The anthropologist helping to revive Māori instruments

A specialist in Māori instruments, or Taonga Puoro, has been named the first in his field to be composer-in-residence at Victoria University.

Anthropologist and musician Rob Thorne is one of many helping to revive interest in the distinctive sound.

Māori believe the beautifully carved Putarino is home to Hine Raukatauri, the goddess of flute music.

Mr Thorne says playing the distinctive sounds of Taonga Puoro have helped bring him closer to his culture.

"The greatest thing that I may have learned about my own culture is that we were very deeply artist and musical."

Traditionally the instruments were used in warfare, to sound a warning, to communicate with Gods and during the planting of crops.  And of course for entertainment.

"One of the greatest stories around Taonga Puoro is to do with Hine Raukatauri and her band of sisters who were travelling entertainers."

But the sounds of Taonga Puoro began to fade following colonisation.

The 1970s saw a revitalisation of the music largely thanks to Richard Nunns and Hirini Melbourne.

"It helps understand that we are and we were and we are a very complex and actually learned and knowledgeable and wise culture. "

Rob Thorne was gifted a Koauau in 1999. It was the first time he'd come across the traditional instruments after playing the guitar, writing music and singing in bands for years.

"I became enamored with the Koauau because of its simplicity and its relative difficulty in learning how to play."

Since then he has been researching, performing and recording Taonga Puoro.

He says the popularity of the instruments is growing and the sounds are now being blended with contemporary music.

"In a post-modern world we're very cross-cultural and cross-genre and the Taonga Puoro have the ability to stand alongside any other kind of music and I think there is a strong future for Māori music."

Thorne begins his yearlong placement as Creative New Zealand composer-in-residence at Victoria in July.

He will work on collaborative and solo pieces to ensure the sounds of Taonga Puoro live on.