Highly opinionated yet perspicacious reviews of the best in streaming audio, by Steve Smith
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Sunday, May 9, 2010

All Didgeridoo, All the Time. Yes, Really

One of the glories of Internet radio is that you can find a channel for just about anything. Hyper-niche programming that would be uneconomical or even unthinkable for a terrestrial station presents no problem at all when streamed over the web.

C'mon, Steve (you're thinking), I'll bet you can't find me an around-the-clock, all-didgeridoo channel.

And to that I say, Hah! And invite you to click the "Play" button on this page to hear Radio Didgeridoo.

In the world of music, didgridoos always struck me as a curiosity, just one of those odd Aussie contributions to world culture along with boomerangs and beer in oil cans. I once saw a stand-up comedian incorporate one into his act, and I have a brother-in-law who brought one back from a trip to Australia, though I don't think he has ever attempted to play it. Other than that, most of my knowledge of this aboriginal instrument comes from National Geographic specials.

Oh yeah, there's that old pop song, "Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport," whose lyrics reference a didgeridoo. For years I thought the sound in the background was a didgeridoo, but turns out it's a "wobble board" (which doesn't sound anything like a "didge," I can now tell).

Playing a didgeridoo involves vibrating your lips -- this is what produces the characteristic droning sound -- while performing circular breathing through nose and mouth, aided by tongue and cheeks. This is a difficult technique, yet when mastered, allows good didgeridoo players to keep a single note going for up to 40 or more minutes if they desire.

For all the skill involved, didgeridoos seemed to me to be quite limited in their capacity to entertain for very long. Radio Didgeridoo might force me to rethink that, at least a little.

The playlist on Radio Didgeridoo is surprisingly varied. Just considering the didgeridoo playing alone, the pieces demonstrate that it's possible to get into many different rhythms with these instruments. Then, there's the accompaniment -- percussion, usually, but also sometimes flutes and other wind instruments. Very rarely you may hear some vocal accompaniment, as well.

Still, the droning of the didgeridoo is front and center of the recordings -- and continuous. The effect is either annoyingly monotonous or pleasantly hypnotic, depending on your mood and the circumstances of your listening. Listening to Radio Didgeridoo for two or three hours straight, I've experienced both. In this I would liken it to New Age music, or perhaps trance music. If that offends any didgeridoo devotees, well, I'll just plead a newbie's ignorance; after all, the time I've spent listening to this station today exceeds by far all my didgeridoo listening heretofore.

A surprising fact about Radio Didgeridoo is that it is not based in Australia, but far from there. It is the project of enthusiasts in Poland.

The web site is opaque if you don't know Polish, but with the help of the Google translator I was able to glean that the main person behind Radio Didgeridoo is a Pole who is himself an accomplished didge player with some CDs to his credit.

I further gather that there is a didgeridoo scene in Poland, if you can imagine that. Among the goals of the station's founder(s) is to widen that scene by spreading appreciation for the instrument and teaching young people how to play. The web site includes instructional resources and links for purchasing didgeridoos, among much other information on the history and current state of the instrument.

The didgeridoo might never appeal to more than a miniscule slice of the music-listening population, but it's good that, with the Internet, the interests of even such a small (and probably scattered) segment can be served. For the rest of us, the existence of stations such as Radio Didgeridoo affords us a break from routine and the opportunity to sample something different.

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