Catur Eka Santi is an ensemble of four Denver musicians which performs the music of the ‘wayang kulit’, the ancient shadow puppet theatrical tradition of Bali, Indonesia. The group’s name means ‘Four Becoming One In Peace’. The four players, Frankie Anderson, Merisa Bissinger, Jill Fredericksen and Dane Terry, are also members of Denver’s larger Balinese orchestra, Gamelan Tunas Mekar. They have studied with Ketut Madri of the village of Pengosekan, Nyoman Sumandi of Tunjuk, and Made Lasmawan of Bangah, who has also served as Tunas Mekar’s Artist-In-Residence since 1992. The instruments they perform on, called ‘gender wayang’, were purchased from Bali in 1992, and the group was formed in 1993. Catur Eka Santi performed as part of Tunas Mekar’s concert at the Bali Arts Festival in 1996.
The term ‘gender’ refers generally to any Balinese metallophone that is played with two ‘pongulan’, or mallets, and this requires a damping technique using the palms and outer edges of the hands. ‘Wayang’ means shadow. Every part of the instruments is made by hand. The bronze keys are produced by smelting copper and tin in an open pit forge, using manually operated bellows to make the fire hot enough. The liquid bronze is poured into molds carved into banana tree trunks. When cool, the keys are filed to achieve the desired pitches. They are then strung on strips of water buffalo hide and suspended over the bodies of the instruments. Inside each ornate hand-carved and painted wooden box is a row of bamboo tubes, one directly under each key. Each tube is cut to precise length to create a column of air that will vibrate at the same pitch as the key above it. This acoustic resonating amplifies the sound of the instruments. The ‘kantils’, the smaller of the two pairs of instruments, are pitched an octave higher than the larger ‘pomades’. Each instrument is slightly detuned from its partner, so that when the same note is played by both, a phenomenon in the resulting sound waves called phase cancellation causes an overall additional pulsing vibration in the music. This aural effect is a feature of all Balinese bronze gamelans.
Although the main function of the ‘gender wayang’ ensemble is to support the actions of the ‘dalang’, or puppeteer, during a ‘wayang kulit’, it is also common for it to accompany other important village or family ceremonies. For some performances, Catur Eka Santi presents a collection of traditional ‘sitting pieces’, which are usually played for the audience before a shadow play begins. The pieces are representative of the majority of Balinese instrumental songs, taking their names and themes from flowers, birds and animals of the natural world that surrounds the typical ‘desa’, or village.