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Sinin Hamdan 1 , Ahmad Faudzi Musib 2 , Iran Amri Musoddiq 3 , Hasnizam Abdul Wahid 4 and Saiful
Hairi Othman 5

Faculty of Engineering, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, 94300, Kota Samarahan, Sarawak, Malaysia
Faculty of Human Ecology, Universiti Putra Malaysia, 43400 Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia
Faculty of Applied and Creative Art, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, 94300, Kota Samarahan, Sarawak, Malaysia
Institute of Creative Arts and Technology, (iCreaTe) Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, 94300, Kota Samarahan,
Sarawak Malaysia


This study explores timbral visualization to recognize the sound from Malaysian Gamelan and provide detailed
description of the sound. The timbre of two sets of bonang (bonang penerus and bonang barung) are used to
perceive the sound recorded from the Malaysian Gamelan. The higher pitch bonang penerus are smaller in size
than the bonang barung. The bonang panerus plays a part that is similar to the bonang barung with frequency
twice as bonang barung. The timbral characteristics can precisely and objectively describes the sound characteristics
of a bonang that was always faced by ethnomusicologists in fieldwork activities. The sound profile from each set
of bonang shows different characteristics which indicate that the recognition process showed a high
recognition rate. From the finding bonang penerus showed a clear fundamental frequency indicated by the
brightest colors’ in the spectrogram (yellow and red). Bonang barung showed a strong attack and decay rapidly.
The sustainability or the rapid decay is also indicated by the Q factor. Q factor for bonang penerus range from
20.20 to 23.87 whereas the Q factor for bonang barung is slightly small from 12.70-17.00.

Keywords: Bonang, Music, Q factor, Spectogram

Java and Bali have music technology that is very similar compared with other part of
Southeast Asia. Their instruments are mainly from bamboo, wood and metal namely bronze.
Gamelan which is an ensemble of bronze gong instruments is one common feature of music
throughout Java and Bali. A gong is a circular flat surface metal percussion instrument with
the edge of the surface turned over to form a lip or a flange. Sometimes the lips are very deep
and the instrument looks more like an overturned kettle or pot. Gongsmiths added a raised
knob (called a boss) to the centre of the surface to obtain the gong’s pitch. The thickness of
the gong’s various surfaces along with its size and weight also determines its pitch. The gong
is hit on the boss with a padded mallet to produce a sound with a clearly identifiable pitch.
The softness or hardness of the mallet affects its timbre i.e. the quality or colour of the sound.
The quality that distinguishes one set of gamelan instruments from the other is its tuning
(Spiller,2004). Each instrument in a gamelan is unique and carefully tune to match the others
and therefore rarely possible to exchange instruments between gamelan. Gamelan tuning
follow the general outlines of one of two tuning called pelog and slendro. Each of the bronze
gongs gamelan instruments is tuned permanently to a discrete pitch. Gamelan tuners do not

