An Agave Afterlife
Seeing an agave expend the effort required to produce a monumental flower stalk is an amazing and singular experience. But, what about when it’s over … when an agave is completely spent and its leaves and flower stalk are fully desiccated? Pondering this after viewing the drying agaves at the UCRBG, I wondered if anyone was doing anything with dried agave stalks … anything that honored these remarkable plants. To my amazement I found that the agave’s stalks do have an afterlife … as musical instruments! I found several artists online who’ve taken on the task of turning their dried out trunks into didgeridoos — the wind instrument of the indigenous people of Australia.
Kyle Bert, of Tucson, Arizona, is one such artist, and the pieces featured in this post are his work. On his website he details how he harvests the agave stalks and turns them into beautiful, functional objects. Gathering them from the desert wild, he’s careful to choose only those stalks that have fully dispersed their seeds; preferring those that have been in the heat of the Arizona sun long enough to have fully dried and turned into ‘wood’. He then processes the stalks: boring, sanding, finishing, sealing and finally polishing them. Finished, the stalks have a gorgeous horn-like finish. He embellishes some further via hand-painting and inset stones. Instruments are grouped into three categories: Straight, Bell and Old Soul, based on their shapes. The Bell and Old Soul versions are flared and trumpet-like because they include a portion of the agave’s root ball. In a romantic sense, all of Bert’s efforts serve to endow a long-dead agave with a voice, allowing it a chance to sing …
To learn more about Kyle Bert’s amazing didjeridoos,visit his website at Desert Mountain Didges. Bert sells his hand-crafted instruments for between $225 and $450.
NOTE: The following is a fascinating look at a different process used for making an agave didgeridoo. One of three videos in a series called ‘Sunday in the Shed’, its garrulous Aussie subject takes us through his own didge-making process, from cutting down an agave stalk to playing the finished instrument. The finished didgeridoo produces a very distinctive sound and playing it seems to take considerable effort … and its maker definitely seems satisfied with the final result.