The earthy, intriguing tone and primal musicality of the didgeridoo has made it a staple of world-fusion and trance music for more than a decade. Surprisingly, I hadn't encountered any sample CDs dedicated to the didgeridoo until now. Forwardinoutback Didgeridoo Sample CD, vol. 1 ($49), comes from the German studios of Ralph “Stick” Hermann and offers 363 ready-to-use WAV files. Most didgeridoo samples are in mono, though some are processed with stereo effects. (For an additional $6, you can also order an audio-CD version of the disc when you purchase the CD-ROM version.)
The didgeridoo samples are organized in folders according to length, type, and meter. There are short and long one-shots, loops, and loops with effects distributed among four keys: A, B, B♭, and A♭. Because the didgeridoo is a single-pitch instrument, however, I would have liked to have more key centers covered. The meters, on the other hand, are thoroughly covered, from the usual 4/4 to the less common 11/8, 3/4, 5/4, and 6/8. Tempos range from 64 to 176 bpm.
Hermann builds his own instruments, crafting them from three materials: wood, bamboo, and metal. The wooden didgeridoos are made from Berlin birch and Canadian spruce, the bamboo instruments are selected from three types of Indonesian bamboo, and the metal instruments are fabricated from the kind of pipe you'd find at a typical construction site. All of the didgeridoos are between 62 and 67 inches in length.
The didgeridoo is difficult to record, so Hermann built a wooden box coated with a special foam to suppress unwanted breath noise. The end of the instrument was placed in one end of the box and miked through the other end and the top (with a Shure SM58, a Shure BG4.1, and an Audio-Technica AT3035). The samples were recorded and edited with Steinberg Cubase VST 5.0 and WaveLab.
Hermann gets a thumbs-up for capturing the didgeridoo's resonant characteristics and primitive vocal qualities. In general, the bamboo samples have a thinner, slightly more distinct tone, whereas the wooden samples have a meatier low end and a wider frequency range. The metal didgeridoo is surprisingly rich in tone but closer to the sound of the bamboo instrument.
Hermann's performances are very good and filled with all kinds of classic didgeridoo idioms, including short in-tempo percussive bursts, shifting buzzes, throaty growls, and barking. The lone offering in Bamboo 3's Play folder is an improvisation that lasts over five minutes and moves beautifully through many of the techniques.
Longer tones are provided to serve as drones. They fall mostly in the four-to-eight-second range and aren't edited to loop, though you can splice them together for longer evolving drones. Some of the long tones are deliberately “static” for just that purpose; others include specific accents and rhythmic patterns.
Of particular note are the BambusFX samples, which are juicy, rich, long tones with delay and reverb. The natural overtones ring out beautifully. Judicious use of pitch shifting and other processing is also applied to other FX samples.
The diverse short didgeridoo samples include normal single notes, multiple notes in quick succession, breathy tones, and natural effects such as honks, growls, and scrapes. You can splice them between longer samples or keymap them in a sampler as percussive effects.
The odd-metered phrases don't fare as well as the other didgeridoo loops. The 5/4 loop in the Wood 3 folder eschews the usual “Take 5” accents in a way that makes musical sense, but the 9/8 loop from the same folder needs a stronger delineation of accents to solidify the meter. The other 9/8 loop works well when you set your sequencer to loop it for a single measure.
Didgeridoo Sample CD forgoes printed documentation in favor of a Web-based system. The disc provides a folder of HTML documents for supposedly easy-to-use navigation of the Web site, but about half of the files didn't work on my Macintosh. The site was developed on a PC, so Mac users will probably have better luck just going straight to the company's Web site for information.
A didgeridoo can often provide the perfect underpinning or centerpiece for a composition, and Didgeridoo Sample CD gives you a lot to work with at a great price. I would have liked to hear Hermann push the envelope a bit with even more aggressive, high-pitched squeals and yelps, but overall he uses a cool palette of guttural noises and vocal and breath techniques to punctuate the beat. If you're interested in using this unique instrument in your music, check out the MP3 demos on Forwardinoutback's Web site.