Dallas — In a time when green lifestyles and “upcycling” are en vogue, it’s no surprise that a group like Canada’s Scrap Arts Music has been growing in popularity since its founding in 1998. Started by Gregory Kozak and Justine Murdy, the group performs original music exclusively on instruments made from recycled and found objects, all created by Kozak himself. On a very chilly and rainy Friday night, TITAS presented this unique group at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House as the first music event of the season.
Running just under 90 minutes with no intermission, the five-member ensemble blasts through 15 different musical sets using a few dozen different types of instruments. Some of them are appropriately named, such as the Annoyophones, which consist of dishwasher hoses, bagpipe reeds and a balloon. You probably can imagine what it sounds like. Let’s just say it provides some nice comedic moments.
Most of them fall into the percussion category. Elaborate drums sets were the main attraction, but various types of melodic instruments popped up quite a bit. The chimes made of artillery shells used for the segment titled “Artillery Peace” make for a nice statement.
The best set with the most fascinating instrument is “13 Strings & Sighchordions.” Kozak plays the Mojo, which is a stringed device using a sailboard mast, steel bowls, wood and aluminum scraps, balloons, and piano and bass strings. When he first strums it like a harp, Kozak creates a soothing sound that stands in stark contrast to the driving percussion of the previous sequence. Later, he strikes it like a hammer dulcimer, creating an alluring effect.
Judging from the plethora of instruments and complexity of the compositions, one can only conclude that Kozak is a genius. It’s one thing to have the creativity and ability to compose, but it’s quite another to be able to conceive, construct, and mold materials into the tools for said musical arrangement.
While the creative process is extraordinary, the finished product is a mixed bag. The Annoyophone and Mojo land on opposite ends of the pleasurable-listening spectrum, and the rest fall somewhere in between. Building complex rhythms sound clever for a time, but incessant drumming might be a little grating for those not accustomed to that much percussion. The ingenuity behind the instruments and rhythms can easily get lost in what seems like a cacophony of sound.
“Ribs” is a good example of this. Each of the five members intricately plays a set of metal objects, and the long song set requires vision and careful planning on the part of the composer. Complicated and repetitive rhythmic patterns seem to last for quite a while and can appear monotonous, unless one has an attentive ear. The ensemble plays masterfully, but I wonder how much of the audience gets lost halfway through.
Although many of the pieces have a similarly long sequences, most of them include some extra movement by the ensemble, an element missing from “Ribs” which requires them to sit. Throughout many of the high energy drum sets, the members jog, jump, kick, and head-bang to draw the audience into the performance. The big finale, “Agreement,” proves to be exciting and exhausting. Comedic elements are scattered throughout, as well.
Overall, it’s a fascinating premise and interesting show, but it’s probably not for everyone. Those used to more traditional sounding music with a variety of instruments and melodies might not enjoy this type of experimental sound. Many of the pieces seem to run a little long, and quite a few audience members either looked bored or left early. But, there were enough cheers and shouts after each set to assume that many in the house appreciated the performance.