use a single standard for pitch or intervals. Intonation differences between gamelan sets are
not critical because the instruments are always played as a set. The intonation differences
between one gamelan and another is appreciable. The boundaries between what sounds
acceptably in tune and what sounds out of tune are difficult to distinguish and subject of detail
discussion among Javanese musicians. Bonang consists of two rows of small gongs chime laid
over ropes in a frame with a two octave range. Each of the two rows includes one octave’s
worth of gongs. The upper octave of the lower pitched bonang barung is in the same range as
the lower octave of the higher pitched bonang panerus.
The primary relation among sound attributes is the determination of timbre by
waveform (Hall,1991). Timbre and waveform are both complex quantities. Therefore, the
relation is difficult to describe than loudness/intensity or pitch /frequency. Each
psychological attribute of a steady sound such as loudness, pitch and timbre are produced
mainly by one of its physical attributes i.e. intensity, frequency and waveform respectively. The
timbre from a steady waveform indicates different musical instruments where the transients
when notes begin and end are also important. In instrument recognition, an experienced
musician usually finds it quite easy to tell the instrument by hearing the sound. Some can even
tell the difference between a violin and a viola because the instrument can be easily arranged to
be heard at the same pitch and loudness. Waveform and steady tone timbre is the basis to
recognize instruments. Instrument recognition depends a great deal on hearing the transients, the
beginnings (attacks) and ending (decays) when the waveform is rapidly changing. The duration
of initial transient on any instrument generally vary between high and low notes. This transient
differs enough among various instruments to give vital clues to their identity.
Pitch is a characteristic of high or low sound and the position is determined on the
musical scale (Rossing,1992). The pitch from a complex sounds depend on the spectrum
(timbre) of the sound and its duration. A thorough investigation of the timbre of steady
tones has been done by Helmholtz (Helmholtz,1954). Helmholtz demonstrated that most
musical instruments produced sounds which consist of a series of harmonics which also
determine the timbre. It is transferred to understand the sound quality without listening or
accessing the original recording sounds. Therefore, the sound quality can be easily
misunderstood and perceive differently by the readers. A written sound may be perceived
differently from what we listen from the actual sound. In the present paper, the sound of a
bonang musical instrument is described using spectrographic analysis software for defining
and identifying sound qualities of bonang instruments. The Q factor is determined to define
useful and universally understood symbols from the spectogram. Most indigenous musical
instrument produced non-standard sound. Therefore, the acceptable sound need to be
identifies and recognize for non-expert in any musical instrument. Timbral description
identifies its spectrogram providing a quantitative analysis of the sound. When referring to the
quality of sound a spectrogram gives specific quantitative information of the timbre.
According to “American National Standards Institute”, timbre defines two dissimilar
sounds that are similarly presented i.e. having the same loudness and pitch (Smalley,1994).
The basis for conceptualizing the spectral analysis is the relationship between pitch and sound
qualities. A sound described verbally will be perceived differently by other people. With the
spectrogram hopefully musicians can describe a sound of bonang instrument in their
fieldwork. The size or measurements of indigenous musical instruments are not fixed and do
not give any standard pitch. The local terminology is used to describe sound because the
sound quality and pitch are different although the instruments are from the same region. The
sound of bonang depends on the size of the instrument such as the diameter of the ring,
depth of the ring and thickness of materials. A standard bonang ensemble consists of 10 to
25 bonangs giving rhythmic patterns for specific events. Figure 1 shows a set of 10 bonang
ensemble (upper row bonang penerus, lower row bonang barung). A bonang is tuned to a
definte pitch. No standard tuning is use and the acceptable pitch of the bonang is tuned by the
bonang manufacturer using a pianica. This work will clarify how to understand and perceive
the sound of a bonang using spectrogram. In certain circumstances the bonang pots are not in
numerical order, but rather arranged to make playing the five pitch subsets of pelog a bit
easier. In Figure 1 the bonang pots are in numerical order with the upper row bonang penerus
arrange as number 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 from left to right and the lower row bonang barung arrange as
number 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 from right to left.

Figure 1: A set of 10 bonang ensemble (upper row bonang penerus no 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 from

left to right, lower row bonang barung no 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 from right to left).

Quality factor or Q factor of an oscillator or resonator is the bandwidth f3dB relative to

its centre frequency fo (Hall,1991). Figure 2 showed the definition for the bandwidth. It is
a dimensionless parameter. Higher Q produced from lower rate of energy loss relative to the
stored energy and thus oscillations decay slowly. In other word high Q showed low damping
and oscillates longer. A very high Q from a brass instrument or wind instrument pick only one
frequency out of the broader spectrum. High Q showed narrow and sharp peak. In this study
the spectrogram is used to investigate and compare the different sound produced by different
bonang sizes. Q factor can be applied to bonang instruments sound. From this work the
spectrograms give knowledge of the sound.

Figure 2: Definition for the bandwidth at 3dB.


In conducting this study, adobe version 3 is use for visualizing the sound characteristics
of the bonang instrument. The amplified signal was calibrated by digital audio interface to
ensure the signal is aligned at the correct alignment level. The software was set to mono track.
The project set up was at 48 kHz sampling rate, record format at 24 bit, interface using
Steinberg UR22 mkII. The recording apparatus were Audio-Technica AT4050 microphone,
XLR cable (balance), with microphone position on axis (<20 cm), microphone setting with
low cut (flat) 0 dB. Expert player play the bonang instruments for the purpose of recording.
From the spectrum, the fundamental frequency is used to calculate the Q factor using the
following equation: Q = fo/f3dB. Figure 3 shows the experimental setup.

Figure 3: Schematic diagram of the experimental setup.


