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The Didjeridude: Tyler Spencer puts a new spin on an Aboriginal Australian instrument 

click to enlarge Tyler Spencer and a prized didj
  • Tyler Spencer and a prized didj
Tyler Spencer and a prized didj
Tyler Spencer was only 15 when he stumbled across a metal tube in his parents' basement and happened to blow into it, creating a unique resonating sound. While the tube was actually a piece of exercise equipment, Spencer's father told him about an Australian Aboriginal instrument called the didjeridu. Spencer began scouring reference books and other materials, eventually creating his own out of a pine log for a school project. Fast forward 15 years and Spencer now makes and plays this ancient instrument for a living, having even gone to Australia's Northern Territory and studied under the highly respected Aboriginal elder Djalu Gurruwiwi. Based out of his home on Bend's east side with a recording studio just off of the workshop where he creates his instruments, Spencer is bringing ancient Australian traditions to Central Oregon and he's doing it with style.

"I make very high-quality didjs for people very serious about playing ... it's kind of my duty to pass on my experience and what I've learned," he says.

The didjeridu or the yirdaki (the instrument's traditional name) is used in Aboriginal ceremonial performances to share stories and imitate wildlife. Eucalyptus, stringy bark and other trees are chopped down and stuck into enormous termite mounds where the termites eat their way out of the log and simultaneously hollow out the instrument, which is then chiseled out, stripped down and sanded to create the finished project. Didjeridus are played similar to brass instruments like the tuba and players use circular breathing, a method that allows musicians to breathe in through their nose while exhaling through the mouth to sustain a single note or string of notes, to keep their sound going.

Spencer experiments with all types of wood when making his versions of the ancient instrument. He prefers to use wood from the Willamette Valley, where he's originally from, and creates didjeridus from ash, maple, oak, alder, cherry and Pacific Yew. He also travels to Arizona to collect the huge spent flower stalks of the Agave plant that he also uses to create unique didjeridus. Spencer uses chisels, electric drills and fire to create his musical works of art. What he does with his finished products is a far cry from the tiny village outside Yirrkala where he studied. Most people, for example, don't tend to associate the instrument with Celtic jazz, heavy metal or funk music - but Spencer does.

"My main passion is playing music and I feel lucky to be a conduit in playing this instrument," says Spencer. "It's a different instrument from a different continent that has the ability to bridge cultural gaps."

Spencer played with a group called the Wicked Tinkers, a quilt-wearing Celtic jazz quartet as well as a Eugene's seven-piece jam mainstays Reeble Jar. He focused on instrumental funk, dance and tribal music before moving to the Bend area a little more than a year ago. You can now find Spencer playing with local groups including Coyo, Shireen Amini, Anastacia, Howgwash and Concave Perception Chamber.

"The local musicians have been a very welcoming and the community has been very warm and open," he says. He's currently working on a new album that he hopes will be done by winter. He's also playing in a trio with a harmonica player and kit drummer that's yet to be named, but can be seen frequenting the M&J Tavern from time to time.

Spencer also gives free monthly workshops at Don Terra Artworks in Sisters, giving lessons throughout the region and beyond when he's not performing.

"[Playing the didjeridu] goes beyond self-satisfaction," says Spencer. "It helps bring the community together, open people's minds to different kinds of music, it bridges cultures and brings people together - and that's true medicine."

To learn more about Spencer's music and didjeridus, go to or go to

Here's a quick video of Tyler in action:

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