The pathet (Javanese spelling; also patet) is an organizing concept in gamelan music. It is difficult to explain, but is similar to the melody types, that is, for example, modes, ragas, or maqamat, of other musics.
The term means 'to restrain' in Javanese and patet is "a limitation on the player's choice of variation, so that while in one patet a certain note may be prominent, in another it must be avoided, or used only for special effect. Awareness of such limitations, and exploration of variation within them reflects a basic philosophical aim of gamelan music, and indeed all art in central Java, namely, the restraint and refinement of one's own behaviour." Javanese often give poetic explanations of pathet, such as "Pathet is the couch or bed of a melody." In essence, a pathet indicates which notes are stressed in the melody, especially at the end of phrases (seleh), as well as determines which elaborations (cengkok and sekaran) are appropriate. In many cases, however, pieces are seen as in a mixture of pathets, and the reality is often more complicated than the generalizations indicated here, and depend on the particular composition and style.
In Javanese music there are traditionally six pathet, three for each tuning system, pelog and slendro. The systems correspond to each other in emphasized pitches, as in the table given below (given in kepatihan notation), although of course the numbers do not indicate the same frequencies.
| Pélog Pathet
|Pélog nem||Slendro nem||2||5||1||7|
|Pélog lima||Slendro sanga||5||1||3||7|
|Pélog barang||Slendro manyura||6||2||5||1|
It will be noticed that manyura is one step higher than sanga, and indeed it is common to transpose entire pieces from one patet to the other as well as to share cengkok at different transpositions.
Note that in pélog, 4 is always a dissonant pitch, since elaborating instruments such as gendér and gambang cannot play it, and usually play the adjacent pitches 3 or 5 instead. Pathet barang is the only pathet to feature 7 as a common note. The avoided notes are only rare as seleh, especially in slendro; in pélog the rare notes are rare anywhere. The names "tonic" and "dominant," though the analogy to classical music is not strong, are used by some sources. Another system of designation, used by Mantle Hood, is Gong Tone I for the stressed note, Dasar for the strong note, and Gong Tone II for another strong note involved in the cadential system.
Two other terms are sometimes encountered for pélog: pathet bem and pathet manyura. Pathet bem is used as a general term to cover pélog pathet nem and lima (especially in Jogya, where that distinction is not traditionally made), which use the same subset (121356) of the pélog scale and are sometimes difficult to distinguish. Mantle Hood found through an analysis of gendhing in these pathet that they remain distinct in their typical patterns. The other pathet, pélog pathet manyura, also called pélog nyamat, is a direct transfer from slendro manyura into pélog, without the substitution of 7 for 1 as in pathet barang. It is observed in a small collection of gendhing.
According to Mantle Hood, one of the clearest distinctions between the pathet are the typical cadences that appear in the balungan at the ends of the buka and gongan, particularly at the ends of sections. Here the relationship between the pélog and slendro pathet is obscured, as they have different typical formulas, and slendro sanga and pélog nem are made more similar:
- Nem: 6-5-3-2
- Sanga: 2-1-6-5
- Manyura: 3-2-1-6
- Lima: 5-4-2-1 (old) or 5-3-2-1 (new)
- Nem: 2-1-6-5
- Barang: 3-2-7-6
- Manyura: 3-2-1-6
These cadences appear all in the same octave. Therefore, pélog barang and manyura are quite distinct in their contour, as the penultimate note is in a different register. This preference for certain cadential contours within a pathet, according to Hood, led to the dominance of a single-octave saron to play the balungan.
In an evening of wayang, the pathet of the accompaniment goes from slendro nem to slendro sanga to slendro manyura as the night progresses. The different pathet are often associated with different emotions or ideas, often because of their associations in wayang.
Many pieces can be transposed from one pathet to another. Sometimes this involves some substitutions of notes; this depends on the traditions surrounding a piece. Most cengkok and sekaran have corresponding forms in different pathet.
Each pathet has a small collection of pathetan, melodies in free meter which are often said to express the essence of the pathet. They are played instrumentally by a group of the soft elaborating instruments at the conclusion of long pieces in order to reiterate the pathet, or at the beginning of a piece when the pathet has changed in order to establish the new pathet. Pathetan can also be sung by the dhalang in a wayang or dance performance.
- "The representations of slendro and pelog tuning systems in Western notation shown above should not be regarded in any sense as absolute. Not only is it difficult to convey non-Western scales with Western notation, but also because, in general, no two gamelan sets will have exactly the same tuning, either in pitch or in interval structure. There are no Javanese standard forms of these two tuning systems." Lindsay, Jennifer (1992). Javanese Gamelan, p.39-41. ISBN 0-19-588582-1.
- Lindsay (1992), p.40.
- R.M. Jayadipura, cited in Jaap Kunst, Music in Java (The Hague, 1949), page 72.
- Hood 1977, p. 232-234
- Hood 1977, p. 148
- Hood, Mantle. The Nuclear Theme as a Determinant of Patet in Javanese Music. New York: Da Capo, 1977.