Category Archives: Marko Johnson

New Life to Old Drums

Look at this beautiful focal point of Marko’s sun room!marko

Marko made that mammoth 20 plus years ago, and recently decided to dust it off and give it a new voice. The sound is so rich, warm and round. I want to sit in it all day. I could not on that day, however, because Marko gave me one of his old drums! I was there to put a new hide on it. I’m so lucky!

measuring the hide

measuring the hide

Diamond Stitch

Diamond Stitch

It was exciting, too, because not long ago, Marko and I finished interviews cataloging his personal didge history. My drum is a key player in the genesis of his career as a craftsman and innovator in the world of Didgeridoo.

Thank you, Marko!

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Marko’s Didge History

Last week and today, Marko and I conducted 2 recorded interviews documenting his introduction to the didgeridoo and the artistic exploration following that fateful day. This photo represents a period of time in the evolution of his career as a craftsman/ innovator. He called this series of leather, painted didgeridoos the “Temple Horns.” It’s a regional thing. When I was a kid in Rexburg (home of BYU-Idaho), I used to answer the phone sometimes, “Top o’ the temple, Moroni speaking.”

Soon I’ll have an ebook available for purchase on the website. www.didjbox.com
top o the temple

Marko’s backyard in Millcreek, Salt Lake City, UT ~ Feb. 24, 2015

Angel Moroni toots God's horn but wishes he had a Marko Johnson didge.

Angel Moroni toots God’s horn but wishes he had a Marko Johnson didge.

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Haunted Didge

On Halloween, some friends and I went on a haunted Salt Lake City bus tour. Halfway through the tour, Marko began to didge, and a low, visceral rumble crept through our company. Murmurs across the bus were under-the-breath at first, but they spread from neighbor to neighbor as everyone dropped dead quiet: “Oh my gosh! Do you hear that? What IS that?!”

A spooky soundtrack had accompanied our journey all along, but this was new and deliciously unnerving for those who’d never heard it before. Soon everyone was exclaiming aloud and I burst out in a characteristic cackle. At last, the tour guide shouted, “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT!?” but Marko, being the imp that he is, had stopped. It was then that I thought to capture the moment, but he had done with his chicanery. So here’s Marko’s chest.
marko's chest

Later, he serenaded Slenderman.
marko and tall man

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Simple, Complex, Exact

Ondrej Smeykal, Didgeridoo Master & Friends

What an awesome show!

Can you believe it was FIVE hours?!!! I couldn’t either. There were social breaks between performers and sets, so we wiggled around and hugged old friends/met new ones, but… five hours! I couldn’t believe it when I turned my phone on.

We were transported.

Ondrej spoke briefly before he began. He’s very hushed, and even mic’d it was difficult with his accent and pitch to understand, but I did hear him describe the didgeridoo as “simple, complex, and exact. We forget about these things,” he went on, “but these instruments are here to remind us.” He talked about his “didge conversion,” the awe that a mere hollow tube can do and be this thing!

And then he played. WOW! When I heard him a couple years ago, it was an intimate house concert, acoustic. This time, it was still quite intimate but intricately amplified. It was totally different and… just amazing, that’s all. Amazing!

****

Leraine Horstmanshoff was first to play. I was glad to finally hear her. She’s well-known in the valley and I’m surprised it took so long to meet her after hearing so much about her. She was wonderful! Unique and female. Powerful, evocative, and emotional. She hadn’t brought any CDs, but I will get one at first opportunity. She mixed unexpected instruments – guitar, banjo (!), her voice (more than yelps and trills). She sang in the thing! (Beautiful voice; rich, unforced vibrato) It was tribal, feminine, human. Leraine also briefly demo’d The Micro, and Marko sold three on the spot. Thanks, Leraine!

Leraine Horstmanshoff

Leraine Horstmanshoff

Dan was next, and he’s just a hit. I already introduced you to him, so I won’t elaborate much except to say I like his new stuff, especially on his newer didge tuned to the gyspy scale. He was funny. “This is called ‘The Gypsy,'” he said of it, telling us why. “This is called ‘The Slugger,'” he said of another. “Not because of its harmonics but because…” He trailed off and threw the huge stick over his shoulder, taking the hitter stance.

Dan’s always interesting because he gets into the precision and mathematics of split didge manufacturing. He mentioned his association with Dr. Frank Geipel, the German engineer whose computer program he uses to achieve the exact specifications for each unique didge he dreams up and handcrafts (Computer Aided Didgeridoo Sound Design, CADSD). The audience loved that.

Dan Flynn and "The Big Apple"

Dan Flynn and “The Big Apple”

Stephen Kent added every imaginable percussive accompaniment, and some beyond imagination. He introduced each strange piece, explaining that he searches the world for unusual instruments. I loved his music. He talked about his didge conversion, which took place at The Valley of Winds in Australia, and played the piece that evolved from that night, on an authentic eucalyptus yidaki (a tribal name for didgeridoo) hollowed by termites. (That still blows my mind. This thing, this powerhouse instrument of music and meditation, is not man-made. It’s bigger than us. Makes you feel a “meant-to-be”ness about the world, though I think the universe, while loving, is more random than that.) I got the most satisfying, deep breath I’ve had in years. I have this weird thing where I can’t catch my breath. I have to talk myself off a ledge sometimes when I need that diaphragm-stretching breath and can’t get it. I got it!

