Saturday, 5 December 2009

Music without instruments

I have been reading the travel writings of Victorian explorer Alfred Russel Wallace. Some of it is hard work, not because his style is heavy but rather because it is so light and matter of fact. Somehow this makes his descriptions of shooting orangutans in the jungles of Borneo all the more horrifying. But parts are absolutely fascinating. At one point he is staying overnight in a village in the meeting house, a building where business is conducted, guests accommodated and where the young unmarried men of the village sleep. The chief has left and the boys have been amusing themselves with trials of strength and skill, somewhere between arm wrestling and Sumo but unlike either. Wallace writes:

"When these games had been played all around with varying success, we had a novel kind of concert. Some placed a leg across the knee, and struck the fingers sharply on the ankle, others beat their arm against their sides like a cock when he is going to crow, this making a variety of clapping sounds, while another with his hand under his armpit produced a deep trumpet note; and, as they all kept time very well, the effect was by no means unpleasing. This seemed quite a favourite amusement with them, and they kept it up with much spirit."

The game reminded me of one from Adventures in Sound, a freebie on the website, called Bodycon. The less we have the more inventive we can become. Of course there are no audio recordings from Wallace's visit to Borneo, which took place in 1856, so we'll just have to use our imaginations. However, if you are into body percussion and haven't seen Sounds of Rain and Thunder yet (on YouTube) it really is worth a look .


  1. I like the sounds of rain and thunder.... great stuff!

  2. I went to a brilliant 'bodyslap' workshop once with the great Mark Shatz (double bass player amongst other instruments). What fun that was. The entire marquee was full of bluegrass players bashing themselves black and (ahem) blue.