Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.
My first introduction to the term “art music” was through the wacky audio-visual world of revered Canadian filmmaker, Norman McLaren. McLaren did crazy stuff like draw on film celluloid and pair it with jazzy tunes to make the sound come alive in front of our eyes. I loved his way of relating visual language with the realm of audio to make a new experience. Witty and funny, this new relationship showed me beautiful ideas that I’m still unable to articulate adequately. With its inherent, indescribable beauty, there’s a certain magic in art music that tends to bring out my inner child.
As a Canadian, I feel very proud of our amazing musical landscape: from staples like Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchel, to new talents including Broken Social Scene, Stars, and Arcade Fire, we have a huge amount of heartfelt music to let ourselves get gloriously lost in.
My favorite bands are often collaborative efforts, with members that come and go, letting their music flow with the energy of this constant flux. Live, bands like Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene fill their stages with seemingly haphazardly assembled groups of immensely talented friends, all coming together to create one big, noise-making community. At performances like these, the audience is equally integral to the extension of energy onstage, as everyone inhabiting the surrounding space dives madly into the cacophony of sonic chaos, splashing passionately in the wild waves of sound.
Instruments as communication
The relationship between a musician and her instrument is a special one, regardless of what we choose to use as a conduit to convey our inner emotions and thoughts. Voice, violin, piano, guitar, spoons, or even tap shoes can all be conducive to producing our chosen musical language. Our instruments become, in a very personal sense, a direct extension of our own personality, and of what we are trying to communicate. While so much cannot be expressed through the clumsy, awkward barriers of spoken language, music gives us a different medium for expressing ourselves, and one that is closer to our soul. Like water, music possesses magical qualities unto itself, enhancing our experiences of life’s infinite sensations. Anyone who has had the privilege of seeing an incredible live performance by a beloved music group understands this otherworldly, sacred quality possessed by sound.
“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.“
— Aldous Huxley
Making art music from scraps
One Canadian group that has managed to seamlessly merge mixed media (art, sculpture, music, and performance) with concept (upcycling, environmental awareness, and community collaboration) into a new way of making, and experiencing sound is Scrap Arts Music. Musician/composer Gregory Kozak and architecture-trained Justine Murdy began their collaboration under this name in 1998. Since then, it’s been an exciting journey forward, filled with countless energized performances around the globe. In 2010, they were even given the emotionally rewarding opportunity to close the Winter Olympics in their home-base of Vancouver, BC, Canada. During her flight back home from a performing arts conference in Nashville, Justine shared her thoughts with me on the group’s modest beginnings, their eco-driven intentions, and the serendipitous occurrences that happen when we follow our hearts.
K: Tell us a bit about what Scrap Arts Music does and the philosophy behind the group’s eclectic sonic creations.
J: “Our multi-disciplinary approach is a synthesis of Gregory’s musical training in West African drum and dance, world percussion, Afro-Cuban jazz, contemporary classical music, North Indian raga, and modern dance; and my architectural work and fascination with vernacular design and material culture studies.
The artistic objective of our collaboration is to create an orchestra of invented instruments created from materials collected in and around our home base of Vancouver, Canada, and to use these materials in original performance-based musical works.
Our work is a reflection of our time and place while we demonstrate that contemporary ‘throw-aways’ can be up-cycled to make culturally valuable artifacts and experiences.”
Similar to Ruganzu Bruno’s eco art and Sanaa Gateja’s paper beads, Scrap Arts Music uses the idea of up-cycling to create their innovative visions. In this case, the result is a brand new way of relating to our materials through sound, sight, and performance. The relentless energy generated from this unique approach in both its performers and audience demonstrates the powerful forward momentum born from the combination of ecology, art, and music.
K: How does your home turf of Vancouver, BC, influence your work?
