The didjeridu is a wind instrument from northern Australia. It is constructed from the branches of a tree which has been hollowed out by termites. One end is then covered in wax which becomes the mouthpiece for the instrument. While its origins are uncertain, the didjeridoo is believed to be less than 2000 years old since the earliest known cave paintings that feature a didjeridoo are dated at about 2000 years. The word didjeridoo is not an indigenous word but an onomatopoeic word of western invention.
The didjeridu, despite its simple construction, is a highly expressive instrument capable of producing a variety of sounds such as trills, croaks, gurgles, and imitations of birds and animals. To produce a sound on the didjeridu, the player presses their lips against the mouthpiece and blows while vibrating their lips – in much the same way a brass instrument is played. Rhythmic and dynamic articulations are made by varying the strength of the breath, while vocal exclamations can produce a range of special effects. A common technique used in didjeridu playing, known as ‘circular breathing’, allows the player to breath in through their nose while blowing out of the mouth so that the sound isn’t interrupted.
The didjeridu is still very much in use in music today with composers like Ross Edwards and Peter Sculthorpe composing music for the didjeridu, and didjeridu virtuosos like William Barton continuing to develope didjeridu technique by combining it with modern musical idioms like “beat-boxing.”