This initial thread of thought and discover was started after reading ‘gone to earth’ on David Toop’s Sinister Resonance blog. To which i’ve borrowed much of what was said, picking out a few references that interested me for further investigation.
The allure of such an instrument, a hole in the ground, Is out of all proportion to its simplicity. Within Christian Wolff’s Pit Music (1971), published in Prose Collection (as pictured below). The particular piece could easily be a description of how to make your own version of the Dan earth bow, although Wolff never intended his Pit to be actually made. Like a lot of things, post-Fluxus, it was an indication of potential (political as much as anything) rather than an imperative.
As mentioned in Musique Dan: La musique dans la pensée et la vie sociale d’une societé africaine (1971) by Swiss-French ethnomusicologist Hugo Zemp – “The bow in the ground belonged to an unfortunate, a little unfortunate. This boy had nothing with which to amuse himself; he could neither play the harp-lute, nor beat the drum, nor blow into the trumpet. Then he dug a hole in the ground, covered it with leaves, fixed a vegetal fibre there, and attached the other end to a branch which he buried in the ground. When he struck the rope, it spoke grrrrr grrrr. He says, It’s enough for me to amuse myself. This boy was an unhappy person. It is for this reason that the earthen bow remains with the children. It is not a thing to distract important people, it is for the unhappy.”
Literary score found here in Christian Wolff’s Prose Collection
Toward the conclusion of this post is was has really resonated with – As Toop makes clear, “discussions such as the one I am having now and have been having for nearly fifty years, became taboo, either because they were damned for cultural appropriation, primitivism and exoticism or dismissed for being hippyish, lacking in the detachment and rigour proper to a person who was considered to be permanently Severed”. But ultimately these holes in the ground address a basic problem – how to make a small thing bigger – and by applying the principle of resonance they fashion an elegant solution whose imprint will gradually soften and crumble into an impression rather than a scar. We could learn something from that.
That being said, speculatively speaking – what might it be to perform such a score as Pit Music? In contrast to that of Christian Wolff’s original intention? Between the friction of such primitivism in comparison to that of Contemporary musics ascending trajectory with digital technological innovation (Supercollider, Laptop music etc). My thoughts lay somewhere in between feeling as though an elegant process of sound exploration has gone almost completely undocumented, recorded or explored – While a sense of enjoyment within the wonder of such an illusive instrumentalist might be enough. Or perhaps even an exercise in recapping a past connection to the earth we all fall victim to forgetting.