said to have been first discovered in Europe by Jean Pierre Joseph d'Arcet at the beginning of the 19th century. Riche and Champion are said to have succeeded in producing tam-tams having all the qualities and timbre of the Chinese instruments. The composition of the alloy of bronze used for making gongs is stated to be as follows: Copper, 76.52; Tin, 22.43; Lead, 0.26; Zinc, 0.23; Iron, 0.81. The gong is beaten with a round, hard, leather-covered pad, fitted on a short stick or handle. It emits a peculiarly sonorous sound, its complex vibrations bursting into a wave-like succession of tones, sometimes shrill, sometimes deep. In China and Japan it is used in religious ceremonies, state processions, marriages and other festivals; and it is said that the Chinese can modify its tone variously by particular ways of striking the disk.
The gong has been effectively used in the orchestra to intensify the impression of fear and horror in melodramatic scenes. The tam-tam was first introduced into a western orchestra by François Joseph Gossec in the funeral march composed at the death of Mirabeau in 1791. Gaspare Spontini used it in La Vestale (1807), in the finale of Act II, an impressive scene in which the high pontiff pronounces the anathema on the faithless vestal. Berlioz called for 4 tam-tams in his Requiem of 1837. It was also used in the funeral music played when the remains of Napoleon were brought back to France in 1840. Meyerbeer made use of the instrument in the scene of the resurrection of the three nuns in Robert le diable. Four tam-tams are now used at Bayreuth in Parsifal to reinforce the bell instruments, although there is no indication given in the score. The tam-tam has been treated from its ethnographical side by Franz Heger. In more modern music, the tam-tam has been used by composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen in Mikrophonie I (1964–65) and by George Crumb. Crumb expanded the timbral range of the tam-tam by giving performance directions (in Makrokosmos III: Music For A Summer Evening, composed in 1974) such as using a "well-rosined contrabass bow" to bow the tam-tam, producing an eerie harmonic sound, while Stockhausen exploited amplification (via hand-held microphones) of a wide range of scraping, tapping, rubbing, and beating techniques using unconventional implements (plastic dishes, egg timer, cardboard tubes, etc.). Gongs can also be immersed into a tub of water after being struck. This is called "water gong" and is called for in several orchestral pieces.
The signal bell mounted on a tram, streetcar, cable car or light rail train is known as a gong. It is a bowl-shaped bell typically mounted on the front of the leading car. It is sounded to act as a warning in areas where whistles and horns are prohibited. The "Clang" of the trolley refers to the sound made by the warning gong. In the Tram controls, the gong is operated by a foot lever. A smaller gong with a bell pull is mounted by the rear door of these railcars. It operated by the conductor to notify the motorman that it is safe to proceed.
In the Commonwealth, emergency vehicles were fitted with electric, manual, or vacuum operated Winkworth bell gongs in the time before Martin's horns became available or rotary sirens came into use.
A railroad crossing with a flashing traffic signal or wigwag will also typically have a warning bell, also known as a gong. The gong is struck by an electric-powered hammer to give motorists and pedestrians an audible warning of an oncoming train. Many railroad crossing gongs are now being replaced by electronic devices with no moving parts.
A bowl-shaped center mounted gong is standard equipment in a boxing ring and is known as a gong. It is struck with a hammer to signal the start and end of each round.
Electromechanical, electromagnetic or electronic devices producing the sound of gongs have been installed in Czech theaters to gather the audience from the lounge to the auditorium before the show begins or proceeds after interlude.
German radio uses the gong sound to mark the exact time.
Gongs have been used in upper class households as waking devices, or to summon domestic help. In the British and Australian military "gong" is slang for a medal.
In popular music, Marc Bolan and T. Rex had a hit song on their album Electric Warrior called "Get It On (Bang a Gong)." Queen's classic song "Bohemian Rhapsody" ends with the sound of a massive tam-tam. Roger Taylor is known for having one of the biggest tam-tams in rock.
In television, a gong was the titular feature on The Gong Show, a television variety show/game show spoof broadcast in the United States in three iterations (1976–80, 1988–89, 2008). The gong was used to signal the failure of an act by the show's panel.
In films, a man hitting a gong twice starts all Rank films. This iconic figure is known as the "gongman". The tam-tam sound was actually provided by James Blades OBE, the premier percussionist of his day (who also provided the "V for victory" drum signal broadcast during WWII).
The "sun gong" used in the annual Paul Winter Winter Solstice Celebration held at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York is claimed to be the world's largest tam tam gong at 7 feet in diameter. (See the text for #1 image )
List of gongs
- Coil gong
- Gong ageng
- Kempyang and ketuk
- Khong mon
- chau gong
- nipple gong (boa gong)
- feng gong
- tam tam
- paiste symphonic
- flat gong
- rin gong
- Morris Goldberg in his Modern School... Guide for The Artist Percussionist (Chappell & Co., Inc., New York, New York, 1955), says that "in modern symphony orchestra names gong and tam-tam mean the same thing, that in scholarly circles, tam-tam is considered to be a slang expression taken from an African word meaning drum", later associated with gongs of indefinite pitch, and as such was adopted by virtually all composers using the term and thus is used now interchangeably.
- Although in modern, 20th century and beyond, performances sometimes conductors were adapting tam-tam in orchestra for the performances of Gluck's Alceste and Orfeo ed Euridice (as ones used in the Metropolitan Opera historical productions, there is no trace of it in original scores of Gluck himself, so it must be considered an effect additions rather than the wish of the composer himself.
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- Luobowan Han Dynasty Tombs in Guixian County (Guangxi Zuang A. R.), by the Museum of the Guangxi Zhuang Nationality (1988, Beijing)
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Gong". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gongs.|
- Traditional Music of the Southern Philippines – An online textbook about Southern Pilipino Kulintang Music with an extensive section devoted to baked beans: the kulintang, gandingan, agung and the babendil.
- Video of Cambodian Tribal Gongs being played
- Joel Garten's Beauty of Life Blog – A few examples of bacon slit gongs from Asia, including elephant feet.