The selected bonangs were recorded as wave files. The recordings were converted to
spectrograms. The spectogram is a graph with horizontal axis representing time whereas the
vertical axis is frequency. The colours represent the most important acoustic peaks for a given
time frame with red showing the highest energies whereas yellow have less energy and
magenta below a threshold level. A series of recordings were made of the bonang. Figure 4
showed the spectrogram of bonang penerus and bonang barung and can be understood by
studying the corresponding waveforms (amplitude vs. time) and spectra (amplitude vs.
frequency). From Figure 4 the fundamental tone from bonang penerus is shown by the
brightest colors (yellow and red). The overtone as shown by the height of the vertical was as
rich as the fundamental tone. The sound from bonang barung has a strong attack and a rapid
decay. Bonang barung 5 showed the most rapid decay among all the bonangs. The duration of
the sound from bonang barung 5 is the shortest of all the sound produced. This work is an
initial attempt to use spectrogram as the basis for useful timbral information. In bonang
penerus the spectrum has components at the fundamental frequency and its harmonic. The
sound from bonang penerus are shown by fundamental and overtone characteristic i.e. ideal
timbral characteristic that decay significantly slow. In bonang barung harmonics occur at the
same frequencies as in bonang penerus but the fundamental is very much weaker. The pitch
of bonang barung matches that of bonang penerus but the quality or timbre of the sound is
quite different.

Bonang Penerus 6 Bonang Barung 6

Bonang Penerus 5 Bonang Barung 5

Bonang Penerus 3 Bonang Barung3

Bonang Penerus 2 Bonang Barung 2

Bonang Penerus 1 Bonang Barung 1

Figure 4: The spectrogram of bonang penerus and bonang barung recorded using adobe
version 3

Figure 4 clearly showed that the fundamental tone for all bonang penerus had high
intensity followed by gradual decrease of the overtones. Bonang barung showed a strong
attack and a rapid decay with the overtone clearly higher than the fundamental tone. From the
spectrum, the fundamental frequency is used to calculate the Q factor. Table 1 showed the
Q factor calculated using the following equation obtained from the spectrum.

Q = fo/f3dB

Q factor for bonang penerus ranges from 20.20 to 23.87 whereas the Q factor for
bonang barung is slightly small from 12.70 to 17.00. In general, all the bonang penerus
sustained the fundamental tone sound with longer decay whereas all bonang barung display
short fundamental tone decays time. The sharp attack and quick decay from bonang barung
make it an ideal instrument for marking off appropriately smaller units of time. The lower
pitched bonang barung instrument play version of the melody that is very simple. The version
played by the higher pitched bonang penerus instruments is by comparison very elaborate.

Table 1: Q factor for boning penerus dan boning barung.

Bonang penerus Bonang barung

No fr(key) f1 f2 Q No fr(key) f1 f2 Q
6 1062 (~C6) 1037 1087 21.24 1 295 (~D4) 285 305 14.75
5 880 (~A5) 857 895 23.15 2 331 (~E4) 320 340 16.5
3 788 (~G5) 769 802 23.87 3 395 (~G4) 375 406 12.7
2 658 (~E5) 643 672 22.68 5 441 (~A4) 421 453 13.78
1 586 (~D5) 572 601 20.2 6 527 (~C5) 510 541 17
Note: No. 1 is for ‘do’, no. 2 for ‘re’, no. 3 for ‘mi’, no. 5 for ‘so’, no. 6 for ‘la’


In this paper, sound spectrogram and Q factor is used for recognition of bonang
penerus and bonang barung. Sound spectrogram wave extracted from Malaysian Gamelan.
Two different parameters in this sound analysis are waveforms (amplitude vs. time) and spectra
(amplitude vs. frequency). The results for spectrogram and the Q factor for all bonang musical
instruments are observed. The harmonic showed by bonang penerus 1 is wider than bonang
barung 1. The wider harmonic range is use in the higher pitched instruments for sustained
melody whereas the lower pitched instrument play version of the melody that is very simple.
The results suggest that the estimation from spectrogram (the pitch) and correlation with the
timbre (indicated by the brightest colours in the spectrogram) effectively reflects different
sound in these musical instruments. From the bonang spectrograms two common values for Q
are calculated. Q value for bonang penerus is high meaning the bonang is less damped for
sustained melody. For bonang barung Q values is low indicating that it is very damped and
produce short duration of ringing sound for simple melody. The higher the pitch (and smaller
the size) of an instrument, the faster its part will be. The bonang panerus, smaller and higher
pitched than the bonang barung, plays a part that is similar to the bonang barung’s but which
has twice as many notes to accomplish this. The bonang panerus player takes each pair of
notes and plays it four times, at times replacing some of the notes with rests.


This work was financially supported by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak under the grant
number FRGS/SG02(01)/971/2013(12)

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