Gongs belong to the oldest and most important musical instruments of south East Asia. Their origins may be traced back to the second millennium B.C., but it is assumed that the gong is much older. In Chinese history, gongs are mentioned around 500 A.D., attributed to a nation called HSI YU between Tibet and Burma during the reign of emperor Hsuan Wu.
Historic research provides us with four main centres – Burma, China, Annam, Java – at least 7 gong shapes and sound structures stem from these regions. Only few families knew the tradition of gong making as it was passed from generation to generation. The art of making gongs was veiled in a sense of magic. Gong makers then believed that a gong could only succeed with the help of higher powers and, that they were exposed to such forces more so than ordinary humans.
The gong was an important element in the lives of Far East people and it still is in some countries today. In Asian families, the gong was an attribute of wealth and served as a status symbol. In rites, the gong was used in evocation of ghosts and in the banning of demons. Touching a gong brought you fortune and strength. In the rituals of the Far East, the gong has retained its special significance to this day.
As a musical instrument the gong accompanied celebrations and funeral ceremonies, songs and theatre plays. In the music of the Asian high cultures, the gong was used as an orchestral instrument. Orchestras with gong plays containing up to 18 notes were not seldom. They were also played in private concerts at residences. In the following, you will find some examples of scales and gong melodies:
Since about 1790, gongs were used in European orchestras. Since then the terms “Tam Tam” for flat gongs, and “Gong” for bossed gongs have become customary. However, the authentic term in all languages of the origin countries is GONG.
The above are words from Paiste regarding Gongs whilst just further below are descriptions of their own Gong ranges in particular.
The rear of my equipment illustrating my larger gongs (38″). Photo Oliver Nares @ Musicalfresco 1997
Gongs first entered my life in 1968. I now have a collection of around 43 gongs. The larger gongs especially, transport me into far off fiery realms to commune with the Sound and Light Beings. They speak of the fiery cosmic mysteries of the spiritual heart. Each gong comprises a brotherhood of tones and is a beautiful symbol and sonic accompaniment to meditation upon the Supreme Creator. Who among us can deny that we exist within a field of creation and thus there must be a creator. If a crime is committed, we seek the perpetrator. Naturally, they have done a runner by that time. So do we conclude that the crime was some accident of nature or that a person or persons committed this criminal act? If an old painting is discovered but is unsigned, again, do we conclude that nobody created this painting? Symphonic gongs carry the Solar energy of Creation. Through playing them and communing with them within their own unique sonic-soul realm we may learn how to Radiate forth from that divine centre within our Heart Centre – to activate the virgin birth of repotentialisation.
Many of the gongs in my collection are made by PAISTE – the world’s leading Gong manufacturer. Whilst it is possible to purchase gongs from far away places such as China, Burma, India, Thailand, and sometimes, Java or Bali, PAISTE gongs are more musical-sounding. It is a matter of choice, because certain PAISTE Gongs can be ordered and somewhat guaranteed to turn up sounding like their descriptions. However, gongs from these other countries and manufacturers are less predictable – each one being a unique and individual instrument, but perhaps you like risk? Choosing a metal instrument requires a degree of care and ideally one should hear the sound before buying.
Amongst my collection during recording of Belovodye Volume 1 @ Wytherstone Studios 1993
A far longer version of this track exists on SoundCloud where you can find me under Frank Perry 4
There are also a number of videos of my live performances some featuring gongs alongside of the Himalayan singing bowls that you can find on YouTube under Frank Perry.
There are many techniques for playing gongs, although it is true that such techniques are also limited by the design and style/shape of the gong being played. Primary amongst these is that of using a Gong Mallet. There will be one that is the correct size for playing the gong (PAISTE are always very clear on which is the right mallet for your Gong) but other mallets or implements, that do not produce the basic sound characteristic of the gong in question, may elicit other tones and sounds that you enjoy – Experimentation is the key! However, it is probably best to have at least the recommended Mallet as a starting point. Most gong manufacturers provide mallets for their gongs. Even antique gongs often come with a gong frame and a striker / mallet.
