THE MUSIC OF  SOUTHEAST ASIA:                                                                                                                                                                                                                  www.musicofasia.info

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The traditional music of Cambodia
An Overview
written by INGO STOEVESANDT

2) Instruments and ensembles

Many musical instruments are bound to the religious or social function of an event, most of them do rarely appear alone or played as a solo instrument, and if someone visits Cambodia today, there are two ensembles which he will face everytime and everywhere. This is why it is a sensefull way to present the main instruments used in the Khmer music by describing these two orchestras and their function.

After the defeat of the Khmer rouge, nearly everybody who  knows how to play or even to manufacture an instrument was killed. The only chance left was to grab every instrument one could reach. This way, no "fixed" ensemble was used, they just played on everthing they could find. But after some  years the "PIN PEAT" ensemble was coming back to accompany dances of all  kind. If you visit Cambodia today this will be the most often used ensemble you might face and listen to. Sometimes the ensemble "MOHORI" is also used to  accompany Folk festivals and dance perfomances. Of course both ensembles sometimes get mixed up or instruments appear in different numbers.For example, the oboe Sralay is not easy to learn, and often the Pin Peat ensemble misses a good Sralay player, so his part will be overtaken by another instrument, like a Roneat Ek. This is why all descriptions of the ensembles have to be handled with care.

The main (and one of the oldest) ensembles is thePin Peat.  It consist of 8 musicians minimum and is known today for playing music at the famous “Nang Sbek” shadow theatre, at  royal dances, for temple and folk festivities and for performing the “Lokhon Khol”,  which is the Khmer version of the Ramayana epos.

 We also do find ensembles with this names in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia, but it is obsolete to discuss which one was the “first” 
or oldest, as most of them only differ in details. Maybe the Khmer version is the oldest as it might be traced back to the Angkorian period.           The ensemle and its music might be classified as “gong-chime”-music, which means that the musical focus lies in percussive elements created by gongs and xylophpones. This shows the wide influence of Indonesian Gamelan music, which might be reflected to the education of King Jayavarman II at the Srailendras court of Java, and spreads out over many cultures of Southeast Asia today.

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