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February 08, 2013


(taken from the essay on Gongs and Bamboo by Dr. Ramon Santos)

The gongs and bamboo permeate practically all the musical traditions in Southeast Asia, from the insular to the peninsular lands and to the regions in South China, where it is believed that the gong tradition took root.  The dynamic exchange of material culture as well as the movement of peoples in these areas caused the proliferation of these instruments, and later on even the technology of manufacturing them was transferred from place to place.  The gongs and bamboo instruments have taken on different shapes, sizes, and uses in the musical universe of those who possess them.

The Philippines, like its Asian neighbors is host to a wide variety of gongs and bamboo instruments, each playing a particular role in a musical ensemble expressing a people’s spirituality, sense of subsistence, and desire to commune with their natural environment.   

Gongs are valued not for their size or pitch but rather for the power of the sound that it makes when used to communicate to the spirit world and to transcend great distances. Gong ensembles also play for the court as well as for theatrical presentations, like dance dramas; in funerals, rituals and temple festivals.

On the other hand, the bamboo instruments, which produce different sounds and timbres, are useful for human communication. They fulfill different functions in the social and artistic life of those who utilize these instruments in their daily lives as well as for special occasions.

Flutes in particular are mostly used for courtship, as well as self-entertainment, especially when one is alone or watching over the field. Ring flutes are tuned to either a hemitonic or anhemitonic scales.  Usually, the hemitonic tonal arrangement is used to evoke personal feelings.

In Southeast Asia, gongs and bamboo represent the main materials in the musicultural traditions of societies and peoples. One of the eartliest specimens of a metal instrument is the bronze drum-gong which must have proliferated during the Đônh Son period in Vietnam and the Dian culture in Yunnan. Today, samples of the bronze drum have been found in practically all the lands in Southeast Asia and China except the Philippines and Borneo.  Some of the etchings in the bronze drum indicate the existence of other instruments, including bells, flutes, and the mouth organ (the Thai and Laotian khaen) that already existed during the bronze age.  There is no direct evidence linking the bronze drum with the manufacture of knobbed and flat gongs, as we have here in the Philippines, but they  coexisted as some point in time.

Many of the gong and bamboo instruments bear similarities with those found in the Philippines, but the instrumental groupings, the musics and the performance practice vary from culture to culture depending on the historical circumstances surrounding each and every ethnolinguistic group.


This essay is part of the Press Kit distributed during the launch of Tunogtugan 2013, the first Gongs and Bamboos Festival

Tunogtugan is a project of The National Commission for Culture and the Arts- National Music Committee (NCCA-NMC) through the Musicological Society of the Philippines (MSP) in partnership with the Dipolog City Government in cooperation with Municipality of Maasin-Iloilo and the UP Center for Ethnomusicology (UPCE). For inquiries call Telefax: (02) 926 0028 or  Email: