Category Archives: Music

Medicine Baul, Ensemble Economique, Cybernator 3 and Me, at Synapsis in Eureka


I haven’t played out for a while, but this coming Monday, January 11, I will perform, live at Synapsis in Eureka.  I’m really excited about this gig because I will perform with some of my favorite local musicians:  Medicine Baul, who I have written about here before, Ensemble Economique, and Cybernator 3.   Ensemble Economique is Brian Pyle’s solo music project.  Brian was a former member of The Starving Weirdos, he also produced a record for a great local band called White Manna, and hosts one of my favorite radio shows, Los Ensemble Economique on KHSU (Tues. 10pm-1am)  I’m not familiar with Cybernator 3, but I’m sure they’ve never heard of me either.  This should be an amazing evening of very original music.  I hope I see you there.



Marketing Premium Cannabis

marketing cannabis

As we move towards legalization, and pot becomes even more ubiquitous and banal, it will become more important than ever to remind the non-cannabis consuming community, why we find this common weed so uncommonly attractive. It’s just a matter of marketing. If you want to sell a high-end luxury product like appellation controlled, Humboldt grown, fair trade, organic, salmon-friendly sun-grown sinsemilla for a premium price, it really helps if your customer A) has the money, B) can read the label, and C) cares.

hey look someone cares

That means you need well educated, higher income people to want your product. Current statistics show that the higher your income, and the more education you have, the more you gravitate towards alcohol, while low-income, sub-literate people invariably smoke weed. How do we convince someone who is bright, successful, has plenty of money, and feels optimistic about the future, to make time for marijuana?

time for marijuana

It won’t matter how good your weed is, if the people who can afford it, don’t want to get high. Cannabis is the ticket, not the main attraction. Getting high is the main attraction. Here in Humboldt County, we focus a lot on the quality of the ticket, and how much money you can make selling tickets. Drug dealers have always run the box office, but what’s going on in the theater? What’s so great about getting high, that it’s worth buying these expensive tickets? Do you think people pay $10 a gram for weed, just so they can cough and hack on smoke that tastes like diesel fuel? You can do that for free, any day of the week, just by standing on the sidewalk downtown.

rolling coal

We’re losing the media battle. TV and movies portray drug dealers as gangsters, or business-people, two of our primary cultural archetypes. On the other hand, high people, that is, people portrayed as being under the influence of cannabis, usually appear vacant, generally seated on a couch, in front of a TV, surrounded by empty junk food wrappers. If they say anything at all, they’ll do it inarticulately, and punctuate it with giggles. Who wants to be that guy?

stupid stoner

Is that what getting high is all about? How stupid do you have to be, to begin with, that that even looks attractive? I mean, if that’s what people do when they get high, it’s not just a waste of good weed, it’s an insult to good weed, and a waste of a good life. No one aspires to become a vacant half-wit; so why would anyone spend money on a drug that promises to transform them into one.

stoned dude

When I was growing up, I only saw high people portrayed in the media, on anti-drug propaganda that I knew could not be trusted, but I knew that Miles Davis smoked weed, and I knew that Bob Dylan smoked weed. If you asked me to give you one example that showed off the very best of human intelligence. I’d probably pick something like The ESP Sessions, by Miles Davis and his band. I’m not even a jazz fan, but I cannot deny the genius and the passion so beautifully expressed on that record. Do I want to smoke what Miles was smoking then? Fuck yeah, even if it was the same brown seedy weed the rest of us were smoking, because Miles was smokin’ back then.

On the other hand, do I want to smoke Snoop Dog’s special Chemdawg Reserve strain of premium sinsemilla. Fuck no, because Snoop Dog is a no-talent drug-dealer with atrocious taste. I don’t want to be like him at all. Miles Davis was a man of music. He was shaped by music, and music poured through him. Snoop Dog has got his mind on his money and his money on his mind. It shows, Snoop. It shows.

Is today’s high-tech sinsemilla really better than the brown seedy weed we all used to smoke in the 60’s and 70’s? I think that all depends on how you look at it, and I’m afraid that bright, successful optimistic people are not going to see anything very inspirational, exciting or special about our current cannabis culture, and as a result, might just choose to skip cannabis altogether.

marijuana a special kind of stupid

That would be a shame, because cannabis has a lot to offer everyone. Stupid people cause fewer problems when they smoke weed instead of drinking alcohol, but bright, talented people often find they have better ideas, greater sensitivity, and a higher level of coherence when they smoke weed. I just wish I could point to more contemporary examples.

your inner genius

P.S.  Just a little more Miles, cause he was so fucking cool!

