Didjeridu craftsman and multi-instrumentalist Chris Niebergall, who released his album Kor a year ago in the midst of COVID-related social restrictions, finally gave the recording its public debut during a performance at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre on Jan. 21.
More than 60 audience members gathered in the gallery, with lights low and prismatic illuminations washing its walls, for Niebergall’s first feature-length solo concert.
Niebergall has lived on the Sunshine Coast for two decades. As a forest wanderer and self-described “hermit/introvert,” he cultivated knowledge of the region’s diverse mushroom species — and a sixth sense for driftwood with musical potential.
“When I’m on the beach walking, some wood will really stand out,” he said, “and I’ll realize that it wants to be a didjeridu. At the moment I have like 30 sticks on my back deck that are just waiting to be carved whenever I get around to it.”
As a preteen in a music-loving household, Niebergall learned to play the guitar. His skill led to involvement in bands and fostered a fascination for sustained sound textures punctuated by rhythmic elements. It was the gift of a traditional didjeridu in 2005 that triggered his desire to build and play the wide-mouthed wooden tubes.
“When I’m in that space, I’m actually like an extension of the hollow instrument and I can almost see the rhythms as they’re coming through me and then out the instrument,” he said. “For me, playing the didjeridu is a meditation. It’s a journey in which you can detach yourself from habitual reasoning and mental activity.”
After several years of self-instruction (“there weren’t many YouTube videos about didjeridu construction in 2005,” he recalls), Niebergall apprenticed to Australian didjeridu virtuoso and sound healer Shine Edgar.
The Kor album, released under Niebergall’s performance name of Hein d’Gardn, was inspired by the raven and its calls that mimic the act of storytelling. The song titles themselves — like Krr KeaWoo, Karo KiWee, and KoKo Ezhu — reflect the bird’s complex and canny cries.
During his Saturday performance, Niebergall rendered the album’s selections in over 45 minutes of nearly unbroken music, demonstrating the aerobic feat of circular breathing to sustain the didjeridu’s deep-voiced growl. He augments the low-frequency drone with percussive techniques that conjure a forest soundscape. When the music concluded, entranced spectators sat in stillness for over a minute before breaking the silence with applause.
In the second half of the concert, Niebergall laid aside his three-metre didjeridu. He alternated between a shofar-shaped instrument and acoustic guitar to present the world premiere of Atrio Entis. Translated as “Atrium of Being,” the nature-inspired work includes throat singing, vocals by Miss White Spider and a reading of Niebergall’s poetry by Shaun FreeZen. It forms part of a forthcoming album still in progress.
For Niebergall, his hand-crafted instruments demand a certain type of instinctual musicianship. “When I started [playing the didjeridu], I would notice myself thinking about a rhythm and then trying to bring it through,” he said. “It just wouldn’t work out. That was a lesson for me: it felt like the instrument was teaching me as well.”
Kor and the Atrio Entis single are available from the Hein d’Gardn channel on heindgardn.bandcamp.com. Niebergall also maintains a website, featherlore.net, which includes information about his leadership of meditative Sound Journeys experiences blending the throaty didjeridu and quartz crystal singing bowls.