Gamelan Nyai Saraswati is an ensemble of the Department of Music, College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina ? Chapel Hill. Gamelan is a Javanese/Indonesian word for ensemble. The word "gamel" means to hammer something in Javanese and , indeed, "hammering" or hitting is the way in which most of the different instruments in the ensemble are sounded with the exception of the two stringed instruments ? the bowed fiddle (rebab) and the plucked zither (siter) ? and the flute (suling), male chorus (gerong) and female soloists (pasindhen).
Western musicians who hear gamelan are struck both by the complexity of the relationships between the melody lines of the different instruments and, if they are aware of the "rules" of western harmony, by the almost "impressionistic" tone clusters that can be heard if the listener hears the music vertically, or tries to interpret it "harmonically". People without musical training often focus on the melifluousness of the sound and the soothing, meditative quality of some of the music. Others are excited by the multileveled interlockingness of the texture, comparing it to the experience of listening to several, incredibly good jazz solo players improvising together.