J: “Since the late 1990s, Vancouver’s massive building boom has generated beautiful condo towers that line the streets and shores of the downtown, as well as mountains of high-quality construction salvage. Building manufacture and marine activities generate a fascinating variety of off-cuts, including shaped metal ‘seconds’, Douglas Fir wood offcuts, and PVC tubing. We’ve sourced these materials before they are shipped to landfills or recycling depots, finding materials that uniquely inform the look and sound of our globe-trotting project.
Over three years of research and development (1998-2001) we created 145+ large-scale, mobile, sculptural instruments, designed to be tune-able and suitable for repeat performances around the world. Many more have been added to our musical arsenal in the intervening years. All of the larger instruments are mobile. We developed an “action-choreography” style of movement and sculptural instruments to express the energy and excitement of percussion, and because it’s exciting and enjoyable, as a performer, to perform this way.”
Intimate relationships with our hometown can be inspirational starting points for creative endeavors. We might feel we know our cities inside and out, but the truth is there are always new aspects to uncover, and new ways in which we can get involved in our communities. Consider taking an inventory of your home’s unique environment. Are there any issues with which you feel a particular kinship? What ways could you combine your own talents and aspirations with the realities of your landscape? Many long term, influential projects begin with questions as simple as these.
K: Can you explain the connection between Scrap Arts Music and the concept of “art music”?
J: “In the spirit of ‘art music’ we try to give artistic consideration to the visual dimension of musical performance. We take scrap, transform it through the arts of sculpture and choreography, and create original music performances for global audiences. Since 2001, we’ve taken our interdisciplinary project around the world, performed in front of hundreds of thousands, and offered numerous workshops, educational performances, and concerts – all featuring original choreographed sculptural music made from the materials around us.”
Combining the reality of our world’s current needs with our own innovative creativity enables so much opportunity for fresh exploration. By turning discarded scraps into sculptural instruments, Scrap Arts Music breathes new life into old garbage through art. This approach can also be used to heal our environment. Shining a light on environmental issues through art increases our awareness and motivation. When stagnant waste is transformed into spirited beauty, the perpetual motion of life can again flow freely, no holds barred.
K: Where did the inspiration first come from to start a project like this?
J: “We wanted to bring together our two worlds of music and architecture. We wanted to stop spending money, particularly since we didn’t have any! We wanted to be green. Using the offcuts and scrap of Vancouver became deeply inspiring.”
Their respective loves for music and architecture gave Gregory and Justine the tools to create their unique vision for music, and share it in ways that align with their personal values.
When we use our passions to collaborate with one another, and with our environment, suddenly everything becomes possible. By using the offcuts in Vancouver as inspiration, Scrap Arts Music naturally manifested into a collaboration between human creativity and earth. Universal challenges can empower us to push further, and live in ways we’d otherwise never even dream.
K: What is your favourite part of being a part of Scrap Arts Music?
J: “I love the freedom. That I get to work with my partner to create something together that reaches so many people. I love the people we get to meet, and we travel to places I probably would never have gone to had I stayed in my architecture track. I am so happy about the serendipity of that!”
Serendipitous turns are inevitable when we follow our hearts and move toward our life purpose.
K: Where do you see Scrap Arts Music heading in the future?
J: “I would love to have more opportunities to expand on our ideas. Collaboration with symphony orchestras, and some other spectacular events would be great to be a part of, too. I’m looking forward to seeing what other music Gregory will come up with, too. Our players are such interesting, talented, and healthy multi-instrumentalists with great voices. I’m looking forward to incorporating their unique talents into our next show.”
The collective, imaginative efforts of Scrap Arts Music prove that when we dare to turn junk into art, the results can quickly become fuel for our hearts. We look forward to experiencing more ear and eye candy from this colorful group! Thank you so much to Justine for her time, and to Scrap Arts Music for showing us the magical energy that exists within the other-worldly realm of art music.
Now, the question is: what are you going to make with your heart’s passion today?
In music the passions enjoy themselves.
— Friedrich Nietzsche