This is NOT a Bomb Either

this is not a bomb either

I’ve written before, about how few Americans are capable of making anything for themselves anymore, but the story of MacArthur High School freshman Ahmed Mohamed, who was detained at school, and eventually arrested, because he brought the digital clock he built from a kit, to school, blew my mind. First, it blew my mind that there’s still a 9th grader out there who would rather build an electronic kit than slaughter virtual aliens while driving recklessly through cyberspace.


Second, it blows my mind that teachers were alarmed, rather than delighted by this. A decent science teacher would have asked Ahmed how he built his clock, and how it works, and then ask him if he’d be willing to put the clock on the wall, where they would use it to tell time for the rest of the semester. You never know, another kid might find himself staring at that clock, counting down the minutes till the end of class, and think:”I wonder if I could build a clock like that.” At worst, it sells educational electronic kits, at best, it launches technical careers.


Finally, it blows my mind the most to imagine the cognitive dissonance between Ahmed who saw an electronic kit and thought, “That looks cool! I want to build that clock”, and teachers and cops who thought, “Why would anyone want to build a clock? Why doesn’t he just look at his phone if he wants to know what time it is?” Clearly the defeat of human creativity is complete. We have become such passive, conformist consumers that we now consider building your own clock a form of dangerously deviant behavior. It’s a brave new world.

brave new world1

I’m sure the entire experience traumatized Ahmed in ways that even a trip to the White House and a personal visit with President Obama won’t entirely erase. The kid likes circuit-boards, but now he thinks that he is freakishly weird for liking circuit-boards. This will become a defining moment of his life, and he will probably always feel self-conscious and nervous about how people might react to him, a Middle-Eastern man, buying electronic components, for instance. His innocence is lost.

innocence lost1

I sympathize. I loved circuit-boards as a kid, and I still do. I loved taking radios apart, and I assembled a few electronic kits, but not many of my projects from that era ever worked as well as Ahmed’s clock. As a kid, I didn’t quite get the hang of soldering electronic components.

bad soldering

In the past decade, however, I have rediscovered my inner nerd, mastered my soldering technique and built myself a small collection of electronic musical instruments and audio gear, including a Theremin, a suitcase full of circuit-bent toys, an all tube guitar amplifier, and a stereo tube pre-amp. This past Summer. I built my most ambitious project yet:


WARNING: This is going to get nerdy!

talk nerdy
This is a highly idiosyncratic, if not completely original, modular, analog synthesizer of my own design. I call it, The Geosafari Synthesizer because I mounted all of the circuitry inside the plastic housing of Geosafari, an electronic, educational game popular in the eighties.


I found this Geosafari game at our local thrift store and bought it for $1, In it, I saw the perfect housing for my synthesizer. I recycled the rectangular red and green LEDs from the game, and remounted them in the original holes. On the left, the LEDS display the clock speed, and step number of the sequencer. On the right Red LEDs indicate “power on” to each of three primary oscillators, and one noise generator, and a green LED indicates decay time of the envelope generator.


The circuitry fits into the space originally occupied by the Geosafari game cards.


I was also able to utilize the battery compartment, for battery, and extra patch-cord storage, and the built in speaker still works too. I even recycled a transistor and a capacitor from the original Geosafari circuit-board. Other than that, I completely replaced the guts of this Geosafari game.


Here’s what went inside, to replace the original electronics: Two “Atari Punk Consoles” this famous circuit originally devised by Forrest Mimms, has a lot of musical potential, and two of them together more than doubles the fun. With a flip of a switch, they can be heterodyned. Heterodyned oscillators effect each other in interesting ways that can’t be recreated by mixing them through an audio mixer.


