In case you don’t know the story behind "Dr. Didg," I'll give you a little background...

Graham Wiggins first began playing the didgeridoo (a type percussion log that, when blown, gives off deep vibrating tones and is used in sacred aboriginal ceremonies) while he was a student at Boston University. Since he was studying physics, he became fascinated by how such a simple instrument could give off such unusual and varied sounds. He later earned a Ph.D. (hence the title "Doctor") in physics from Oxford. Somewhere along the way he became obsessed with the instrument and even traveled to Australia to learn how to play it from the masters. His proficiency at the instrument allowed him access into the music scene, where he invented a strange musical style which incorporates the sounds of the didgeridoo with experimental dance music. Sounds crazy, right? Well, it makes for one of those combinations that sounds ridiculous on paper but actually works in practice.

Dust Devils is really the culmination of Dr. Didg’s nearly 10 years on the music scene. However, don’t get fooled by the guy's name. I listened to the disc thinking that I'd be hearing some gimmicky act where the guy plays the didgeridoo over bland beats. This is not what the CD is at all. Rather, think of the Dr. as the leader of a three-piece band (with Mark Revell on guitar and Dave Motion on guitar/bass/keys) and as a great orchestrator of music sampling who also happens to play the didgeridoo. Pretty much every track on the disc has some didgeridoo sounds in them, but there are many other wonderful sound textures that are all interwoven so that no single sound dominates. To me, this is a good thing. Although I think the didgeridoo is an interesting instrument, its sound wares on the ears pretty quickly. Fortunately, the instrument is used sparingly and effectively on the disc. The Dr.'s real talent is his ability to combine layers of sounds sampled on top of each other to come up with interesting and catchy songs based around sound loops. This technique is referred to as "live sampling" and the band is proficient at doing this during their concerts as well as in the studio. It's like a musical patchwork quilt that, for the most part, is well-conceived.

This CD should appeal to fans of "techno-rock," or whatever name you want to give to the fusion of mainstream rock and electronic music that bands like the Disco Biscuits and Lake Trout have been perfecting. The disc's songs cover the gamut from trance to jungle to funk. However, some tracks definitely succeed more than others. The disc starts out with a great tune called "Pianola Strut." This song combines great funk guitar riffs and horns with a nice deep spacey beat. Of course, there’s a healthy dose of sampled piano melody as the song title suggests. The title track combines a furious electronic drum beat with trancelike synthesizers and a didgeridoo loop to supply the bass. Some of the other tracks don’t work quite as well. For example, "T'boli" features some tribal chanting with a mediocre beat and bass in the background. Presumably, it's the Dr.'s attempt to pay tribute to the aboriginal culture from which he discovered the didgeridoo; however, the song goes on a little long and begins to get monotonous. On the other hand, while "Dreaming" also contains vocal loops, its use of a child singing in Japanese fits nicely against the backdrop of a mid-tempo beat and Eastern melodies. The tune “Sub-Aqua” sounds like a dead ringer for Herbie Hancock’s ‘80s hit, “Rockit.” Some other highlights include “Squeal Piggy,” a rave-friendly song with intense beats, and “Arrhythmia,” a cool, mysterious song that is almost dub-like, but uses soft ambient tones instead of heavy bass.

I would recommend Dust Devils to those who have an interest in electronic music and are ready to check out a new sound with a very unique combination of instrumentation. It's also great for those looking for a danceable disc. However, if you tend to get impatient quickly with electronic beats and have a yearning for vocals, you should probably stay away. Of course, if you're a didgeridoo fan, it's a must-have!

Brent Fraim
JamBase | Washington, DC
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[Published on: 11/28/02]

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