The starting point for this collaboration was based on my development of and experimentations with the bass bridge buzzer. The first idea for the bass buzzer was inspired by the traditional acoustic distortion techniques found on the Tanzanian Wagogo ilimba and Gambian bolon bata, which were instruments I had studied during my time in the respective countries, as discussed in chapter 6.0, Buzz, in the doctoral thesis. A prototype bridge mounted buzzer was developed in collaboration with instrument maker Juhana Nyrhinen (see photos).
The initial musical impulse for this piece arose from experimenting with the buzzer on the bass and an altered tuning system, with the strings of the double bass tuned to D‑A‑D‑F instead of the standard E‑A‑D‑G tuning. This tuning system was found partly by chance through experimenting with notes that triggered the resonance of the buzzer in different ways. After initially being inspired by the ways in which the buzzer responded to different notes, I found I was struggling to find a core musical idea to work with for this piece. Thinking once more about the Gambian bolon bata, a plucked bass lyre that produces four to five pitches, I wondered what would happen if I somehow altered the tuning of the open strings of the bass and restricted myself to using fewer notes. Tuning the bass in this way had the immediate effect of causing me to play in a different way and find unexpected combinations of notes, because the notes were no longer where I expected them to be. The repeating cycle that ”Roots of the Baobab Tree” is based on is a series of notes and rhythmic ideas that almost instantaneously arose from this process.