Beneath them, I included a white noise generator. I got the white noise gen schematic from an old website that suggested we build these devices to prevent malignant forces from using low-frequency radio waves to reprogram our brains. If it does that too, I’ll consider it a bonus. Rounding out the signal generating circuits, I included a simple 555 based, audio frequency oscillator, just to have one very straightforward oscillator without the built-in frequency divider.

white noise plan

In the middle section of the control panel, you’ll find all of the signal modifiers, starting at the top with a voltage controlled filter. I built the filter from a schematic I found online. The filter is a critical section of any analog synthesizer, and I like the way this 741 based filter sounds. This was the first resonant filter amplifier circuit I’ve ever built, and I chose this schematic for it’s simplicity, and easy availability of parts. It does what a filter is supposed to do.

filter schematic

Beneath the filter, I have a simple, one-stage envelope generator. I had planned to skip the envelope generator, because a standard four-stage ADSR envelope was just too complicated. Then I found this nifty little circuit from the folks at How could I resist adding this simple one-stage decay envelope to my synth. It only took three transistors and a capacitor, all of which I had on hand, so I built it on the edge of the filter circuit board, and added the controls to the control panel.

synthesizer architecture

Beneath the envelope generator, I included a Low-Frequency Oscillator, to add modulation to the filter, the amplifier, or any of the oscillators. I got the Low-Frequency Oscillator circuit from a youtube video. The guy was using this particular circuit to make an LED gradually light-up, then gradually fade out, and repeat the process at a steady rate, that you could increase or decrease by turning a knob. He used the circuit to add lights to his X-wing fighter, Millennium Falcon, and USS Enterprise scale models. I attached the LEDs to photoresistors, with shrink tubing, and used the same circuit to control the oscillators and filter on this synthesizer.

uss enterprise model

Below the LFO, a simple Voltage Controlled Amplifier allows me to modulate the volume of the signal with the LFO. In the future, I hope to add some accessories to this synthesizer, like a keyboard, and a light-sensitive gestural controller, which I could also use to control volume, through the VCA.

geosafari guts

Consuming the entire left third of the control panel, a ten-step voltage controlled sequencer allows me to cycle any of the on-board oscillators, or any voltage-controlled analog synthesizer, through a musical pattern of up to ten steps. I can change the speed of the pattern, the frequency range of the pattern, and the number of steps in the pattern from 2-10. The two columns of five knobs at the far left allow me to change the pitch of each individual step.


I found a youtube video that showed me how to convert a commonly available, and very inexpensive electronic kit, the Velleman brand LED chase-light kit into a pretty cool sequencer, so I decided to build one myself. As it turned out, not all inexpensive electronic chase-light kits are created equal. Mine turned out to be a different kit altogether, but with a little research, I was able to figure our how to make it into a working sequencer as well.

chase light

How does it sound? Take a listen! In this video I took it for a test flight.

By next spring, you might hear it in some new music.

Humboldt County’s Nuclear Caviar

nuclear caviar

We have a long history of shortsightedness here in Humboldt County. I suspect that we’re as eager to throw our long-term assets away for a fast buck as we ever were, and the impending legalization of marijuana gives us another opportunity to do just that.

chase the fast buck

Right now, the black-market cannabis industry holds this county hostage, politically and economically. The illegal marijuana industry has already brought enough social problems to Humboldt County, problems ranging from poverty and homelessness to hard drug abuse, violent crime and murder. Feeding this disease, and fueling the destruction it causes, the misguided War on Drugs has turned a harmless, easy to grow weed into expensive contraband. Now that the tides have turned on the War on Drugs, politicians and drug dealers will try to convince you that marijuana is nuclear caviar.


Nuclear, meaning that they will tell you that marijuana is so dangerous that it requires as much government oversight, control and regulation as a nuclear power plant. Caviar, because they intend to concoct some scheme to control cannabis production, to keep the price of cannabis artificially inflated, so that good pot remains an expensive luxury that working people can ill-afford.

luxury marijuana

Cannabis is not nuclear caviar. Cannabis is a giant fucking ripoff. Until now, the price of cannabis has been highway robbery at the point of a cop’s gun. If the CA legislature passes the current passel of pending cannabis legislation, they will simply turn iron-fisted prohibition into a state sponsored racket. It will still be highway robbery at the point of a cop’s gun, and pot will remain a giant fucking ripoff. For now.


Still, dramatic changes, already underway in the cannabis industry, will continue. The marijuana industry of today looks nothing like the marijuana industry of 20 years ago. Humboldt County will probably produce more marijuana, this year alone, than it did in the entire two decades between 1980 and 1999, and the cannabis industry of the future will look nothing like the cannabis industry of today.

the future

The cannabis market will become more competitive, production will expand and automation will increase. Profit margins will shrink, leading to rapid consolidation. That means lots of people lose their jobs or go out of business. That’s how legal industries work. The cannabis industry is rapidly becoming a legal industry, full of businessmen who know how to run a business, and aren’t afraid to make tough decisions.


