For most people, the detritus of construction sites, salvage yards, and scrap heaps is just that: junk. For Gregory Kozak and the members of ScrapArtsMusic, it’s anything but. Since 2001, the Vancouver-based percussion ensemble has been performing spectacular stage shows using one-of-a-kind instruments made from recycled material. From submarine ballasts and net-winders to bike spokes and kite string, nearly every manmade object has the potential to make music, Kozak claims, and he’s out to prove it with ScrapArtsMusic. The cast recently returned from a tour that took them to Belgium, Guatemala, and Taiwan—last month they played for the closing ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics—and soon they’re off to Australia, New Zealand, and China. On the way, they’ll be stopping through Santa Barbara to play the Granada.
Kozak is a highly trained percussionist and composer with a background in jazz and world music. On the phone from Vancouver last week, he talked about his fascination with transforming discarded materials into musical instruments. “I wanted to start a percussion ensemble and make an orchestra,” he explained. “Living in British Columbia, I had an awareness of the green movement. Rather than buy stuff, I decided I wanted to make instruments. I had spent all my money studying music, but I was determined not to let that stop me.” So Kozak began frequenting bike repair shops, plumbing businesses, and building sites, collecting material no one else wanted. He enrolled in night classes to learn welding and worked part-time in a machine shop, but he continued practicing and studying percussion. “Soon I noticed that my new activities were affecting how I played and composed,” he said. “It rapidly occurred to me that everything makes a sound.”
Thus, ScrapArtsMusic was born. The ensemble is made up of five professional percussionists, all of whom have extensive musical training. The show they’re bringing to Santa Barbara incorporates more than 145 original musical instruments and requires the performers to move and interact with them; Kozak refers to the instruments as “articulated sculptures.” “It’s a very physical, high energy show,” he explained, “but there are also moments of subtle delicacy. We’re giving expression to the music.” Though Kozak builds all the instruments and writes the scores for the shows, the other performers are active collaborators, and moments of improvisation allow each of them to shine.
According to Kozak, the instruments themselves are also characters in the show. He even names each one, partly out of necessity. With 145 instruments to choose from, “You can’t just say ‘Hey, pass me that thing in the corner,’” he joked. Hence, the orchestra includes an Annoyophone, a Spinning Can of Danger, and a Chariot of Choir, among other whimsically named items. They may be welded together from bits of industrial scrap, but Kozak says the ensemble’s instruments are actually aesthetically-pleasing objects. “I’m trying to make them as beautiful as possible,” he explained, adding, “There’s a lot of stainless steel and aluminum.” Those reflective metals produce some stunning effects when paired with the other aspect of their performance: a light show.
Now that they’ve toured all over the world, ScrapArtsMusic is convinced they’ve got a show with international appeal. “Everyone in the world has rhythm,” Kozak explained. “We want people to realize that you can do this too. Every instrument in the world was made by somebody, and there are lots yet to be invented.”
Next time you’re tempted to make a run to the dump, look again at what you thought was a pile of trash—there might just be the makings of an orchestra hidden in your truck bed. In the meantime, ScrapArtsMusic’s Santa Barbara appearance is a chance to check out the masters of invented-instrument percussion before they’re off to their next international destination.
ScrapArtsMusic will perform at the Granada Theatre (1216 State St.) on Friday, March 26, at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, call 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org.