An ancient and beautiful instrument with roots in 6th century Ukraine, the bandura evolved from the lute and has approximately 65 chromatically tuned strings. It sounds like a cross between a harp and a harpsichord and really needs to be heard to be appreciated. For various reasons it is relatively unknown outside of Ukraine, where it is a conservatorium trained instrument. It is used widely as a solo instrument; however most great Ukrainian Song and or Dance Ensembles boast a bandura section. During its evolution it was used by traveling minstrels or kobzari to accompany their story telling. Usually these stories were of epic Cossack battles and heroic deeds while facing invaders of the Ukrainian homeland. Unfortunately, in that sense, it was used a lot and this actually played a huge part in the evolution of the modern form of the bandura, but that’s another big discussion…
Because virtually every song that is performed on a bandura is sung in the Ukrainian language, it has curiously never been subjected to russification, as has occurred with most other Ukrainian cultural objects and practices. Instead, it was the subject of Russian oppression for many years and this has galvanised its underlying reputation as the quintessential national instrument and indeed a symbol of Ukrainian freedom.
However, in the project that is Yellow Blue Bus, it is the versatility of this traditional instrument that is of interest and is under full exploration and development. Much ground has been broken during this time in relation to electrifying a sweet, acoustic instrument meant for chamber music and putting it up against loud drum kits and big-effect electric guitar leads. This is where the old meets the new and in traversing this barrier, many of the issues that we have worked through and overcome we believe have been encountered for the very first time. So Yellow Blue Bus is creating a legacy in the development of bandura culture in the world – a fact that has been duly noted by many informed observers over the years.
The Halo is a 21st century instrument built by Pantheon Steel in the US. It is a member of the handpan and sound sculptures family. The very first of this family was the groundbreaking Hang, made by PANArT in Switzerland, which first appeared in 2000. Since then a growing number of handpan and sound sculpture makers around the world have developed their own versions. Like the Hang, the Halo is made from two nitrided steel shells joined together at the rims, with tone dimples hammered into the centre and around the edge of the instrument. Each instrument is tuned to a particular scale, often based on non-western scales. The sound of the Halo is very pure and other-worldly. Because of the limited number of Halos produced they are very difficult to purchase. Tony was very lucky to acquire a Halo in 2012, and another one in a different key in 2015. Tony loves that in Yellow Blue Bus the ancient bandura is joined by the 21st century Halo.
ELECTRIC UPRIGHT BASS
The Electric Upright Bass (EUB) is an electronically amplified version of the traditional double bass that has a minimal or "skeleton" body, greatly reducing the size and weight of the instrument. Electric upright basses were first developed in the mid 1930’s, they gained popularity in the early 1980’s to accommodate for better amplification and portability.
There are 2 main types of EUBs, one has a solid body, otherwise known as a “stick” bass, the other has a hollow body. Tele currently uses a hollow body EUB with a wooden enclosure, while much smaller than the hollow body cavity of a traditional double bass, is still large enough to give the instrument an acoustic tone. While the EUB retains some of the tonal characteristics of a traditional double bass, it has built-in pickups and volume controls similar to a standard electric bass, therefore its electrically amplified nature also gives it its own unique sound.
The EUB offers true, deep upright bass tones complementary with the genre of music played by Yellow Blue Bus. The chambered body with no amplified feedback at high volumes and its portability make it ideal for live performances and touring.
The cajon is a wooden box-shaped percussion instrument that originated in Peru within the musical context of slaves from African origin. Having been played in Afro-Peruvian music for centuries, it found its way to Spain in the mid-1970s and has become very widely used in Flamenco music. The player sits on the cajón to play it, and strikes the front with hands and sometimes brushes. Tony's cajón was made in Spain and supplied by Aurora Percusion, who coined the term "drum kit in a box".
THE DIDGERIDOO AND THE DPSH40
The didgeridoo – sometimes called the yidaki – is the famous ancient Australian Aboriginal wind instrument developed by the Indigenous Yolngu clans of North East Arnhem Land. It is essentially a straight trunk of a young Eucalyptus tree that has been hollowed out by termites. It is played using a technique known as circular breathing which allows an endless and mesmerising drone.
We use one. It is in C. We think that it is a traditional one because it is clearly eaten out in the middle by termites (believe me, we know; we’ve seen termite damage). In the piece Heralding it is used as drone, mood and fog horn.
OK, so how do you get a didj in a different key? Well, you CAN bend the note about a tone either way, but any more amounts to a fair amount of lip and mouth-chamber gymnastics and is not really sustainable for a 4 or 5 minute piece of music. So what do you do? You get the hacksaw out. No Joke! But you wouldn’t get the Arnhem Land yidaki out and lop 3cm off. You go to hardware store and buy a big length of 40mm plumbing waste pipe (maybe 2) and go for it. A length of 122cm makes a D – but that is for the way Kush holds his mouth and will probably be different for others so you have to just experiment (that’s why you should buy 2). The first one in D we once used had a manufacturer mark “DPSH40” printed on it and so this is the affectionate name we use for our plastic didjs. In fact, the tonality of these plastic ones are surprisingly good; listen to the work Easternish and see if you agree.
The djembe is a drum that has its origins and cultural context in West Africa, but over some decades has spread throughout Africa and indeed the whole world. Authentic djembes are made from a wooden body carved into a goblet shape, and a drum head usually of goat skin. The skin is tuned by tightening laced rope around the edge of the drum. Given that traditional Ukrainian bandura music was not accompanied by any drum, the combination of djembe and bandura is part of Yellow Blue Bus' zletya project.