WHEN THE WILD INSTRUMENT SING l
Kurdish Iraqi multimedia artist, Sherko Abbas, developed a musical instrument from a small handmade object called a Damaqachan, which translates into English as a ‘spoke’. In Iraq, a Damaqachan is a simple toy constructed from bicycle’s spokes, nails and matches which sets off miniature explosions. The instrument was constructed by the same method, and when played it issues random explosive sounds. While it has to be operated by a human, it is difficult to control and to anticipate what sort of music can be made with it.
Abbas is fascinated by the way in which the object has its own relative autonomy. In the first performance to demonstrate the instrument at Goldsmith College in 2014, Abbas collaborated with three Iraqi artists: Khabat Abas, playing the cello, Hardi Kurda plays electronic sound and artist Kani Majid playing the daf (a Middle Eastern frame drum). Through a process of improvisation, they gave voice to the instrument and tested its form and how it responds to other, more conventional musical instruments. In creating this Iraqi instrument in the UK, Abbas is conscious of the way in which it is inextricably linked to a background of war and destruction. He is not using it to comment or make a judgment, but through it, he demonstrates how war has been absorbed into local culture in Iraq, and how the vernacular has changed as a result of it.