My first encounter with the gamelan was in music college where we were required to learn to play the Javanese gamelan with Pak Sunardi Wisnosobruto, who incidentally wrote a book which I saw for sale at the Ganesha bookstore. When I came to Bali two years ago, what I saw and heard blew me away. This time, I had come in search of the instrument factories. Learning to play would be futile as I had no instrument at home.
Found this place via the guidebook. It was just a short drive from the center of Klungkung where I visited peaceful Korta Gersa with its beautiful centuries-old wayang style paintings on the ceilings of the two structures.
Lining the small road were a few gamelan factories. None were very busy and there were just a couple of workers doing some metal polishing on a few bonang and gender keys. At one factory, a guy was melting some iron bars and pouring them into molds which he said would be opened the next day. There were completed instruments as well as some that were in various stages of crafting.
The factories were all inside family compounds which showed how much of it was a family enterprise handed down through generations. Being inside was also an opportunity to see a real Balinese home with its separate sleeping quarters per family and its common areas and structures.
The next day, up in the far north was Sawan. We had just come mountain road tripping in Sembiran and Julah. The factory we visited was by the river paddies and was quite small. The workshop moved there 20 years ago after the original spot was abandoned due to disrepair. The elderly owner was turning a bonang in a furnace which when hot enough he would remove to be hammered by two guys. The process would be repeated until it is the right shape. Hard work. Really hard work. Two other guys were working on what seemed to be a way of polishing the gongs and metal keys but scraping-off their outer layers with a sharp object until a gleaming layer appeared.
Seeing how the gamelan was made gave me even more respect to the instrument and its makers as it was so labor intensive. No wonder it was so expensive. At the Sawan workshop, a single bonang costs USD 100.