Vietnam 07 – Instruments

My favourite tourist activity ever is shopping for indigenous musical instruments! I’d read about Vietnamese gongs but had never actually heard one. My sister brought a big gong back from Beijing a few years back and it has the classic gong sound i.e. the hit that builds to a crescendo… But I’d read Vietnamese gongs are tuned and I was hoping they might be closer to Balinese gongs, of which I love the pitch, tonality & envelope…

As fate would have it our hotel in Hanoi was just around the corner from the music shop street (Hang Manh Street) so we found it without even trying – on the first corner we came to, was a shop selling drums, and they were busy actually making the drums out on the footpath:


Vietnam Music Shops


Further along the same street was a large shop selling antiques & gongs, I had a listen to a few gongs, took a card & carried on down the street…

Vietnam Music Shops


Then I noticed this glowing doorway – on the left of this photo:

Vietnam Music Shops


“Manh Cuong” is owned & operated by a very patient man, who despite neither of us speaking the others language allowed me to explore all the beautiful sounds in his shop. His business card says: “Specilazes in Vietnamese tuned gongs and traditional music instrument” and my hopes turned out to be true, Vietname gongs do sound more like Balinese gongs!

Vietnam Music Shops


I eventually left after trying to explain I’d be back on Friday (after we return from Ha Long Bay) to buy a gong… and I did, but only after measuring how big my suitcase was using a firewire cable, because I wanted to buy the biggest, deepest sounding gong that I could safely carry home. After spending another half hour auditioning the big gongs I decided on one that was 5.4kg and should just fit in my bag… It cost US$110 and I suddenly realised it was a unique opportunity to also buy a smaller gong as I could attempt to find a beautiful pitch interval between the big and small gong. So another twenty minutes was spent auditioning small gongs, alternating hits with the chosen big gong.

I headed back to the hotel, totally happy with my new pair of gongs only to discover my dodgy firewire cable measuring procedure was a bit off, and I couldn’t actually shut my suitcase with the big gong inside!? Rather than go hunting for a larger suitcase I went & bought a roll of packing tape & packed everything else around the big gong, and then sealed it with half a roll of tape…


Vietnam Music Shops


Here is a little look inside the shop, along with some quick recordings of my gongs (using DPA 4060s – figured I’d use what was at hand for the video etc but I am intrigued to hear the contact mics on these!)



Vietnam Music Shops


Heres a recording of a hit on each gong at real speed, then half speed, then quarter speed, then a drone via GRM Freeze, then via TimeFreezer…

VIETNAM GONGS by timprebble


Other instruments I bought while in Vietnam include (left to right) the two beaters for the gongs, a small very resonant singing bowl, two wooden nose flutes (still learning to play these!), a wooden percussion instrument (which you place in front of your mouth, and change the pitch by opening/closing your mouth), a small bell and a jaw harp…


Vietnam Music Shops


Next time I visit Vietnam I plan to visit a village that specialises in gong making… I strongly suspect I’ll be bringing a spare suitcase on that trip!


2 Responses to Vietnam 07 – Instruments

  1. martin wheeler says:

    very interesting.
    I’ve never been to, ahem, “indochina”, but really love the music, and instruments from vietnam, cambodia and laos. laotian and cambodian pop, laotian khene music and, though i unfortunately i haven’t heard that much of it, vietnamese music played on various monochord instruments that i believe are usually called ‘bau’ or ‘dan bau’.
    I am thinking of making a trip to the region sometime ( asap ) and would be interested o know if any of the music shops you visited were selling monochords.
    thanks in advance, and once again thanks for a regularly fascinating and stimulatimg blog.

    • tim says:

      Yes definitely saw monochords and instruments that looked like smaller kotos for sale – dont know sort of prices for them, sorry…

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