Two character traits initially led Gregory Kozak to start creating musical instruments from scrap: His conviction that "virtually anything makes music," and his inability to throw things away.
So it was a logical step for him to form Scrap Arts Music about 10 years in Vancouver, British Columbia. The five-person ensemble plays about 45 instruments invented and fabricated by Kozak--using materials as varied as artillery shells, PVC pipe, aluminum-pot bottoms and discarded marine scrap. The group, in which Kozak plays, performs music he has composed.
Scrap Arts Music will perform an evening of its various works, titled Phonk!, on Saturday night, March 31, at UA Centennial Hall.
UApresents has partnered with the Percussive Arts Society to present the concert, which is the culmination of the society's 34th annual Spring Festival of Percussion this weekend at the UA. Members of Scrap Arts Music will serve as guest artists, clinicians and adjudicators for the festival.
"I wanted to use material around me, locally," Kozak says on the phone from his home, when asked about the initial conception of Scrap Arts Music.
"Being in the Vancouver area, there is always a lot of scrap materials used for construction and marine manufacturing. I also wanted to do something that was eco-friendly and truly an example of what you can do with recycling."
Performances by Scrap Arts Music are a visual feast, filled not only with fantastical instruments such as the plankophones, zigurrat drums, gong arrays, sigh-cordions, nail violins and junk-on-a-stick, but also with energetic choreography, as the players move the instruments in creative, kinetic fashion.
Although they are not the most monumental, the sigh-cordions are ingenious creations that make haunting music you might not otherwise hear from any other instrument. Players alternately pick up, squeeze and put aside the handheld instruments as the composition demands.
"They are composed of disassembled accordion reed banks, plumbing fixtures and dishwasher hose. I decided to create note clusters that you wouldn't normally play on the accordion, because your hands wouldn't be big enough to play them. ... Some have one note in them; some have eight or nine. Anybody who loves music will see the potential of those instruments."
And many of the instruments could be considered works of visual art, such as the mojo, an imposing tower made from an aluminum sailboat mast strung with 13 strings and balloons that act as resonators.
Scrap Arts Music, which has produced two CDs of Kozak's music, tours year-round and has ventured as far from Vancouver as the Netherlands and China. Kozak's partner, Justine Murdy, is co-director and co-creator of Scrap Arts Music.
Murdy's architectural background allows her to assist in stage design and in developing creative ways to transport Scrap Arts Music's many instruments in compact and economic style.
Kozak's instruments are intended to be "a cross between art objects and functional musical instruments," he says. "They all are designed to be assembled and then disassembled to fit together like those Russian dolls."
The four other members of Scrap Arts Metal bring a wide variety of influences to the stage. As is Kozak, Richard Burrows is classically trained and still moonlights in drum and bugle corps. Christa Mercey has studied West African drumming; Malcolm Shoolbraid's background is in musical theater and trance-breakbeat-ambient music; and Simon Thomsen specializes in Latin jazz and Afro-Cuban music.
Kozak says he was the typical child, always banging on something to make music.
"Back then, it was hubcaps, lots of found objects, chunks of wood. But since then, I've always been accumulating piles of sonic objects and playing with them."
Then, when he was 16, Kozak discovered the music of maverick composer Harry Partch, who invented his own musical instruments, and free-jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, and his no-limits approach to making music. Those and other adventurous musicians showed Kozak that music had no boundaries, he says.
Kozak is reluctant to reveal his age, because he doesn't want to put limits on what he does. "Let's just say I am middle-aged. You need more than one lifetime to study music."
Kozak recalls a quote from the legendary jazz drummer Ed Thigpen. "When asked what he would tell a young drummer, he said, 'You essentially need good strength and good health.'"
Publicity material from Scrap Arts Music refers to the group's performances as being in the tradition of Stomp and Blue Man Group. Some viewers might also perceive a connection to Japanese taiko drumming.
Kozak is quick to point out that those similarities are coincidental, although he understands why people make the connection.
"When you see big drums and people moving around, you start to think taiko. But, even considering that I am from the Pacific Northwest, and there is a large taiko community here, when I started doing this, I had never heard taiko. It must have been a few years later, I guess, that I saw a wonderful group, Kodo, but no, that was not part of my inspiration to start Scrap Arts Music."
Kozak's approach to choreography is pragmatic. He calls it a physical manifestation of the music.
"My choreography evolves from having to get the instruments from one place to another on stage and from getting the players from one place to another. I love if the audience gets something more physical from the music or sees something symbolic in the movement, but I am not trying to create a piece about spring or flowers."