That is a dramatic change from the cannabis industry we all know and love. We like pot growers to be spendthrift fools who have no idea how much money they really make, buy everything retail, and drip money as they walk down the street. More than the cannabis itself, our local economy relies on the stupidity and shortsightedness of black-market dope growers who’s lack of business acumen lured them into this line of work to begin with. The black market takes money out of the hands of hard-working people, who might otherwise save it, and puts it into the hands of the people most likely to squander it. That’s how prohibition boosts the economy, and that’s what we see here in Humboldt County.

spendthrift economy

The fact is, no matter how legalization plays out, most of the people who benefit from the marijuana industry in Humboldt County today, will eventually get squeezed out. Will it happen in three years, or will it take five? That depends on a lot of things, but it will happen, regardless. A lot of people around here will have to find something else to do, and the sooner, the better.

find something better to do

The War on Drugs is a cruel racist policy. Mostly, the War on Drugs provides a legal framework for the violent control of minority communities, but here in Humboldt, we see another racist aspect to the War on Drugs. Here, the War on Drugs provided a relatively low-risk avenue to affluence for privileged white kids with no particular skills, talent or ambition. Hey, I’m a privileged, white, college drop-out myself. I certainly understand the attraction, but it’s still racist. It’s still wrong, and it’s still a huge fucking ripoff, but rest assured; that side of the War on Drugs, will evaporate too. The marijuana industry will no longer be dominated by white middle-class dilettantes looking for a low-stress, way to support their high-consumption lifestyle.


When you think about it, these are the people who make Humboldt County attractive and interesting, at least to me, the artists, performers and musicians, the idealistic art history, English and ancient language majors and the disillusioned scientists and engineers who decided they didn’t want to build weapons systems or devise new, environmentally destructive, products. For people like this, growing pot was a way to finance their art or their writing or their political activism, or their other interesting hobbies, without distracting too much from them. The cannabis industry of the future will have no place for these people.

no room for you damob

Instead, the cannabis industry will be dominated by greedy white farmers who know how to grow pot and run a business, but have few, if any, other interests. Greedy white farmers do not attract tourists. If they did, people would flock to Iowa to watch corn grow. Greedy white farmers drain rivers, kill fish and destroy habitat, and they use their political clout to make sure that no one gets in their way. That’s what greedy white farmers do everywhere, and that’s what they intend to do here.

Silly Greedy Farmer

Yes, farming is boring and ugly and no one wants to see it, and the same is true of farmers, but we have something else here in Humboldt County that is worth more than all of the black-market marijuana we’ve grown here in the past, and all of the nuclear caviar we hope to produce in the future, put together. That is natural habitat.

natural habitat humboldt

Natural habitat has become remarkably rare around the world. I mean really rare, not artificially price-controlled, “rare,” but genuinely uncommon, and truly valuable. The Earth has lost half of its natural biodiversity since the first Earth Day, and the primary reason is loss of habitat. If we should treat anything around here like nuclear caviar, it is the natural habitat here in Humboldt County.

habitat loss

People want to see natural habitat, and they want to see it teeming with life.. Natural habitat attracts tourists. Biodiversity attracts tourists. No one will ever figure out how to produce habitat on the cheap and flood the market with biodiversity. Habitat will only become more rare and valuable. Pot, on the other hand, is easy to grow and cheap to produce, and it won’t be long before some state, like Nevada, Texas or Kansas, decides to get out of the way and open up the floodgates to an ocean of cheap cannabis.

habitat disregarded

That will leave us, here in Humboldt County, facing the same decision we face now, but with fewer options, and greatly diminished assets: Do we sacrifice our lives, and the natural habitat we love, in a vain attempt to compete with market forces beyond our control, or do we use our imagination, and learn to do something else, that harmonizes with the natural splendor of this unique place, and works for the kind of people who make up this community, and make this community special.

sohum people-tile

Information On the Internet, Always Consider the Source.

consider the source

I hear a lot of people lament the enormous quantity of questionably researched, grossly speculative and patently false information posted on the internet, as though “quality of information” were the primary obstacle to making “smart decisions.” If you ask me, people don’t make bad decisions because they lack information. People make bad decisions because they lack courage and imagination. The blather they see on the internet distracts them from this fundamental truth, and that’s why they spend so much time looking at useless information on line.

