“First Woman took the didgeridoo, pointed it towards the night sky and blew through it. She filled the universe full of stars.” –Australian folk legend.
With the didgeridoo, cosmic time and cultural time are pretty darn similar. It’s sonorous deep drone has been called the “voice of the Earth.” Anthropologists believe Australian aborigines have been using this wind instrument for at least 40,000 years. During these eons, the didgeridoo (or “didg”) has been played on eucalyptus logs hollowed out by termites. A didg maker from Salt Lake, however, is the first person to modify the instrument in 400 centuries.
Marko Johnson has been making and playing didgs for the past 20 years. In that time he has created the didg box, a wooden instrument no larger than a jewelry box that perfectly replicates the tones of tubular didgeridoos. “It’s easier to take on an airplane,” Marko jokes. The didg box has serpentine air chambers that make a series of U-turns, an innovation he patented in 1999. Since then, he has sold them all over the world, including Australia. “I am also the only person making didgs out of leather,” he says. “ The advantage of a rawhide didg is that it is flexible and won’t crack. You can also create the exact length to width ratio to produce pitched tones.”
The didg appears relatively simple – a length of PVC pipe can function as one, but playing it can be a bit tricky. A didg player utilizes circular breathing, whereby one breathes in and blows out at the same time. Mastering this technique results in a continuous hypnotic sound. “You can create variations by moving your mouth and lips,” Marko says. “Didg playing also exercises muscles in the throat that help to control sleep apnea.” The didg was originally used in spiritual ceremonies. In the 90s an aboriginal group, YoYinDay, toured and gave it international exposure, even stopping to perform in Salt Lake’s old Zephyr Club. Nowadays, the didg often appears as a bass note line in world music. Marko doesn’t perform often in public, although he has mentored many didg players who do. He instead focuses on individually crafting the remarkable instruments and innovating new designs. “I am always trying to make the one I like best,” he says.
Marko Johnson can be reached at
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