Originally a limited edition release in ’98 on the independent imprint Total Norma Slug, Surfin’ is a compilation of various tracks composed over the last decade by Australian didj virtuoso Phil Conyngham. Included on the disc are excerpts from concerts recorded in Germany (featuring the Sir C Sound System) and several studio collaborations with DJs hailing from Munich, Berlin, Manchester and London.
It is somewhat incorrect to ‘genre-categorise’ Surfin’ simply as ‘didjeridu music’, although this is not to say that the instrument isn’t the CD’s dominant element. In fact, it is Phil’s exceptional playing that forms the core of the music. Yet somehow his playing style, arrangements, and musical influences seem to go beyond what could be expected from most contemporary didjeridu players.
Conyngham sees the instrument as "the ultimate tone generator and multi-track recorder …operating acoustically…Aboriginal technology". Expanding on this philosophy, he coaxes as many sounds as he can from the instrument to form bass lines, polyrhythmic percussion as well as melody.
The opening track Millennium Incompatible, a studio co-production with electronic musician Ulrich Schnauss (Morr Music/ City Centre Offices:Manchester/ Berlin) features an atmospheric intro of melodic percussion sounds (created by tapping the mouth-piece of the didj with the palm of the hand), and quickly builds into an acoustic break-beat, jazz-tipped ‘didj n’drum’ hoe-down that really kicks along.
Track 2, Godzilla Vs New Age !#%! is a Japanese-monster-movie-soundtrack styled subsonic thumper that conjures up images of a battle between weird and wonderful beasts. The title suggests a humorous dig at those who treat the didj as a cosmic novelty rather than a musical instrument.
Phil stresses the importance of both disciplined instrumental technique and reasonable studio knowledge, working in tandem to forge his music style. "Both have to be integrated …combining as a single medium", he says. "This approach (to music) was fairly rare in some circles back in the day…, it seemed like many acoustic instrumentalists didn’t understand what DJ’s and re-mixers of pop and dance music were doing and vice versa. In recent years I’ve noticed more producers of electronic music are looking towards instrumentalists for inspiration and in turn, folk, jazz and other acoustic musicians have learned how to exploit computer soft ware to extend their own compositional possibilities".
The current Didj Master Philth project had its genesis at the beginning of’96; hot on the heels of the notoriety Phil attained with his previous London based experimental techno outfit Waxhxad Pxvxrt. Better known as ‘Waxhead’ the earlier group formed in ‘93 as the result of a studio "acoustic techno" project that was financed by Conyngham busking the London Underground, "from noon to mid-night… narrowly avoiding arrest for this illegal activity".
Waxhead’s first vinyl was released in ‘93/’94 on ‘Stay Up Forever Records’ the label run by London’s ‘Liberator’ free party crew. Now included on Surfin’, Phil’s track ‘It’s Aboriginal’ debuted to rapturous applause after a spin at club Mega-dog and entered the U.K. magazine Echoes ‘Hard Trance’ chart at number one. After considerable success touring Europe the band finally imploded in ’95. Waxhead re-surfaces occasionally as collaboration between Phil and DJ Controlled Weirdness (Unearthly Records:London). The duo’s track Bunyip forms a somewhat enigmatic close to Surfin’ leaving the listener in an atmosphere of the bizarre.
Tracks 3-9 are culled from a couple of live gigs performed in Munich and are a flawless fusion of stunning didj playing and experimental interactive electronics. The combination results in an unbelievable array of sounds for what is essentially a solo concert with excellent live sound production from Sir C.
Except for a ten month break during ‘99 and ‘00, Conyngham and his Didj Master Philth project has been continuously on the road ever since.
Surfin’ is to be re-released along side Conyngham’s new work early in 2003.
Definitely worth checking out.*****