Of Frog Song
and Other Sounds

or the garrulous gekko

BY Douglas Myers

The kecak of Bali is a good example of gamelan music which is produced vocally.

In fact, all music in Indonesia can be produced vocally and teachers often use vocal examples, to teach instruments. This is perhaps not so different from the west. The difference comes in the vocalisation which is possible for the Indonesian.

A common occurrence in Indonesian houses is a Gekko
living in the roof. Every now and again the gekko will
sound his cry of "gekko, gekko, gekko, gekko, gekko".
It starts out very strong and is usually repeated about
five times, decreasing in power until the last cry
is possibly not strong enough
to finish the sound completely.

Those of us who hail from the West know for a fact
that this small reptile is sayin
g "gekko" and therefore
we call it by that name. The Balinese, on the other hand,
hear the sound "tokay" and that is what they also call
the reptile. The sound is the same, the ears are trained
in a different way and for that matter so is the voice.

Different sound structures exist in English, Indonesian and

Balinese, not to mention the myriad of other languages which dot

the beautiful Indonesian archipelago. The words we hear are a

matter of language conditioning - acculturation. They also

depend on our acculturated sounds.

I will give another example. Train travel in Indonesia is fun.

I often travel through Java using the excellent rail system. A

train creates its own rhythm as many songwriters in the west have

been quick to show us in song, e.g. Chatanooga Choo Choo and

Clickety Clack Along The Track.

Sellers of cool drinks wander through the carriages from time to

time. Such a salesman, on one occasion took the name of one of

the variety of drinks he sold to announce his arrival in the

carriage and draw attention to himself and his wares. The chosen

bottle was a lemonade bearing the trade name SPRITE.

This word itself causes some difficulty to the Indonesian as the

"sp" configuration of consonants is not found in this language.

The word therefore begins to sound like "Prit". In Indonesian

there is no flat "r" sound as there is in English: all "r"

sounds are rolled. The word now sounds like "prrrrrit".

My journey from Bandung to Yogyakarta takes most of a day. The

seller wanders through each of the carriages and returns to the

larder for new stocks. Each time he enters the carriage he

cries "Prrrrrrit", "Prrrrrrit", "Prrrrrrit" in rhythm with the

train sounds.

Becoming bored by the monotony of the task or perhaps in an

attemt to vamp-up sales the seller tries a new cry. He adds a

word of his own invention to the call: "prrrret".

"Prrrrrrit, prrrret, Prrrrrrit, prrrret"

One of the basics of Indonesian music is the juxtaposition of

vowel sounds in such a way that they create their own rhythm.

The shorter "prrrret" sound adds a lower note which in

combination with the higher "Prrrrrrit" sound gives the most

basic sound of all. It is the song of the frog.

This song is heard in every ricefield in Indonesia and Indonesia

is land of ricefields. The two notes of the frog, which have

been part of the seller's and passenger's acculturation since

birth are suddenly sounding in the carriage. The passengers

recognise the rhythm and the melody instinctively and the sales

curve increases once more. I smile.

Time passes -

"Prrrrrrit, prrrret", "Prrrrrrit, prrrret", "Prrrrrrit, prrrret".

The seller is passing me. Each time he catches my eye. I am a

Westerner and therefore loaded with money. I am a natural for

buying his wares. As he passes he calls "Prrrrrrit, prrrret"

again. Time for some fun. With my less than perfect Indonesian

pronunciation I await my opportunity. It must be timed precisely.


The seller does not stop. He goes on, smiling.

"Prrrrrrit, prrrret - prrrrrrot!" he cries.

The bullfrog has joined the other frogs. The scale has now three sounds.

Gamelan music is created.

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Copyright 1992 - Douglas Myers

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