Improbable Music – The Gumleaf

Herb Patten, above, is an expert Gumleaf player – a.k.a. a ‘Leafist’. Put another way, he’s a renowned ribbon-reed aerophone actant in the field of vegetal musicology. But does the gumleaf really qualify as a musical instrument? This question is examined in one of the very few scholarly studies of leafism.

Dr. Robin Ann Ryan,. MA, BA, DipMusEd, AmusA, presents : “Not Really a Musical Instrument?” Locating the Gumleaf as Acoustic Actant and Environmental Icon in the journal Societies, 2013, 3, pp. 224-242.

“This essay – designed to open up nuanced patterns of understandings of the interlinked systems of leaf music, ecology, nature, and societies – consolidates a role for the physical science and philosophy of music to sit at the crossroads of the art and social science of music. Its exposition of six explanatory approaches corroborates the semiotics for a leaf instrument’s lively role in the human-music-vegetal dynamic. An initial consideration saw people-music-flora interactions surviving (sub)urbanisation and degrees of social change in which leafists from different sociocultural backgrounds living in the same foliaceous ecosystems have demonstrated different predilections for music leaves. The lantern of science confirmed that all leaves possess the same natural acoustic functions, with variations in size, shape and texture necessitating minor changes in players’ techniques.”

NOTE: The essay not only credits Mr. Patten as a leading contemporary Indigenous leafist – he’s also a poet, and has authored a combined book and CD set entitled : ‘How to play the gumleaf’

BONUS [1] Dr. Ryan’s Ph.D thesis : “A spiritual sound, a lonely sound” : leaf music of Southeastern aboriginal Australians, 1890s-1990s [caution: 17.4MB download]

BONUS [2] Dr. Ryan on ‘Didjeri-doos’ and ‘Didjeri-don’ts’: Confronting Sustainability Issues

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