How To Turn an Entire City Into a Musical Instrument

This week, I was inspired by a really cool story about a band that turned an entire city into a musical instrument!

Most of you are probably not familiar with the band Efterklang. It is a Danish rock band that has been together since the early 2000’s. What caught my attention about this band was their new album. They decided to do something totally new and kind of bizarre. They traveled a tiny ghost town called Parimida, which is located on a northern Artic Island controlled by Russia near the North Pole. If you try to Google map this town, it won’t even zoom in enough to see the city because it is so far away from civilization. The city used to be a mining town, but was abandoned in 1998. Now the only residents are the local Polar Bears. So could you imagine if one day, your band leader came to you and said “Hey, instead making our next CD in a nice warm comfortable studio with plush couches and chairs, sound engineered rooms, and a late night café right next door, we should instead go to an abandoned mining town near the north pole and a frozen island with a city filled with wild Polar Bears.” Well, that is what these couple of crazy Danish guys decided to do.

What is really cool about this story is how these guys decided to not only make their own instruments, but to use what was available around them. They took some recording equipment, and would walk around the city just banging on bars, buckets, steel drums, pipes; anything that could make a sound they would hit. There was even an instance where they found an old house plant whose leaves where dead and used the blowing of the leaves to create a very unique sound. Their favorite instrument made from the city was a big oil drum with many different spikes coming out of it.

They found that each spike had its own pitch. So after days of practice they created notes for each spike and learned to play it an instrument with different notes and pitches.

Many times, when we think of musical instruments, we tend to think of the traditional ones, such as guitar, piano, drums, violin, etc. But the fact is, there are musical instruments around us every day. In Africa, they use special wood to make marimbas and wood blocks, and in the Caribbean they use oil drums to create “steel drums” known as the “sound of the Caribbean.” The idea of taking objects around us and turning them into musical inspiration has been going on for years. Even Beethoven composed a symphony to capture the sound of the country life called “Pastorale.”

If you ever find yourself searching for musical inspiration, try turning something ordinary into a musical instrument, or listen to the sounds around you and try to recreate them on your instrument. Last year, I was at a workshop and heard Ryan Tedder, the lead singer of “One Republic,” tell the story of the song he wrote for Adele called “Rumor Has It.” Ryan was riding in on a train from London on his way to meet Adele and he heard the rhythm pattern of the train as it pressed through the countryside in perfect harmony. He decided to write a drum part based on the rhythm pattern of the train wheels.

So for this week, see if you can turn something ordinary into a musical idea. Try to recreate the sound of a bird on your violin, or turn your piano into a cosmic space galaxy. The possibilities are endless. Share your ideas on our Facebook page! I’m looking forward to hearing what kinds of sounds are going to be made at Center Stage this week!

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