useless websites

I’m not saying that the internet is a terrible thing. The internet is a terrible thing, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about information, now. Long before we had the internet, we had information. The problem with information, is that it is always, “in formation.” The truth never appears “in formation.” There’s always more to the truth than can fit “in formation.” Besides that, information only appears “in formation” because it has an agenda. Reality doesn’t become information without the intentional efforts of someone with at least a point of view, if not a scheme, and information always conceals at least as much as it reveals.

hide and conceal

The problems of information becomes compounded on the internet, because, with the internet, we increasingly replace reality with information, and increasingly, information becomes our most familiar environment. None of what you see on the internet is real or true. At best, what you see on the internet reflects reality, but not without distortion, and the distortion generally reflects the dominant misconceptions of our times. In other words, the internet reflects a view of the world, not as it is, but as the least imaginative among us, imagine it to be.

Of all the rabbits on Furbal Street, Lester was the least imaginative.

Personally, I don’t think we have a problem with good information vs bad information, I think we have entirely too much information, and we make dumber and dumber decisions all the time. In this avalanche of information, collectively, we are losing our grip on reality. Nothing makes sense anymore. You can’t trust anything you read, and everything is more complicated, and way weirder, than you can imagine. That’s the truth, but here are a couple of examples.

thats the truth

I bought a pair of shoes online. I had lots of “good” information” about the shoes. I knew how much they sold for in six other stores. I knew who made them, where they were made, and what they were made from. All of this information came from reliable sources. Most of it was verified by multiple sites. When I placed my order, I knew I had found the right shoe at the right price. Of course, when they arrived, they fit poorly and hurt my feet.

feet hurt

I had plenty of information about the shoes, good reliable information, convincing information, in fact. That is one big problem with information on the internet. Most of the solid, reliable, truthful information that you find on the internet, has no other purpose than to convince you to do something stupid, like buy a pair of shoes without trying them on first. Sometimes the devil is in the details, but sometimes the details just serve to distract you from the stupidity of the whole idea.

school is stupid

We should never forget that the “whole idea” behind the internet was to insure that the people in control of the US strategic nuclear weapons arsenal, and the rest of the US military, can send and receive coded commands from anywhere in the world, via a ridiculously redundant, high-speed computer network, mostly paid-for by the private sector. If that’s why we have the internet in the first place, how good can any of the information on it really be?


On the other hand, before you knock the wacko, tinfoil hat wearing, conspiracy theorists you find online, consider this:

tin foil hat wearing crackpot

At the moment, I’m building a modular analog synthesizer, from scratch, at home, in my spare time. If you’ve never heard of such a thing, a modular analog synthesizer is a kind of electronic musical instrument. The original Moog synthesizer was a modular analog synthesizer.

Mine won't be this big.

Mine won’t be this big.

In essence, a modular analog synthesizer is a collection of electronic circuits that either produce an audio signal, or change an audio signal in some way, all mounted in a box so that you can easily configure them any way you like.

mine won't be this fancy

mine won’t be this fancy

There are thousands of different circuits that produce or change an audio signal. The process of building a modular analog synthesizer involves building a collection of these circuits that will work together to create the palette of sounds that you want to hear. To build the circuit, it helps to have a schematic.


This is exactly the kind of project where the internet can be enormously helpful. I found thousands of schematics online. However, one of the circuits I want in my synthesizer is a white noise generator. White noise sounds like the wind when it’s filtered properly. It also adds breathiness to flute-like sounds and can even replace a snare drum hit when it’s gated right. I found about a dozen schematics for white noise generators online.

white noise-tile

Several of these schematics came from very reliable sources, including colleges and universities. Apparently a lot of students have been assigned the task of building a white noise generator, which they use later in the semester as a piece of test equipment. Unfortunately, none of the white noise schematics I downloaded from these prestigious sources, worked, when I built them on a breadboard.

breadboard frustration

These were not complicated circuits. I know I had them wired exactly as shown on the schematic. I tried five different noise circuits, five different ways, and I could not get one of them to make a speaker go “Hisssssss.” like it was supposed to. Frustrated, I went back to the internet to look for some more schematics, and I found this one.

white noise plan

This is the only white noise circuit I’ve seen that uses an LM386 audio amplifier chip. That caught my attention because I’m familiar with the LM386, and just happened to have one lying around. I used one as the on-board amplifier on my “record-breaking guitar,” and lots of electronic toys use them because they are loud little amplifiers for their size.


