“It’s an easy instrument for a beginner to get sound out of,” David Blonski says of the didgeridoo. “It’s a fancy kazoo in a lot of ways.”
Basically, a didgeridoo is a long tube into which the player hums. To give the reader a clear idea of the simplicity of the instrument, I offer the following anecdote: A roommate of mine once owned a “didgeridoo.” It was actually a four-foot length of three-inch PVC pipe that we would drunkenly “play” for our unfortunate houseguests. Eventually, this didgeridoo was cut in half and used to construct a bong that didn’t work.
Traditional didgeridoos are made of wood and manufactured by termites. The insects construct the instruments by hollowing out tree limbs or trunks.
Blonski (who, besides being a musician, is also a jewelry designer, massage therapist, Tai-Chi instructor and musical-instrument builder) performs solo and with ensembles. He gives performances at schools, and his didgeridoo playing graced the soundtrack of the 1998 film Godzilla.
The unusual thing about the didgeridoo is that it’s one of the only wind instruments that also fills the role of a percussion instrument. Besides playing a single low note (which advanced players can maintain using circular breathing), a didgeridoo player simply varies vowel sounds and creates accents with percussive vocalizations. So, in his ensemble, which also features guitar, percussion and vocals, Blonski says he uses the didgeridoo to function as “a cross between a bass and a drum.”
Mandra, the group Blonski currently plays in, was assembled to record an hour of music to accompany tantric yoga exercises. The result was a CD titled Awaken Your Senses. Because, as Blonski says, the CD also works as an album for general listeners, the trio decided to continue after the project was completed.
"[Mandra] borrow from a lot of different cultures. It’s kind of world-fusion,” says Blonski, who also plays flutes, various reed instruments and occasionally bass.
“It’s a brand new group that will evolve in a lot of different directions,” Blonski says of Mandra.
Potential directions include adding elements of trance or Pink Floydian headphone rock.
Blonski has been recording as a solo artist for 20 years. His first eight albums were largely improvised, instrumental efforts, on which the flute (still his main melodic instrument) took center stage, backed by hammered dulcimer, synthesizer, various nature sounds, wind instruments and percussion. Each of these albums is organized around a central environmental theme. The first album was Timeless Flight. The theme was the desert canyon lands of Arizona.
Blonski has been working backwards through the history of wind instruments, moving from modern flutes and reeds to their wooden ancestors. In Mondra, for example, he sometimes plays the bamboo saxophone. He has now reached something of an end point, since the didgeridoo, from Australia, is possibly the world’s oldest wind instrument.
Blonski will be performing at the Drum, Dance and Didgeridoo Festival on Saturday. He’s also offering a free workshop. If you decide to attend, please don’t bring a PVC pipe. Those don’t really work.