Stephen Kent

Stephen Kent

Pithy British humor describes Stephen Kent. He was so fun! The man didn’t miss a beat! He was so quick and playful with a live audience. In the midst of all the laughter and joy, he talked at length about the plight of Aboriginal people and about elders, in general. My participation in Native American practices in recent years has deepened my connection to ancestors. I’d only ever felt connected to my own. Now I feel tied to all who live and who have. I believe that we have access to all consciousness. Everyone in that room felt it, and shared theirs with one another. It was love, magic, fun. You don’t look at the clock when you’re tapped into eternal time. 😉 Stephen closed with a traditional song wanting community participation. That felt good, though I think I’m the kid who could always be heard above the others in primary school, so gleeful am I.

Marko and Dancing Girls... naturally

Marko and Dancing Girls… naturally

Chad Butler, Stephen and Ondrej’s manager, spoke before each. He said, “Whatever the didgeridoo is going to become, it’s happening now.” He elaborated on his point that more and more people are coming to the didge, and the influence of the community is about to shift. There is power and purpose in what we care about. He talked about green and other global concerns and how the didge community seems to be in tune to those kinds of issues and yearns to be a force for change. He was very inspiring about the possibility for success. That’s how I feel. I just feel us “getting it.” Writing that is immediately followed by the question in my mind, “How can you say that?” But I feel it. I think this community is raising children and awareness and even money that will solve many current, urgent problems.

It was an uplifting reminder to act and speak for the planet and for patience with each other. And then Ondrej played.

Ondrej Smeykal

Ondrej Smeykal

Ondrej suggested we turn down the overhead lights. The only option was off. It removed us instantly from a room and took us to a place of simply being. He began with “the ocean” I wrote about before. It was really powerful amplified. That deep breath I got earlier kept rewarding me. I was relaxed and serene.

Then he exploded! Holy shit.

I find it remarkable sometimes that the didge surprises me so. I’m saturated with it, yet I can’t get enough. Five hours! Felt like two. Dance, laughter, connection, festival energy. And stupefying music! How do you even try to describe?

Meanderingly, I suppose. I really enjoyed this show.

OK! I’ll go back to practicing. Ten minutes a day, for the love of all that is holy! I tease. I don’t chide my lack of discipline so much as I celebrate a kick in the pants. I’m happily inspired and motivated anew. Didgeridoo!

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Filed under Aboriginal people, Australia, circular breathing, didge box, didgeridoo, didjbox, Marko Johnson, music, Salt Lake City, The Micro

Ondrej Smeykal Returning to Salt Lake City

I met Ondrej 2 years ago when he gave a private concert in Park City at the home of Marko’s friend, Don Fulton. I’m looking forward to his show on May 14th at Dancing Cranes Imports. Especially exciting is that my cousin Dan performs in the pre-show! Ondrej was Dan’s didge idol for years, and when I heard him play in person it was immediately clear why. Mind-blowing stuff! At the time, Ondrej had begun experimenting with just his breath, no lip vibrations. It was surprising to me that I could be so moved by just the rhythm of his breath. I remember getting really philosophical about the human experience, the magic of being alive, and sharing air with everyone in that room. The breathy music was percussive and earthy and made me think of the ocean. At one point, I was listening with eyes closed when I heard the screech of a bird. I looked outside to witness an eagle in a steep, fast dive! One of those moments in life when you feel intensely connected. It was a little overwhelming and a lot AWESOME!
smeykal

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Sales Picking Up!

Marko said there would be a lull in business after the holidays, when I started working for him. Sure enough, there didn’t seem to be much for me to do. And sure enough, come spring the orders are steadily trickling in! Visit didjbox.com to learn more about The Original Didjbox, as well as the didjbox originator himself, Marko Johnson… and to become the next proud owner of The Micro!

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Women and The Didgeridoo

I came across a fascinating article by linguist Lera Boroditsky, in which she explores how language shapes the way we see the world. I love the idea that the global community is robbed when any language dies. We lose something when a unique way of seeing (and saying) disappears. Boroditsky’s research is comprehensive, gratifying, and exciting. Something she reveals about the language structure of one Aboriginal tribe caught my attention: “In languages that have grammatical gender, all the nouns are assigned to a grammatical category. In the simpler examples it would be masculine and feminine. Sometimes there is a third gender, masculine, feminine and neuter. In more complex cases there can be as many as 16 genders with a special grammatical category for hunting tools or for canines, depending on the language. George Lakoff made famous a grammatical gender category in an Aboriginal language that included women, fire and dangerous things. Those were the things that were all treated grammatically equivalently in this language.”

I find that simultaneously interesting and hilarious! Women have long been held responsible – artistically, mythologically, socially (and now, linguistically?) – for the choices of both men and women. (Adam and Eve, anyone?) And… Well, I’m a redhead. Women, fire, and dangerous things I know all too well. Someone will ask by day’s end if I have a temper… and get an angry earful. (I tease.) Delightful!

With reference to gender, we’ve discussed didgeridoo as traditionally played by men. However, Marko found a quote revealing the opinion of famed didgeridoo maker, player, and instructor, Djalu Gurruwiwi. I’m sorry I’m not familiar with the speaker, Gög Didge: “My partner Dori just came back from a meeting with yidakimaster Djalu in Sydney, where they brought this message to the point: All non-traditional women should feel free to play the didgeridoo, where they want, what they want to play, and when they want to play it.”

Awesome.

Commonly, it is advised to approach the issue of women playing the didgeridoo with sensitivity. Many are open to it, but it is, as yet, fairly controversial. Assumptions should never be made. For more on the subject, go to http://yidakistory.com/dhawu/35miyalk.html.

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