The LM386 is a little noisy for a lot of musical applications, but for this particular one, noise is what we’re after, so I built it on the breadboard, and it worked. I was thrilled! I tweaked the design a bit to suit my application (mine will be the only white noise generator I’ve seen with “overdrive”). Once I had the noise circuit working the way I like it, I soldered it together on a piece of circuit-board.

circuit board

I found that schematic by doing a Google “image” search. Google presented me with a page full of schematics, completely removed from the context into which they had been placed. Ecstatic to have finally completed a working noise generator, I became idly curious about why the designer of this circuit showed it connecting to a radio antenna rather than a speaker or an amplifier, so I visited the page where the image originated.

white noise plan red wire

As I read the text on the page I discovered the reason why the designer of this circuit chose to attach a radio antenna to a circuit built for the audio frequency range.  He observed that when he attached a loop antenna, instead of a speaker to this device, the white noise generator caused interference on his radio, throughout the AM band. He then reasoned, rightly, I think, that if this audio circuit caused interference to an AM radio signal, it must produce white noise that extends well beyond the audio frequency range, and that the LM386 must be capable of amplifying signals at frequencies far above those of normal human hearing, and well into the radio frequency range, something I did not know.

bro i didnt know

He installed this device in his home, attached to a large radio antenna, to scramble the Very Low Frequency and Low Frequency radio waves that he believes are being used, against his will, to reprogram his mind.


Apparently, a lot of people believe that radio waves can be used in this way, and that someone, or something, is using radio waves in ways that cause some people a lot of psychic distress. Some of these people line their walls and ceiling with foil, or wear tinfoil hats to block these unwanted signals. This syndrome is so common that it has become a stereotype, even an archetype. Who hasn’t heard of the tinfoil-hat-wearing crackpot?


This man chose a more rational, science-based approach to the problem of unwanted radio-waves than Reynolds Wrap, and instead, designed and built a very clever, original, device from common, easy to find parts. Myself, I’ve never met a radio-wave I didn’t like, and have never experienced the problems these unfortunate people describe, but I can attest to the fact that his machine really works.

hey it works

If I had read his web page first, I probably would not have built the machine, but because I built his machine first, and it worked, I think he’s a pretty bright guy, and consider him a reliable source for technical information. After all, he solved my problem and taught me a thing or two about electronics in the process. If you, or anyone you know experiences distress caused by Low Frequency or Very Low Frequency radio waves, I recommend you try his device.

acoustic heterodyne mind control-tile

So, the next time you find yourself deriding the veracity of information you find on the internet, remember that the truth is stranger than you think, crazy people aren’t necessarily stupid.  Then ask yourself what the hell you are doing online.

what the hell are you doing1

Make it to The Makers Fair This Weekend

5th Annual Humboldt Makers Fair, Saturday August 1, Old Town Eureka

humboldt makers fair

This Saturday, August 1st, I’ll perform at the 5th annual Humboldt Makers Fair.  This event celebrates Humboldt’s DIY culture and creative self-expression.  The streets will be lined with booths for local artists and craftspersons to show off their talent and sell their unique products.  The festival also includes entertainment on two stages.

humboldt makers fair

I will begin the entertainment with a performance on electric didgeridoo….

photo credit bob doran

Photo by Bob Doran

 from 12 noon to 1pm in front of the Romano Gabriel exhibit on 2nd St.


and then I’ll play again, from 2-3pm in front of the Gazebo in Old Town Eureka.

gazebo old town

I’ll scare the pigeons away

You can also hear Dogbone,


Cliff Dallas and the Death Valley Troubadors,

cliff dallas dvt

Kindred Spirits

kindred spirits

The John David Young Conspiracy,

john david young conspiracy

Companion Animal,

companion animal

…and many more.

I hope to see you there.

