Last update: April 26, 2021
The kong vong គងវង់ is a gong chime with 16 gongs standing flat on a semi-circular frame. The term kong គង means gong and vong វង់ refers to its circular shape. It comes in two sizes: kong vong thom គងវង់ធំ (large gong chime) and kong vong touch គងវង់តូច (liter. small gong chime).
Four rattan sections (phtaw ផ្តៅ) are needed to make the frame: two 350 cm for the outside and two 280 cm for the inside. The upper and lower sections are connected two by two by 16 uprights of about fifteen centimeters high, made of turned wood, a kind of pillars of the building. They are made of neang nuon នាងនួន, kranhung ក្រញុង or beng បេង wood depending on the species available and the preciousness sought.
Bronze gongs are tuned with a mixture of melted beeswax (kramuon ក្រមួន) and lead (doeknoam ដឹកនាំ) deposited inside the nipple. The gongs are suspended from the frame with leather ties, nylon threads or cords. They are tuned to each other and to the other fixed note instruments of the orchestra (sralai oboe, roneat xylophones, roneat dek metallophone).
To play, the musician sits in the center of the instrument in a respectful position, i.e. with his legs bent to the side, sitting cross-legged being reserved for monks. The lowest notes are to his left. The gongs are struck with two mallets composed, for the oldest, of a superimposition of nailed buffalo skin rings. Today, the end is covered with several layers of cloth. The handle of the mallets measures about 25 centimeters. Musicians alternate strokes or play two notes simultaneously. There is also a glissando technique where a mallet is slid over several gongs.
These two instruments are part of the pin peat and mahori ensembles; they are never played solo as is the case today for the roneat ek, especially in tourist places like hotels.
For the legendary origin, refer to that of the pin peat (in French but ask Google Translate!)
We know little about the history and antiquity of the kong vong. The first representations of gong chimes in Cambodia date back to the middle of the 16th century. The earliest known instruments consisted of eight or nine gongs. Those shown in the northeast gallery of the third enclosure of Angkor Wat were for martial use. In this temple there are also two frescoes in the central sanctuary (bakan), possibly from the same period, but with a different role, perhaps the ones we still know today. This type of nine-gong instrument is still used in the kantoam ming or kong skor funerary orchestra.
The earliest mention of a sixteen-gong carillon dates back to the 17th century; it is an inscription (IMA 36)* of a donation to the temple of Angkor Wat.
The first photographs testifying to the existence of the contemporary kong vong were taken by the French photographer Émile Gsell around 1866/71 at the court of King Norodom.
At the same time and in the same context, Jean Moura, in his book “Le royaume du Cambodge - 1883” (French) reveals that the instrument was called "péat cong" at the royal court of King Norodom and that it included 21 gongs. However, we have a doubt as to this number since Gsell's photographs show an instrument of 18 notes. The author probably confused this with the number of blades of the roneat ek. Moura also reports that (according to oral tradition) the instrument originated in Pegou or Burma (Myanmar).
*Pou-Lewitz I Inscriptions modernes d'Angkor 35, 36, 37 et 39 I In: Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient. Volume 61, 1974. pp. 303-308.