The Songlines: An influential work on Aborigines, Australia

76844Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines is a book that’s like many good trips: suddenly, you find yourself navigating an unfamiliar, confusing and even intimidating region, but by the end you realize you’ve had an irreplaceable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For students of my COMM 373 Australia winterim course, a trip that begins with our departure from Chicago Dec. 27, this may be especially true.  Chatwin’s work isn’t always easy to read. At times, it might seem to less patient readers that Chatwin’s writing is like the Australian outback.

Many would perceive the outback as vast, substantially flat, incomprehensible in its sameness, and tough to find one’s way through; a look in any direction might show more features that are hard to distinguish from the last set.  One might not see the small details that differentiate one apparently barren spot from another.  Even when discernible, these features might not promise anything substantially different in an interminable landscape beyond.

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Musical interlude: Derek Trucks Band’s “This Sky”

Former Allman Brothers guitarist Derek Trucks, ranked 16th in the 2011 Rolling Stones list of greatest guitarists, released Songlines in 2006, an album whose unifying concept is one my Australia winterim class will be considering during its trip this year.

Currently collaborating with wife and well-known blues/soul singer Susan Tedeschi in the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Trucks is a guy I’d heard a bit about. He never really caught my attention until the song “This Sky” captivated me during a workout a couple of years ago. It took me until September of this year to purchase the album that held it. Continue reading

A musical interlude, brought to you by the didgeridoo

Outback's second and final album.  Used copies can still be found on Amazon.com and likely elsewhere.

Outback’s second and final album. MP3 versions and used CDs can still be found on Amazon.com and likely elsewhere.

Maybe the fact that I’m headed to Australia in another six months made me more open to the musical wonders of the didgeridoo, but I’ve definitely become a fan after hearing Outback’s “An Dro Nevez” on the internet station Radio Paradise in April.

I immediately bought what turned out to be the only two albums Outback ever produced, and they were a bargain — both were used CDs purchased on Amazon.com, and they cost more in shipping (about $3 each) than I paid for the discs themselves. I’ve been wearing them out since, as I find them both interesting enough to listen to but relaxing and unobtrusive enough to be good working music (at least one friend has called Outback repetitive, which I get, but I think it’s great stuff).

Baka, Outback’s first album, was No. 1 on Billboard’s world music chart. Despite its clear Australian ties and influences, Outback can’t really be called “Australian,” although the didgeridoo itself (also spelled “didjeridu”) is an invention of Australia’s Aborigines.

Outback was formed in 1988 by Graham Wiggins and Martin Craddick.  As is often the case, the history of these musicians and their various bands is quite varied and interesting, but perhaps moreso because Wiggins started inventing his own forms of the didgeridoo while a graduate student in physics — a field in which he earned a doctoral degree from Oxford.

After Outback broke up in 1992, Wiggins begain performing as Dr. Didg.  He’s almost certainly the only guy to ever play with the Grateful Dead (you can hear the session at the linked site) and reach an equal pinnacle of success in scientific fields — radio-frequency engineering and magnetic imaging. He’s currently a senior researcher for the Center for Advanced Imaging Innovation and Research in New York City.

Outback's first album was a world-music hit.

Outback’s first album was a world-music hit.

Some of his work can still be found on Soundcloud, including Serotonality (a piece that gives some indication of why he probably was invited to play with the Dead). His web site, Wikipedia bio and Facebook page seem to indicate he no longer plays professionally.

I’ll write more later on the didgeridoo and, I hope, Dr. Didg, as I’ve been learning a bit more about the instrument and expect it and other aspects of Australian music will be a big part of my Winterim 2015-16 COMM 373 course.

For now, I’ll leave readers with another YouTube version of the same song linked at the beginning of this post.  Half the fun of music is listening to — or watching — different presentations of the same stuff, so here’s another video featuring the same musical version of “An Dro Nevez” and some nice footage of a couple of guys riding through the Australian outback with Ural motorcycles and sidecars. (Never heard of Urals?  Me neither).