Zebrawood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) fascinates me. The strong contrast between the black heartwood and the white sapwood has a graphic appeal. During my December holiday, in 2006, I managed to obtain a bundle of thirteen walking sticks made in Zebrawood from the local crafters around the town of Graskop in Mpumalanga. The walking sticks were clumsily made, full of lumps, too heavy and not worth keeping at all. I was after the stunning wood and plotted a scheme where I may uncover as much of individual bits of contrast and quirkiness of design within small pieces of wood - walking sticks made into drum sticks.
Jewel-like bits of wood that flitter about, similar to musical notes on sheet music, came to mind. I experimented with the wooden 'drumbeats' by stringing them along a simple linear background, much like a musical score on lined paper but decided to change the rectilinear format of the page into a zigzag shuffle. Instead of a purely musical symphony, I wanted an optophonetical composition in which one would 'see' percussive sounds. By looking at the 'notes' one might then imagine hearing them. A jagged acoustic matrix, developed from lined sheet-music, became my 'dancing floor' of wooden planks on which the musical notes could 'jig' about1. The bars were increased to nine and arranged like the letter 'W' with one extra leg to form a 'W' with a twist - 'W' for Walking stick, and for Willem, also, a bit like the 'Z' and 'W' in Zebrawood.
Small bars of Zebrawood were dispersed on the zigzag 'dancing floor' like autumn leaves scattered around a tree. The minimal music produced by Steve Reich has a clarity and charm because its meter, although it appears to be unremitting and similar, becomes palatable when one notices the almost imperceptible shift of the notes over time. The metronomically recurring sounds in his work '18 Musicians' (vinyl 1978) celebrate a percussive connection to each other and I dedicate WALKING STICK JIG to him.
1. Jig, a lively folk dance, a step dance in which one or two soloists perform rapid, intricate, hopping steps to music in ½ time or (a "slip-jig") in ¾ time. Surviving most strongly in Irish folk tradition, jigs were also popular in Scotland and England in the 1500s and 1600s. Related to modern English clog dances, they were often used as stage dances. The English Bacca Pipes Jig, danced over two crossed clay pipes, closely resembles the Gillie Callum sword dance of Scotland. The jig was adopted in France at the court of Louis XIV, where, as the gigue, it became a more subdued dance for couples. In the Baroque suite by composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, the gigue is the final movement. Jig also refers to any country dance tune in jig time and to any set dance (a country dance for a group of couples) to a jig tune.