Scrap Happy Beats
Kozak and crew beat their own drums.
Thursday, September 25, 2003
Most musicians perform on instruments purchased in a shop, playing music composed by someone else. Dancing around while they play is optional, but most prefer to sit onstage. It''s a formula that''s worked for years, but it''s not for everyone.
The members of Scrap Arts Music not only play music they''ve composed on instruments of their own design fabricated from junkyard finds, they dance around on stage with the energy of crazed three-year-olds. The Vancouver-based group brings its high-energy show to the CSUMB World Theater Oct. 1 at 7:30pm.
Scrap Arts Music didn''t emerge fully-formed from the muck of a salvage yard on its own. As with any art form, real humans were involved--in this case, Scrap Arts Music co-founder and visionary Gregory Kozak.
An earnest student of several forms of drumming--jazz, classical and rock--Kozak soon realized after completing his formal training that he couldn''t afford to buy any of the instruments he''d learned to play on his meager earnings as a Vancouver tree planter.
Then it hit him like a ton of scrap metal from on high. "Why not build my own instruments?" he says. "After all, the instruments that I wanted to buy were made by people."
Kozak was inspired by the fact that in many cultures, musicians build their own instruments the way the average American climbs into his SUV to run down to the 7-11 for a six-pack of Pop-Tarts. "Almost everybody makes their own instruments from the stuff around. Musicians generally are on the bottom end of the food chain and we''ve had to be resourceful," he says.
After a small detour through a welding class, Kozak was ready in 1996 to take on the world--or at least the meanest junkyard dog he could imagine. He and his first group S.W.A.R.M, Symphonic Work Assembly of Rhythm, played gigs ranging from half-time shows at Vancouver Grizzlies games ("They sucked, but we loved them," says Kozak, who also notes that every time they played, the team won) to a 1998 performance on the Great White Way. The New York Times wrote of that latter show that it "reached out toward an almost extraterrestrial avant-garde."
Soon afterwards, Kozak and collaborator Justine Murdy reworked the group and gave it its present name. Scrap Arts Music is often compared to Stomp and the Blue Man Group--two long-running shows also centered around percussion, and found art. Kozak is quick to credit those two seminal shows for opening the door to all-percussion groups, but adds that his greatest influence is Harry Partch, the late American composer famous for building his own instruments.
Kozak describes Scrap Arts as "a visual and auditory experience." Joining him in the controlled mayhem onstage will be Scott Bishop, Sara Kocicka, Malcom Schoolbraid, Daniel Tones, and quite possibly you. That''s because Kozak plans to incorporate audience members into the show during one piece.
"For this tour we''re trying to create a piece of music with the audience, and I''m going to build an orchestra on stage," Kozak says. "I think I''ve perfected a way of getting in less than ten minutes a full-on piece." He won''t divulge what the music will be, nor the instruments involved.
Perhaps more revealing is Kozak''s ongoing commitment to junk of all sorts. "Leaf springs from trucks, sirens, old horn things, interesting shapes and chunks of metal, expended artillery shells," Kozak lists with glee the typical haul from one of his many forays into the uncharted wilderness of scrap heaps. "We just came back from Idaho Falls and I brought 20 lovely steel artillery shells from the Vietnam War era. I''m going to build a large musical instrument with those things."
As for any hassles Kozak faces hauling his loot back to Canada, he reports that our neighbors to the north are decidedly indifferent to his urges. "The guys at Customs are great. I haven''t had a problem. You cough it up immediately and say, look what I found, and then they go OK, is it harmless?"
While he''s earned the right to get on his high horse about the virtues of recycling, for Kozak it''s still all about the music he can create from what he finds. "The word garbage is just a word. For me there ain''t no such thing as garbage."
As for what will eventually happen to the vast array of instruments that he''s already put together Kozak is less sure. "It''ll probably go into a garage somewhere. It''s crazy--who''s going to deal with this when I''m not here?"
Scraps Arts Music performs at the CSUMB World Theater Oct. 1 at 7:30pm. $20. 582-4580.