There are three main types of gong: – A Flat Gong, that is to say that it has no rim but rather it is more ‘dish-like’ (in China called a ‘Wind Gong’), a Gong that has a rim (called a Flanged Gong – in the West this is called a Symphonic Gong), and a Gong that has a rim and a boss (this is a raised dome in the centre of the Gong called either a ‘nipple’, or ‘boss’) the purpose of this dome is to turn the gong into a tuned gong. PAISTE have experimented with other shapes to produce different sounds – check out their Sound Creation Gongs (I understand that currently this list is diminished). The Tuned Gongs produced by PAISTE all have flanges. Manfred Bleffert (Germany) makes tuned gongs without flanges and from different metals. The Chinese have also created a range of different gongs.
The flanges upon gongs vary in their size and their angle. They can be 90 degrees to the gong surface or they can be bent inwards or outwards from the surface. There can be a very sharp demarcation between the surface and the flange or it can be more gradual and rounded. The flanges can be either short or long. There can also be variations occurring between the outer rim (flange) and the centre of the gong (see #5 Burma, Tonkin & Annam below) and sometimes the dome is inverted (see #4 China below) where it tends to produce a more splashy – ocean spray – type sound that is rapid and possesses a short sustain.
To view more of Steve’s beautiful hand-made uniquely original gongs and for more information regarding his work and CD’s, etc,
visit his site by clicking HERE.
In Java and Bali they have whole orchestras of gongs (called Gamelans) of various sizes and shapes to play beautiful communal rhythmic music upon. Some such gong orchestras have entered the West and there is one at London’s South Bank. Gongs entered the West some centuries back due to colonialism. Returning from the Far East one gong would return to sound before dinner and then Western orchestras adopted gongs in certain pieces of music. Then last century composers such as Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez created works using a large array of gongs – especially tuned gongs. Gong music has been played for centuries in the Far East to accompany funerals, weddings, dances, feasts, and other rituals whilst Emperors or persons of high office would often have a single gong to introduce either themselves or to announce the entrance of a visiting person of similarly high office.
There were several types of gongs, each with their own distinctive shape: –
There are two extraordinary gongs from China that must be mentioned. These are Opera Gongs, both of which have small flanges – the so-called Tiger Gong (below) which, when it is struck, descends in pitch;
.and the Jin Ban Gong (above) which, when struck, ascends in pitch.
Taoist percussion from China also includes the Cloud Gongs. These are small tuned gongs on a frame. However, unlike the Boss Gongs (the usual form for Tuned Gongs), these are flat (as in diagram above). There are usually a set of 10 and they accompany the melody of certain tunes.
Then there are the Burmese Meditation Gongs called Kyeezee. These can also come from Tibet. These gongs are solid (often over half an inch thick) but hammered in such a way that the thickness of the gong decreases as we move towards the centre of the gong. The diagram is front-on. In my experience the antique ones are far better-sounding.
I have been an endorsee for PAISTE since 1973 and PAISTE do a huge range of gongs of a very high quality. I must stress that I DO NOT SELL GONGS – should you wish to purchase a gong then there are links at the bottom of this page.
The PAISTE Gong range includes:
22” – 80” Diameter
Paiste Symphonic Gongs (Tam-Tams) have a slightly raised surface with a harmonic and universal structure. The fundamental note of the gong is balanced with the instrument’s complex overtones. A good starting point for a gong collection, the Symphonic contains even proportions of various gong characteristics, which can be brought forth using different mallets and striking points. Symphonic Gongs feature some of Paiste’s largest examples of the instrument, like the 60” SGM and the extraordinary 80”, the world’s largest gong.
C2 – F6 (6” – 36” Diameter)
Tuned Gongs feature a boss to produce a specific note cushioned softly by complimentary gong harmonics. Paiste is the only percussion instrument manufacturer to offer a full four and a half-octave range of gongs tuned electronically to a Middle A of 442 Hz (other Middle A tunings can be custom produced). These instruments are perfect for classical and modern scores which call for tuned gongs. They can also be used as excellent substitutes when other, small or large, tuned idiophones are called for.
PLANET GONGS 14 GONGS
Paiste Planet Gongs resemble Symphonic Gongs in character, but feature a strong fundamental note tuned to represent a natural harmonic series based on the orbital properties of Sun, the Earth, the Moon and the other planets as calculated by Hans Cousto. Planet gongs resonate harmonically with the cycles of the cosmos, communicating to us what has been known since antiquity as the “music of the spheres”. Mysterious in sound colour, Planet gongs convey an unusual atmosphere.
