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…


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!


4 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…

  2. To Whom It May Concern:

    As a composer, I have been interested in the sound of Burmese Button Gongs for years. I would like to know more about your available stock, future stocks, of the Vietnamese, Burmese, and Thai Gongs. Are they basically the same with the exception that the Thai Gongs are tuned? Your correspondence is greatly appreciated.

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