The history of gongs

Like singing bowls, gongs can be classified as metallideophones from a musicological point of view. They are among the oldest and most important musical instruments in Southeast Asia. Even with these instruments, experts are not in complete agreement as to their origin and use. In our article you will learn what is known so far.
Antiker Gong vor Tor
Antiker Gong hängend

The most important facts in brief

  • There are different statements about the age of the gong.
  • The main centers of Gong culture are considered to be Burma, China, Annam and Java.
  • Often the gong served to transmit signals or was played during religious ceremonies or rituals.
  • It was not until the 16th century that the gong came to Europe.
  • Peter Hess has been integrating gongs into his concept of sound massage and sound methods since the late 1989s.

Where did the gong first appear in history?

There is speculation about the age of the gong: Some assume that there were first forerunners as early as the Bronze Age, i.e., 3,500 BC. Others refer to facts according to which the origins can be traced back to 2,000 BC.

The main centers of gong culture are considered to be Burma, China, Annam and Java. The so-called “Kettle Drums”, bronze kettle drums, are unanimously recognized as the forerunners of the gongs. From this developed various forms of gongs. Over the centuries, the various instruments spread all the way to Japan via the famous Silk Road.

Note

Throughout the Far Eastern culture, the gong was and still is of great importance in people’s lives.

Mann bei Gebet, Ritual vor einem Gong

What was the gong used for in the past?

It was not until the 16th century that these fascinating instruments arrived in Europe via the sea route from Asia in the course of colonization. Due to their precious metal alloy and the often also artistically and tonally impressive appearance, they were coveted commodities. Unfortunately, however, they were often only used as signal instruments in the bourgeois household to announce meal times or to represent the cosmopolitanism of the house.

When did the gong come to Europe?

It was not until the 16th century that these fascinating instruments arrived in Europe via the sea route from Asia in the course of colonization. Due to their precious metal alloy and the often also artistically and tonally impressive appearance, they were coveted commodities. Unfortunately, however, they often only existed as signaling instruments that reported meal times in the bourgeois household or were supposed to represent the cosmopolitanism of the house.

The entry of the gong into Western musical culture

The actual entry into Western musical culture can be dated to 1889. At that time, the World’s Fair was taking place in Paris, and in the Dutch pavilion, Javanese and Annamite gamelan ensembles presented the music of their cultural area. The typical sound of gamelan orchestras, which have developed into a high culture especially in Java and Bali, is based mainly on gongs, rows of gongs and metallophones, which are supplemented by drums, stringed instruments, flutes and vocals, depending on the size and purpose of use.

Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel as pioneers of sound work with gongs

Claude Debussy was one of the first musicians to seriously explore the influences of this style of music. Maurice Ravel is also one of the pioneers, as he assigned the gong a place befitting it in his “Bolero”. Many other musicians use the exotic instrument, even if its use was and remains often limited to dramatic effects. In recent years, musicians such as Jens Zygar, Johannes Heimrath and Bardo have publicized the Gong through international concerts.

Note

Peter Hess discovered the potential of gongs and integrated them into his concept of sound massage and sound methods as early as the late 1989s.

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