“Night of the Walking Didj”

Last Tuesday, Oct. 11, a group of students and faculty gathered in Harper Hall for a late evening performance of didjeridu and improvisational music compositions. Founding members of the didjeridu super group The Didgeri Dudes, Dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music Brian Pertl ’80 and Jamie Cunningham, Ph.D., presented an agglomeration of exotic tones, rhythms and sounds from a variety of self-constructed instruments as well as the use of reverberation technology from Cunningham’s laptop.

The opening piece “I CU 2” required the lights to be off, creating a mysterious atmosphere for the audience members. Student accompanists, juniors Emmett Jackson and Izzy Yellen, played alongside Pertl and Cunningham. Each musician had an eye-ball didjeridu that illuminated every time it was played. The squeaks and squawks with the spooky echoes and different drone sounds was paired along with the audience’s laughter and amusement, presenting a unique start to the performance. As Yellen explained after the performance, this first piece was meant to “get the audience out of their comfort zone” as well as interact with the audience and make sure everyone was having a good time.

Cunningham and Pertl started The Didgeri Dudes almost 24 years ago after they met as graduate students in Seattle in the didjeridu studio of School of Music under emeritus professor Stuart Dempster at the University of Washington. Since then, the two have collaborated in creating new soundspaces and experimenting with different instruments and performance techniques. One of the acoustic spaces that Cunningham found was a four-story cement stairwell. This “silo” provided a haunting reverberation that The Didjeri Dudes sought to recreate via mics and software in their debut piece, “We are the Didgeri Dudes.” For this piece in the concert, Cunningham and the Dean played on homemade didjeridu “sewerphones,” which consisted of a combination of different sized PVC pipes and funnels.

Another piece, “The Dempster Pacific Railroad,” combined Pertl and Cunningham on sewerphones with Dempster’s son Lauren on the cello. Alongside the haunting didjeridus, Dempster used three cello bows and played near the bridge of his instrument to create unique, higher-pitched sounds. This technique helped to create a resonance that echoed the train whistle Pertl used towards the beginning and end of the piece.

The cistern at Fort Worden State Park in Washington provided another magical experience for Cunningham to experiment with creating a musical space. He described a place there with a two-foot-wide hole with a ladder where the instruments were lowered down on a rope. In dimming the lights, the Dean and Cunningham created a “response from that space” and allowed the audience to imagine what it would be like to be in the cistern. Cunningham played a didjeridu while the Dean went back and forth playing a unique traditional ritual Tibetan instrument called a dung-chen and a long trumpet, filling the entire hall with the eerily peaceful music. During a private interview after the performance, Yellen shared his dream of going to the cistern at Fort Worden State Park, which, he added, has a “45-second reverb,” allowing for the unusual acoustics and echoes reproduced in Harper Hall.

Cunningham especially noted his special relationship to the cistern space, and commented on the importance of “playing the space as an instrument.” During his friend’s stay in Appleton, Pertl invited Cunningham to Seth’s Coffee, where they were able to capture a new space in an underground cement tunnel. Bringing along didjeridus, the two were able to hear different notes and sounds produced and enjoy the sonic reverberations. The musicians explained the creation of sound by both listening and playing to that specific space.

The final piece, “Now You’re Talking,” consisted of Cunningham, Pertl and student accompanists senior Sam Genualdi, Jackson and Yellen. The Lawrence students are three of the four founders of the club Deep Listeners of Lawrence University (DLLU) and have all studied or worked with Pertl for different performances. The musicians were spread out with the different instruments lined up on the stage, and by walking around up and down the aisles, the audience members were able to hear the sounds from different parts of the room. From this piece, the performers used the space of Harper Hall as an instrument. The piece ended with the musicians onstage, pausing to let the reverberation and echoes of the instruments ring throughout the hall.

The racquetball court in the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center has also provided a popular space to experiment in sound and Deep Listening for DLLU. Since he has been at Lawrence, Yellen has played a variety of instruments in the racquetball court, sharing “I’ve been in there with different settings…with just a couple other people singing and with lots of people singing.” DLLU emphasizes the importance of listening to everything all the time no matter what, and is based on the philosophy that was born in the aforementioned cistern, founded by Pauline Oliveros and Stuart Dempster. For Yellen, this practice allows him to have a “heightened sense of awareness through listening” and can be used beyond just musical listening. Yellen stated that Deep Listening is “a melding of mindfulness and meditation and music,” and through the club the members want to create an accessible environment for everyone to come and listen. This concert emphasized both Deep Listening practices and allowed the audience to be part of the music and space. Anyone and everyone is welcome to come and experience the practice of Deep Listening with DLLU on Friday nights at 7 p.m., as well as the upcoming “Ocean of Sound” performance during Winter Term in the racquetball court at the Wellness Center.