March 2, 2011

Udu You Think You Are?

In my last entry, I mentioned Barry Hall’s book From Mud to Music, published by the American Ceramic Society in 2006. I have been consulting ceramic texts both new and old in my quest for structural designs for my ceramic musical instruments, and this text was particularly thorough. From Mud to Music is conveniently partitioned into chapters based on the way an instrument makes its sound using the Sachs-Hornbostel classification system: Idiophones, Membrano phones, Aerophones, Chordophones, and includes a special chapter on instruments that combine two or more of these forms. The index, glossary, and resource lists are all quite excellent and very helpful.

When reading through texts such as this one, I like to try a selection from the product demonstration chapters to see for myself how the steps dovetail with the development of a usable form. Because I am in the process of writing my own book on Chinese painting and calligraphy, it also helps to look at well defined models in writing on art instruction.

This week I present my interpretation of the Side-Hole Pot Drum illustrated on page 204. The process of creating this hand built vessel from coils was clear and understandable. But because I do not own a potter’s wheel, I did have to make do with a cast plaster puki instead of a wheel thrown one. (The puki is the Native American term for the small bowl that is used to support the base of a hand built coiled pot). My example of a side hole drum, also known as an Udu, is shorter and more spherical than the drum of Mud to Music specifications but it does work. It makes a bass blooping noice ( my own onomatopoeic neologism) that probably only the most avid percussionist would adore. This sound is effected by tapping the top or side hole and allowing the air to escape the second hole. With practice, the sound can be varied by cupping the hand over a hole and altering the amount of air escaping. Doing so made a friend of mine who heard it over the telephone think that my udu was a string bass. Striking the side of the pot adds a higher timber and fluid tones can be made by tapping the holes with loose fingers.

The down side of my udu as a musical instrument is that it just sounds too quiet for me. A former percussionist colleague told me that his own udu was quiet and advised getting a microphone for it. Oddly enough, my husband claims that the sound is sufficiently loud and that it even has the ability to increase in direct relationship to the amount of time I spend practicing the drumming. Nevertheless, a microphone will soon be an udu companion so that I can perform well in drum circle.

The pattern on the drum was made from painted red, black and white clay slip and was influenced by neolithic pottery designs - in particular that of Yangshao culture. I was particularly fond of a large neolithic swirling pattern on a large vessel in the Chinese collection at Princeton University. When I saw something so bold and made so long ago I wondered if we have ever really improved on such a design.

1 comment:

bruingeek said...

I rather like your "bass blooping noise" description. Last month when attempting my own onomatopoeic description of the udu sound, I used the term 'boinking', only to be greeted with snickers from the class (who quickly advised me of the not-so-pleasant inferences).

If ever in need of a non-wheel thrown puki consider using a large,smooth playground ball as a slump mold (or simply cut it in half and use it well-supported). The leather hard clay form from that shape makes a pretty nice puki.

Barry Hall's book is one of my favorite sources of information and inspiration. Modeling your own book in a similar style sound like a winner!

My best to you,