The sound is guttural and rhythmic and comes from an unusual source: Michael “Tree” Sampson. The Church Street performer makes a living playing the didgeridoo behind a distinctive antlered mask. The wind instrument dates back 1500 years to Australian aboriginals, and sounds almost like the grumbling of a hungry stomach. Sampson manipulates delicate string puppets while blasting his unique, hip-swinging compositions.
Given Sampson’s nomadic state as a street artist, Seven Days couldn’t track him down before deadline. A 2012 “Music Al Fresco” segment from National Public Radio provided the answer to our inquiry about the origins of his mask.
MICHAEL “TREE” SAMPSON: It’s an ash tree that I got in Maine. I cut the tap root and flipped it around and retained the roots to use as antlers and sheared the other roots for ears. It’s supposed to be a deer, but all of a sudden it worked its way back into this kind of owl-human, just nature-spirit thing. With the didg and its sound, it just increases the effect on the people. You try to be, like, a kind of magician almost.