Though respectful gestures to Indigenous Australian musical idioms are a defining element of his output, the issue of direct cultural appropriation of Indigenous musical materials by non-Indigenous composers like Sculthorpe can be a vexed issue. Although the Kronos Quartet had approached him in 1992 (I'm wondering for the first time just now whether or not Kronos had heard the Aphex Twin track, of that same year..) suggesting the idea of scoring a work for string quartet and didjeridu, he almost certainly never would have considered adding an actual Indigenous instrument to his scores, were it not that, in 2001 a young Indigenous musician asked him to. That year, William Barton, a 20-year-old didjeridu player belonging to the traditional Kalkadunga people of Queensland, gave the first public performance of the version of the String Quartet No. 12 recorded here-the first time any Sculthorpe work was heard with added didjeridu. Later that year, Barton gave the first performances of Sculthorpe orchestral works with added didjeridu, with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and its then chief conductor, the young American Michael Christie, followed in 2003 by a disc of recordings. In 2004, Sculthorpe actually composed a part for Barton and the didjeridu in a major new original work, the "Requiem for Chorus, Didjeridu and Orchestra". Fittingly, this work was also a high-point in Sculthorpe's dedicated and ongoing personal attempt at a reconciliation of Australian Indigenous and settler cultures (and people), although Sculthorpe was careful to point out at the time that "reconciliation" was not his preferred word, "since we were never 'conciled' in the first place!". Since then, when commissioned to compose several new works without didjeridu, Sculthorpe has factored in the instrument's later addition, as in the String Quartet No. 16 (2006) and String Quartet No. 18 (2010) recorded here..
The didjeridu is Indigenous to the far north of Australia, where archaeological evidence suggests it has been used for at least 1000 years. Essentially it is a large wooden drone pipe, made out of termite-hollowed branches of large eucalyptus trees, most commonly 3 to 5 feet long. The outer and inner surfaces are further cut away until the tube is thin and produces a "light sounding" drone, which is then varied by being overblown. According to Indigenous tradition, the instrument dates from the creation "Dreamtime" . The Yolngu people call it 'yidaki', a name popularized by the Yolngu rock band "Yothu Yindi". The name didjeridu (also didjerry), though it sounds Indigenous-actually is probably an onomatopoetic settler invention, first recorded in print in the 1920s.
Sculthorpe's added parts for didjeridu typically require two or more instruments, each with a fundamental drone of a fixed pitch. Where the didjeridu plays with the strings, the parts are precisely coordinated. However, apart from drone notes, it would be impractical, if not impossible to notate many of the more complex overblown didjeridu sounds conventionally. Many of these, derived from from traditional practice, are imitations of natural sounds (animal growls, bird calls) or dance movements (kangaroo hop). Some of these characteristic sounds Sculthorpe cues verbally, to be added especially between sections or movements of the string-quartet originals.
Enjoy new sounds!