Location: Curug Cibareubeuy, West Java
Sound: Celempung variation
The rhythmic foundation of a thriving movement of revitalized Sundanese bamboo music in West Java, the celempung is an instrument that nearly defies classification. A hollow bamboo tube with two to three differently pitched “strings” of the bamboo’s skin raised off of one side using small bridges, the instrument is played as both a zither, by hitting the strings with a simple stick called tarengteng, and as a drum, by hitting one end of the tube with the hand.
It’s fascinating to pick apart the multiple rhythmic roles the celempung simultaneously plays – the two higher pitched strings play a rhythmic pattern mimicking the ketuk of Sundanese gamelan, while the lower bass string is played less frequently, mimicking the role and sound of a gong. The construction is worth noting – while the two higher strings make a short, dry sound, the lower string has a sustained boom enabled by an ingenious addition – a bamboo flap attached to the string, under which is a small hole in the body of the celempung. When the string is hit, the flap vibrates as well, and this sound/energy is transmitted through the length of the tube through the small hole, allowing for an impressively loud resonance.
By tapping the open end of the instrument, the resonance of the bass note can be controlled in something of a “wah-wah” effect. In addition to being used to manipulate the sound of the bass string, the open end of the instrument is hit in an improvisatory rhythmic style seemingly influenced by the Sundanese kendang drum.
In this sample of typical Sundanese musical ingenuity, the instrument maker Pak Rosid has modified his celempung with a novel addition - three more lengths of bamboo, with one end of each covered with the rubber from a motorbike tire’s inner tube.
With this modification, coupled with a simple shaker made of wood and clashing metal disks, Pak Rosid is able to extend the sound of the celempung to something like a one man band – wordlessly humming and singing traditional Sundanese melodies along with his celempung, he singlehandedly sketches the sound of a full ensemble.
In doing research for this post, I was able to find practically no information on Sundanese celempung on the internet (there is an identically named Javanese zither, which makes things even harder), so the details here are based largely off my own observations and intuition. If any real experts have any more substantial information on the history, construction, and music of celempung, or any corrections, please let me know…
About an hour’s walk into the jungle near Ciater (a rural area north of Bandung), curious hikers cross a small stream to come upon a mysterious sight: a well-maintained complex of irrigated gardens and sturdy bamboo and wooden huts nestled in the surrounding greenery. If the hikers are lucky, they might meet the man who singlehandedly built it all: Pak Rosid, a small, grinning, delight of a man who spends much of his days at this site as caretaker and spiritual guardian of Curug Cibareubeuy, the thundering waterfall nearby.
After doling out hot drinks made from palm sugar tapped from the trees overhead, Pak Rosid will often invite you to sit down for a welcoming performance: bringing out his large celempung, he sits down and humbly shares a Sundanese tune or two. On a recent hike to Pak Rosid’s camp, I was lucky enough to talk with him and record his simple, endearing music.
Making his intentions clear, Pak Rosid explained that he was not a professional nor did he really consider himself a musician – he merely played music for guests to break the awkwardness of first meetings and to cheer up hikers after a muddy slog through the forest. Nonetheless, the ingenuity of his homemade instrument and his candid, endearing personality made his simple, barebones performance something to be treasured.