Besides many traditional and century-old gong manufacturers from east and south-east Asia, the modern gong manufacturers that have gained quite a bit of reputation, include: (a) Paiste, a Swiss company of Estonian lineage making gongs at their German factory (b) UFIP, an Italian company making a range of gongs at their factory in Pistoia, and (c) Sabian: a North-America company making a small number of gongs and zildjian.
More unusual and innovative types of Sculptural Gongs are being made in the recent years by independent gong smiths, most notably by Steve Hubback, Michael Paiste, and Matt Nolan. These gongs serve the dual purpose of being a musical instrument and a work of visual art.
There are various occasions and purposes for which a gong is required. In ancient times, gongs were used for religious rituals, feasts, for announcing arrival of royalty, to exorcise evil spirits, to frighten enemies, to bring rain, to assist the dying on their journey to the next world, and as spiritual aid for meditation and altering of consciousness. Gongs have also been used in upper class families as waking up devices or to summon domestic help. Gongs have still remained an essential element to communicate, make announcements, make music, accompany life's events, meditate, and heal.
For example, one of the early uses of the Chau Gong was to clear a path for Emperor or other important political and religious officials during a procession. The number of times the gong was struck indicated the official’s seniority. Some gongs are loud enough to be heard from 50 miles away, and were used to signal peasants in the fields, to call people to gather for battle, to signal upcoming train in railroads crossings, to notify the driver of a streetcar or tram when it is safe to proceed, to mark certain hours of a day, and a myriad other occasions in which a loud noise could prove useful. In ancient times as well as today, the gong is used to start sumo wrestling contests.
The Chau Gong or Tam-tam was first introduced into a western orchestra by François Joseph Gossec in the funeral march composed at the death of Mirabeau in 1791. It was also used in the funeral music played when the remains of Napoleon were brought back to France in 1840. In more modern music, the Tam-tam has been used by composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen in Mikrophonie I and by George Crumb. Bossed gongs still play an important role in Indonesian Gamelan orchestra. Gong has been used as a sound effect and as a musical element in a number of movies, TV shows, and music recordings.
In Taoist and Buddhist culture, playing of the bowls have been practiced for centuries and is used for deep meditation, worship and spiritual development. They are also fantastic for simple, daily relaxation. Gong is a very powerful sound healing tool as it is said to produce the ‘aum’ sound, the original sound of the universe. Gong's vibrations can help activate and tune our body’s vibrations, aligning and balancing our ‘chakra’s and energy grids. By playing the gong it is possible to focus and slow our mind and move into a deeper, slower state of vibration. It is at these brain states, like theta (4-7 Hz) and delta (0-4 Hz), that healing and realignment can occur.
In Asian cultures, the gong is an important part of weddings, funerals, theatrical productions and orchestral concerts, now as well as in the past. In the West, people use them in orchestras, in sound therapy, in martial arts and yoga training environments, in self awareness and anger therapy, and even businesses use them to celebrate the attainment of certain targets. Gongs also make rare and decorative addition to personal or musical collections.
Gongs have taken up different names based on their usage and sounds produced. For instance, Opera Gong in Chinese opera consists of an ascending and a descending gong, played together. The large (descending) one is typically used to introduce pivotal players or emphasize particular points in a drama and the smaller (ascending) gong is used to announce the entry of less important players and to identify points of humor. Planet Gongs are possibly the most refined gongs made. Paiste was the pioneer in introducing these planet gongs in 1980’s. They are tuned gongs and the tuning of each gong is based on the fundamental frequency of a given planet or celestial body. The calculations for the frequency of each planet are based on the work of Hans Cousto, a renowned mathematician, and documented in his book The Cosmic Octave: Origin of Harmony, Planets, Tones, Colors, the Power of Inherent Vibrations. Thus, Paiste's Earth Gong is tuned to C sharp because earth itself has been calculated to have a fundamental frequency of C sharp. Planet gongs are ideal sound healing instruments. Their frequency and harmonic overtones will harmonize and resonate with players and listeners to bring the effect of sound-massage. Symphonic Gongs are the gong of choice for Indian ‘kundalini yoga’ practitioners and many sound therapists.
Tiger Gongs have the ability to roar and growl like a tiger, yet can also be mellow like a kitten. Pasi Gongs are very sensitive to the touch and plays beautifully at soft or loud volumes, hence used in circus, plays, and musical performances.
The Largest Gong
According to the Guinness book of world records, the largest gong measures 5.15 m (16.8 ft) in diameter. It was made by Shanxi Baodi Real Estate Development Co. Ltd and was displayed at the Third China Taiyuan International Cooked Wheaten Food Festival, Shanxi Province, China on 8 September 2005. The gong was made of copper and weighed 568 kg (1252 lb).
On the other hand, the Sun Gong used in the annual Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice Concert held at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York is claimed to be the world’s largest Tam-tam gong (7 ft in diameter).
In Film, TV, and Music
In films, the Hungarian animated movie Macskafogó starts with a round cat face, which a mouse strikes like a gong. The Gongman film logo sequence depicts a man striking a huge gong. The gongs used in the films were props made of plaster or papier-mâché, with the sound of the gong done by James Blades on a Tam-tam. Athletes who played Gongman in the film sequence over the years, included boxer Bombardier Billy Wells and wrestler Ken Richmond. On The Muppets Go to the Movies, the muppets parody the Gongman and the pig, Link Hogthrob proudly assumes the role of a gong-beater. In E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, there is a logo at the beginning of the film that shows a muscular man hitting a gong that immediately breaks as he does so.