Recycled junk reborn as musical instruments

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Recycled junk reborn as musical instruments

WASHINGTON - It’s all junk - until it’s not.

Clay flowerpots, a washtub, garbage cans, assorted kitchenware, an old futon frame, circular saw blades, cast iron skillets and more.

What may look like clutter piling up on a small stage at Washington’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is junk that has been given a second life as finely tuned, amplified musical instruments played by the New York-based group, Electric Junkyard Gamelan.

“Believe it or not, the frying pans are all pitched,” musician, composer and instrument maker Terry Dame said, pointing to a black cast iron skillet standing upright on its handle near the front of the stage.

Dame is the leader of the veteran musicians who have been performing together as the Electric Junkyard Gamelan since 2000. The band members, ranging in age from 31 to 51, include drummer Lee Free, bass player Mary Feaster and Julian Hintz, a classically trained percussionist.

Dame built all of the band’s unusual instruments. “I’m a fabricator ... I just love to make things with my hands,” she told Reuters as the group prepared for a recent concert on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage.

Most of the strange-looking contraptions taking shape on the stage bear little resemblance to musical instruments as we know them, although some of the names may sound vaguely familiar.

There’s the Sitello - a combination electric cello and sitar; the Terraphone - a horn made from copper pipe; the Clayrimba - a marimba made from garden-variety clay pots; a Big Barp and a Rubarp - electric harps made with rubber bands.

Except for the clay pots, which Dame used to purchase but now makes herself, the instruments are made with recycled objects.

“That stringed instrument ... that’s wood from an old futon frame I found on the street,” she said. “The hanging base instrument - that’s an old folding table base. A lot of the hardware I got from tag sales and stuff like that.”

Everything on the band’s percussion rig is “found stuff,” she added, referring to an arrangement of frying pans, garbage cans and an aluminum wash tub alongside an assortment of pots, pans and lids suspended from a rack.

Asked whether there was a story behind an instrument made of circular saw blades, Dame said: “They just make a beautiful sound.”

“I don’t care what it looks like, it if makes a beautiful sound, I’ll figure out a way to play it,” she added.

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