Type: Idiophones > Metallophones > Gongs.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 111.241.2
Region: South East Asia.
Description: The agung is a set of two wide-rimmed, vertically suspended gongs used by the Maguindanao, Maranao, Sama-Bajau and the Tausug people of the Philippines as a supportive instrument in kulintang ensembles. The agung is also ubiquitous among other groups found in Palawan, Panay, Mindoro, Mindanao, Sabah, Sulawesi, Sarawak and Kalimantan as an integral part of the agung orchestra.
Origins: Scholars seem to agree that the origins of the agung are in Indonesia, noting that the word agung / agong is derived from the Malay agong and Indonesian/Javanese ageng. Further evidence of this comes from a British explorer, Thomas Forrest, who in the 1770s wrote Filipinos were “fond of musical gongs which came from Cheribon on Java and have round knobs on them.”
Playing Techniques: The agung is usually performed while standing beside the instrument, holding the upper edge of its flange between the thumb and other fingers with the left hand while striking the knob with the right hand. The mallets, called balu, are made from short sticks about half a foot in length and padded with soft but tough material such as rubber at one end. Using these balus, players handle the agung similar to the way a brass tom-tom is played.
A series of solid, fast decaying sounds are produced using dampening techniques. The desired effect is produced after striking the knob, by leaving one’s hand or knee or the mallets themselves on it. When one player is using two gongs, the assistant holding the lower-pitched gong positions it at an angle and dampens its surface using their hands.
Recently, new ways of handling the agung have emerged, including grasping a portion of the boss rather than the flange to dampen or using regular strokes upon the busel while striking the surrounding gong surface with the opposite, wooden end of the beater. The latter technique, called katinengka, is used by downriver musicians to produce metallic sounds during kulintang performances.
Different combinations of players, gongs and mallets can be used for playing the agung: two players with each assigned their own gong or just one. When playing alone, the agung player could either play both gongs with the player holding the higher-pitched gongs face-to-face, with the lower one held at an angle by an assistant for stability, or just one gong.
The latter style, common among downriver Maguindanaos in Simuay, who consider this style an old one, uses only the higher-pitch gong for it, unlike the lower-pitched gong, is considered the lead gong, therefore having primary importance. An example of this is when single gong agungs are used during a tagunggo piece.
The number of mallets used by the player could also vary as well. For most occasions, only one mallet is used but for other techniques, the player could use two mallets, one in each hand. An even more interesting technique uses only one balu but requires the player to play the agung in reverse order of pitches. Called patuy, this technique and the one with two mallets are normally reserved only for competition and exhibition instances.
Construction: As a supporting instrument, the agung produces a bass sound in the kulintang orchestra and weighs between 13 and 16 pounds. It is possible to find agungs weigh as low as 5 pounds or as high as 20 or 30 pounds each, depending on the metal [bronze, brass or iron] used to produce them.
Though their diameters are smaller than the gandingan’s, at roughly 22 inches [560 mm] to 24 inches [610 mm] in length, they have a much deeper turned-in takilidan [rim] than the latter, with a width of 12 to 13 inches [330 mm] including the knob.
Citations: Bibliography: Mercurio, Philip Dominguez 2006 “Traditional Music of the Southern Philippines”. PnoyAndTheCity: A center for Kulintang – A home for Pasikings. Archived from the original on 28 February 2006 ; Hila, Antonio C 2006 “Indigenous Music – Tuklas Sining: Essays on the Philippine Arts”. Filipino Heritage.com. Tatak Pilipino – 8 December 2006 ; Butocan, Aga M. 2006 “Gandingan / Babendil”. Kulintang and the Maguindanaos ; Cadar, Usopay H., and Robert Garfias. “Some Principles of Formal Variation in the Kolintang Music of the Maranao.” Asian Music Vol. 27, No. 2. [Spring – Summer, 1996], pp. 105–122;