These Scientists Investigated the Positive Resonances of the Bundengan and Didgeridoo

These Scientists Investigated the Positive Resonances of the Bundengan and Didgeridoo

The Physics of Simple Musical Instruments

The Complex Physics Behind Simple Instrument Structures

During the festive period of the Twelve Days of Christmas, we at Ars Technica have chosen to showcase science stories that have previously fallen through the cracks, focusing on one each day from December 25 to January 5. Today, we’re delving into the complex physics found in two musically simple instruments: the Indonesian bundengan and the Australian Aboriginal didgeridoo.

Unique Instruments Catch Scientific Attention

Indonesia’s endangered bundengan and Australia’s didgeridoo, despite their basic structures, are intriguing for the complex physics they present. This has prompted scientific studies into their acoustic properties, which were discussed at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Sydney. The bundengan doubles as a shelter for duck hunters and a musically intricate instrument, reproducing the sounds of a gamelan ensemble. The didgeridoo, emblematic of Aboriginal culture, produces a droning note that skilled players can sustain with circular breathing.

Understanding the Bundengan’s Acoustical Wonders

The bundengan, which originated from Indonesian duck hunters, serves as a musical instrument as well as a shelter. Made of bamboo and coated with bamboo sheaths secured by palm fibers, musicians play it by sitting inside and plucking its various parts. Gea Oswah Fatah Parikesit has dedicated years to studying its acoustics and even learned to play it to better understand its design intricacies and the enchanting gong-like sound produced by the instrument’s strings.

Wet Versus Dry: The Bundengan’s Sound Secrets

Parikesit has pinpointed a peculiar phenomenon where the bundengan sounds distinctly better when wet, as observed at a concert where performers used water spray bottles to maintain the instrument’s moisture. Exploring the sound difference based on the instrument’s dryness or wetness revealed that the bamboo sheaths have a critical impact on the acoustic quality. Parikesit continues to champion the bundengan’s conservation as part of Indonesia’s musical heritage.

The Didgeridoo’s Coupling with Vocal Tract Acoustics

Simultaneously, the physics and acoustics of the didgeridoo captivate John Smith of the University of New South Wales. The construction from termite-hollowed eucalyptus retains complex interactions with the players’ vocal tracts. Investigating these interactions offers insights into the nuances of the instrument’s sound, especially when players incorporate singing or animal imitations into their playing. This meticulous analytic approach showcases how the properties of the vocal tract affect the overall timbre produced by the didgeridoo.

Measuring What Makes a Didgeridoo Desirable

Distinguishing a desirable didgeridoo involves subjective acoustic measurements, as Smith discovered. Surprisingly, players often prefer instruments with weaker resonances, allowing their own vocal tones to enrich the sound. This preference demonstrates a remarkable interplay between the instrument’s intrinsic qualities and the personal technique of the didgeridoo player.

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