The Didge Project are AJ Block and Tyler Sussman, a pair of California-bred jazz musicians who fell in love with the didgeridoo. Together in their Brooklyn home base, the duo handcraft instruments, conduct intensive sound healings, and constantly spread the gospel of the Aboriginal aerophone.
I first encountered the Didge Project right outside my front door. One sunny spring morning, I emerged from my apartment building to the sounds of a mighty, throbbing pulse. Confused, I looked up at the sky for a low-flying airplane. Finding nothing, I gingerly felt my stomach, imagining that a lack of breakfast must have precipitated an unusually vigorous tummyrumble. The thought of food caused me to cast a glance at the coffee shop across the street from my stoop, and there the mystery revealed itself — AJ Block, blowing blissfully into a massive didgeridoo.
A few days later I found myself in the airy apartment that Block shares with his partner in healing, Tyler Sussman. We discussed the didgeridoo’s ancient origins, methods of training the brain’s electrical activity, and the effect of taking a shot of didge straight to the dome, before the duo treated me to a powerful session of meditation guided through sound.
Flavorpill: The didgeridoo has come a long way to end up here.
Tyler Sussman: The didgeridoo is ancient. It’s origins are many times older, even, than the idea of permanent settlements.
AJ Block: It’s said to be about 40,000 years old, making it perhaps the oldest known wind instrument. Originally, the didgeridoo would form naturally, as fallen eucalyptus trees were hollowed out by a species of termite indigenous to northern Australia. It was only much later that the instrument would be crafted by hand.
FP: When did you first encounter the didgeridoo? This must have been long before you decided to make them.
TS: Well, I’d been exposed to the didgeridoo long before I ever dreamed of making one. I remember someone bringing one to my elementary school, which I thought was amazing. What really fascinated was circular breathing — breathing in through your nose and out for your mouth, simultaneously — and even as a third-grader, I wanted so badly to learn the technique. I tried so hard to figure it out, but I couldn’t do it. And then I stopped thinking about it for years and years, until last summer, when we were out on tour with our jazz band.
AJB: We were on the road as a trio with our friend Phil, who plays keyboards. And Phil had bought a didgeridoo on the recommendation of a sound healer, who we’d met in Seattle. He had already learned circular breathing, so it quickly became a very personal practice for him. He’d just wander off and be playing didgeridoo all by himself.
TS: So one night we were lying on a beach in British Columbia, looking up at the stars, and not really paying attention to each other. And Phil comes up behind us and suddenly points the didgeridoo right at the center of my forehead and begins to play. And I had this powerful, instant reaction: “That feels craaaazy! Keep doing that!” And from that night on, we began to experiment constantly with the effects of these sound waves on the body and the brain. Right then, we knew that we’d all have to find didgeridoos and learn to play them. Within minutes of that initial experience, I knew I had to share it with others.
FP: What’s the deal with this practice that you’re currently developing?
AJB: Well, the didgeridoo can take you into very deep states of meditation. So we use the sound to facilitate that process.
TS: We’ve begun to develop a dual-didgeridoo sound that developed from our experience playing in bands together. But the idea behind it is rooted in the science of sound frequencies. When your brain processes two different frequencies simultaneously — say, 100 Hz and 95 Hz — the difference between the frequencies is also manifested as sound, in this case a very low pulse at 5 Hz. By simultaneously combining the sounds of two didgeridoos, we can produce and control these low pulses. And the brain itself produces electrical activity in waves, which correspond to different states of mind. So with two didgeridoos, we can produce a sustained pulse at, say, 4-7 Hz, which mimics the brain’s own theta rhythm — a very deep meditative state.
AJB: The idea behind our practice of sound healing is to induce different states of brain activity, based on the needs and desires of our clients. Within the interaction of our two didgeridoos, we can produce an organic pulsation with which the brain will sync. That said, playing the instrument itself is a full-body expression. So whatever it is that we’re projecting sonically, we’re experiencing it physically, too.
FP: Does it feel strange to return to your original instruments after undergoing such an intense experience with the didgeridoo?
AJB: We’re fusing it all together. Given that each didgeridoo is centered on one fundamental tone, it’s perfectly suited to a modal exploration. We’re bringing our external musical knowledge into the digeridoo, and taking the didgeridoo back with us to the trombone, or clarinet, or saxophone.
TS: The didgeridoo can bring you into a more creative state of consciousness. I’ve found myself playing the didgeridoo for twenty or thirty minutes, and then picking up the saxophone. And I can feel all my years of saxophone pedagogy dissolving, replaced with a more focused experience of sound — just sound.
Download an MP3 of the Didge Project’s signature jam, “Didgehop,” and check out Block and Sussman’s website to learn more about their sound healing practice and to snag a copy of their recently released CD, Didgeridoo Meditation.