SOUND CREATION GONGS currently 6 GONGS
Each Sound Creation Gong has its own extraordinary and particular sound character. Their impressive, charismatic sound embodies a wealth of archetypal emotional sensations and truths.
Due to their varied sound colours and voices, these instruments also offer a wide range of harmonics and frequencies, from diffused crash-like timbres to defined and steady bell-like tones.
Currently, they are producing the three Chakra Gongs and the Three different-sized Earth Gongs (not to be confused with the Earth Gong in the Planet gongs series).
DECO GONGS 12 GONGS
Deco Gongs are produced by hand hammering, as are all Paiste’s gongs. Essentially, the Deco is a miniature Symphonic Gong. The instrument produces a fascinating and wonderfully exotic sound. True gongs with complex harmonics, they make a unique and decorative addition to your personal or musical environment.
IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN BUYING A GONG –
PAISTE Symphonic Gongs are distributed within the UK by KORG UK www.korg.co.uk.
Click on PRODUCTS then on Category GONGS
There are 13 distributors for PAISTE around the UK and, whilst they probably won’t stock gongs, they should be able to order one for you.
Remember PAISTE are largely suppliers of Cymbals for Drummers!
Tel 0049 4331 94790
Fax 0049 4331 947932
For Chinese & PAISTE Gongs (in the UK): –
SOULNOTE, (all of the available PAISTE too)
Dawlish, Devon, EX7 0WQ
Tel: 01626 895406
and (if money is no object)
RAY MAN, 54 Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8AN
Tel: 0207 6926261
I must add that Gongs are not mass produced, as is a car, etc, i.e. each one is unique, so that it isn’t possible to hear one gong (e.g. a 34″ Symphonic Gong) in a showroom and then order that particular (34″ Symphonic) Gong and expect it to come out sounding precisely the same as the one on display at the showroom. There will be differences because each one is hand beaten with hammers. The individual hammering of each gong produces a complex sound due to the constant changes of thickness of the metal across the surface of each gong. With Far Eastern gongs in particular, one can strike the gong in different places upon its surface to elicit a range of diverse tones. It is similar with Cymbals – a drummer can go through, say, a number of 20″ Ride Cymbals until they find one with the sound they’re looking for. PAISTE have claimed for some years now that their cymbal range is more predictable, being as they are machine hammered. Hand made cymbals will each be unique, whilst antique cymbals, having lost much of their initial brilliance of rich overtones, provide other sound characteristics that can extend the percussionists set of cymbal sounds. Because of certain peculiarities of design, arrived at through experimentation, some gongs (e.g. Sound Creation Gongs, or Planet Gongs) will embody a similarity of Timbre providing less product differences than in Symphonic Gongs.
In selecting a Gong, it might be advisable to consider: –
whether it will be easily transportable (size);
whether you intend to hang it upon a frame or hold it by hand (size & weight);
how many people you wish to hear it (amplitude – Size);
if you intend to use it for musical, healing, or therapeutical (working with special needs children) purposes (Style: – Symphonic, Planet, Sound Creation, etc).
I personally feel that it is futile to seek one ‘all-rounder’ gong. You might as well seek to buy a car that can turn into a lorry, or into a bicycle, when you want it to!
For instance, a Tuned Gong is simply that – it is designed to produce One major Tone e.g. D#2 and cannot really be used for anything else, whereas Symphonic Gongs provide a range of sounds (probably a 30″ would be a minimal size), and Sound Creation Gongs have been especially designed to focus upon certain aspects from within the entire sonic field of the Symphonic Gong – somewhat in isolation – and these are then variously described as an “Earth Gong”, or “Water Gong”, etc, whilst Planet Gongs conform to the mathematical formulas developed by Hans Cousto.
© Copyright 1999 & 2005 by Frank Perry. All rights reserved. Slightly revised 2005.
© Frank Perry, 1999 & 2005. All of these articles are copyright. They may individually be copied and shared with others in a spirit of knowledge-sharing and fair play, but they may not be sold, printed or reproduced in quantity or changed in form without the permission of the copyright holder. None of this material may be reproduced in workshops or lectures of any kind unless quotes are credited or properly attributed.