Making Dots in Shelter Cove

bird a1 This past weekend, I participated in an art workshop for kids in Shelter Cove. The event was sponsored by SCARF, and held at the “Community Clubhouse” right next to the airstrip and the golf course. I have no idea what SCARF stands for, Shelter Cove Arts and Recreation Foundation is my best guess, but whatever their acronym means, they have some pretty cool stuff going on in Shelter Cove. kanga snakes ct1 cp Any kid could attend the workshop, free of charge. They served free pizza and juice boxes, and SCARF provided all of the art materials, including an envelope full of take home art projects for each kid. Paige Wygant led the workshop, all about painting with dots.

paige wygant dot painting workshop crop

Paige Wygant leading dot painting workshop

She showed the kids some Australian aboriginal dot paintings, and talked about some of the symbols and colors they use in their art. dot painting She also brought a poster of the famous painting by Georges Seurat: Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and talked about pointillism and impressionism. Georges_Seurat_-_A_Sunday_on_La_Grande_Jatte_--_1884 Paige invited me to to the workshop to play the didgeridoo and talk a little bit about it. I’m always happy for the opportunity to play for people, but until now, I’ve never done an educational presentation about the didgeridoo. I play the thing because I like the way it sounds. I don’t really know much about the culture that spawned it. As soon as she told me about it, I knew I wanted to do it because I wanted to learn to paint with dots, so I had to put together a presentation about the didgeridoo.

didge presentation sc2

photo courtesy of Paige Wygant

I’ve never been to Australia, but I have a library card, and occasional access to the internet, so I looked some stuff up. The kids ate it up. Kids love the didgeridoo. It really speaks to them, and kids are especially open to it. I started by playing a bit, and that immediately got their attention.

didge presentation sc3 crop

photo courtesy of Paige Wygant

After a little opening jam, I told them that music was probably older than words, and that before we had language, people communicated through music. That set the tone for a talk that was more about our shared musical heritage, of which I know a little, than about Australian aboriginal culture, about which I know almost nothing. It went over OK.

didge presentation sc5

Photo courtesy of Paige Wygant

I explained that the fossils we find from prehistoric humans are usually made of rock or bone, and that a wooden didgeridoo or a wood and skin drum would decompose rapidly, so we have very little fossil evidence of early musical instruments, but the didgeridoo was undoubtedly one of them. I explained that although we think of the didgeridoo as an Australian instrument, we know there must have been something like a didgeridoo in our distant cultural past, because we have instruments like trumpets and trombones and tubas. Those instruments must have evolved from something like a didgeridoo. Makes sense, right? I played a little more. The kids seemed to buy it.

didge presentation sc4 crop

Photo courtesy of Paige Wygant

Then I told the story of how the instrument got its funny name. This is a true story, and it surprised me to learn it. The term “didgeridoo” was coined by a guy named Herbert Basedow writing for Smith’s Weekly magazine in 1925, who published the following sentence: “The aborigine has no music in him, save for the infernal didgeridoo, which makes but one sound didgery, didgery, didgery, ad infinitum.” Didgeridoo_player I explained that this was a mean-spirited and untrue thing to say, and that the British were not very nice to the aboriginal people. I told them that the aboriginal people have lots of music, and that they can do things with music that we can’t. I told them that the aboriginal people know how to use music as a GPS device, or like a map, and that they use songs to find their way around. I swear! I saw it on a Discovery Channel documentary. I found it in a book too, but hey, if anyone wants to straighten me out about this, I’d love to hear from you. arunachala I played a little more to remind the kids that didgeridoo music sounds pretty cool, and to gracefully change the subject. I told an aboriginal dreamtime story of how the instrument was created. NOT the one about the giant’s penis. I found a family friendly didgeridoo creation story without any reference to genitalia. I’ll save it. I played a little more, and then talked about how to play the instrument, and played one more piece to finish. A whole room full of kids sat quietly and listened for half-an-hour, so I guess it worked. cu2 Then it was time to paint! square crop2 They gave each kid a nice canvas panel that Paige had prepped for them. Some panels just had a background coat, and some, for the younger kids, had a cool kangaroo design marked out on them. kangaroo4 The older kids, including me, I was the oldest kid in the class, by 40 years or so, picked from a selection of Australian themed designs and transferred them, with a pencil and graphite paper, to the canvas. We used fabric paint, which comes in little plastic squeeze bottles perfect for squeezing out tiny drops of paint. snakes3 I had a lot of fun painting with dots, and so did the rest of the kids. Paige did a great job, and I applaud SCARF for helping to make it happen. cu1 Thanks to them, I have a new shtick: didgeridoo presentations for kids. If you’ve got a room full of kids and you need to kill some time, give me a call. dot cartoon1


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