Last update: February 22, 2021
Until 2020, we announced on this Website that the oboe appeared for the first time in the 16th century iconography of the third north gallery, east wing, of Angkor Wat. However, the reconstruction of the eastern enclosure wall of Banteay Chhmar temple (late 12th-early 13th c.) is causing confusion.
It is difficult, given the poor quality of the carving, to accurately describe ancient oboes. The bore seems straight, even slightly conical, the bell not very flared. The characteristic of the instrument is its oblong pirouette (a ledge below the reed which allow players to rest their lips) probably cut out of a coconut or a sheet of metal. Such instruments are still played in Java, especially in Madura, an island in the north of East Java (Indonesia) under the name of tarompet, and are still played in Cambodia in the kantoam ming funeral orchestra. In this country, until 2013, pirouette was only used in the private training of the musician, in order to facilitate playing with the technique of circular breathing. But since we have correlated the instruments of the bas-reliefs with the real instrument, oboists now dare to play pirouette in public, which was not possible before.
This orchestra is, to say the least, singular in its composition and realization. The first musician, on the right, seems to play the oboe, recognizable by what we can consider a reed and its pirouette in the shape of spread bat wings. The appearance of this instrument in the twelfth century, here in Banteay Chhmar, when it does not appear in any other temple, is surprising.
In other martial orchestras (Angkor Wat, Bayon) the instrument that naturally accompanies the trumpet is the conch. There are at least two contemporary occurrences of a trumpet/boom mix among the Damai of Nepal and among Tibetan Buddhists.
Other musicians and instruments from right to left:
In conclusion: it is difficult to refute the presence of an oboe in this ensemble. However, the presence of this cylindrical drum held vertically throws doubt on the sculptor's knowledge of the organology of the instruments. Nevertheless, even if it was not an oboe, the artist had necessarily seen such an instrument to represent his reed and his pirouette with the wings of bats spread out.
Several oboes are represented in a military context in the third north gallery, east wing, of Angkor Wat, . They are clearly recognizable by their pirouettes in the shape of outstretched bat wings.