The Car Music Project In 1998, I was fortunate to receive an invitation from a friend, Bill Milbrodt, an avant-garde composer I had come to know as a result of our mutual interest in technology and art. Milbrodt runs his own music company and has created music and soundscapes for A Visit with Ann Rice, Frank Gorshin’s A Lasting Impression, ESPN’s America’s Horse, and live theater. In 1991, he won an Emmy Award in New York for Outstanding Original Music Composition for his electronic score for American Venus, a surreal video short.Milbrodt invited my partners and me to attend a Trenton Avant-garde Festival performance of his work that involved an ensemble of musicians playing instruments made of automobile parts – with piano accompaniment. It was an experience of pure magic. I was intrigued by the ingenuity demonstrated in the sculptural transformation of automotive technology into musical devices and enthralled by the range and expressiveness of the sound they produced.In the years since, the composer has kept me informed of his continuing progress on the work he refers to as “The Car Music Project.” This summer, the project has reached full fruition with high-profile performances at The College of New Jersey Concert Hall and an upcoming show at Grounds For Sculpture, in Hamilton, NJ, on July 29. The current ensemble is comprised of musicians playing instruments made from car parts and contains no traditional instruments.Milbrodt is an avant-garde genius. Rarely in the world of new music does one encounter a musician/composer/producer who conceives of an entirely novel orchestra and then proceeds to create lengthy and complex compositions for it that contain as much structure as classical music and also a level of improvisation on a par with modern jazz or contemporary rock. In terms of pure uniqueness and creativity, comparisons with John Cage come to mind. But where Cage was conceptualist to a fault, Milbrot is an entertainer. He is motivated by a desire to reach audiences in emotional and visceral ways. The soundscapes he creates convey drama, wistfulness, raw energy, delicate nuance, and even comedic interludes. In this respect, I’m reminded of the orchestral and improvisational work of Frank Zappa. Milbrot’s music is up to the comparison – up there in the rarefied air of pure inspiration, zany inventiveness, and emotional range and power of Zappa’s best work. There’s unparalleled pleasure in discovering a masterwork like The Car Music Project. It’s as if the entire history of music has been rewritten from scratch. We’re confronted with instruments that bear some generic relationship to familiar forms – the four families of orchestral instruments, for example – strings, brass, winds, and percussion. In Milbrot’s conception the basis of these categories has more to do with the physics of sound than with their historical development. He reinvents them with the junkyard precision of a Road Warrior – taking parts from his old battered personal automobile, enlisting the assistance of sculptors, musicians, metalworkers, glass-cutters, and physicists, and assembling novel contraptions into the instruments necessary to convey his sonic conceptions. Milbrot applies his prodigious skills in musical composition to wring every bit of sound he can from the strange assemblages and then structures works according to the imperatives of his personal vision. The result is a cohesive, comprehensible experience with universal appeal. This is an art of transformation and synthesis. Music, the most abstract of the arts, is made concrete by the metaphor of the automobile. The composer is a contemporary shaman who delivers a new message from the refuse of our postmodern society. His production is an inspiring signal from the wasteland that all is not lost. In fact, the best is yet to come. We come to see that “junk” is a relative term. What’s left after 200,000 miles of mundane use is more potentially valuable than when it was new. We catch a glimpse of our human destiny – to create new worlds from the detritus of the discarded old. Reinvention allows for continuing evolution and progress. There are no dead ends. Everything is new again…and you can dance to it!*The Car Music Project will be presented at Grounds For Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, NJ, July 29, 7 p.m. Tickets cost $8.00. For information, call (609) 586-0616, ext. 20. *Images courtesy of Bill Milbrodt.Car Music Project on the Web* Bill Milbrodt has generously contributed a previously unpublished artist’s statement and an overview of the current incarnation of the Car Music Project. I’ll include them here:
“The new ensemble is an ongoing ensemble comprised of car part instruments only (from time to time we might have reasonably accomplished guest artists join us on traditional instruments, but nothing of this sort has yet been rehearsed or scheduled) … The instruments represent the four instrumental families of the traditional orchestra, as follows;
Winds: Played by Dave Homan
Reeds: Tenor and Alto Convertibles (with saxophone parts attached)
Flutes: Tube Flute No. 1, Tube Flute No. 2,
and Tenor and Alto Convertibles (flute mode, without sax parts)
Brass: Played by James Spotto
Percarsion: Played by William Trigg
Includes windows, springs, gears, a drum kit made from
car parts and much, much more. It is a substantial setup.
Strings: Played by Wilbo Wright and Milbrodt
Tank Bass: Wilbo Wright
Air Guitar: Milbrodt
All of the music is original and, at this time, it is all instrumental (although, by Friday, we may be including a couple of narrated pieces — this won’t be certain until our Tuesday rehearsal is complete) … All of the music is charted (written), and many of the charts include improvised sections. In some cases, the improvised sections are close, conceptually, to traditional improvisation in that the musicians are required to improvise over a groove or rhythm, not unlike the way a jazz or rock musician might improvise within a song. In most cases, however, The Car Music Project musicians are required to improvise over written musical constructs that offer little, if any, exact repetition or symmetry — So, it is not like the melody drops out and now they make something up over the same chords that support the melody; they are instead required to improvise something over an orchestrated construct, based on directions I provide that one would probably liken to the directions a stage or film director delivers to actors (ie: “sparse, but agitated” … or “a chase ensues with the Tank Bass performing the part of the human and Tube Flute No. 2 playing the part of the Ferret … The Percarsion should judiciously represent pieces of furniture and other objects bumped into and knocked over during the chase”)”
And here’s the concert program (including Milbrot’s comments) for Friday night):
“The Car Music Project
This was lifted from a sidebar sketched while working on a completely different piece of music. Left in the wrong place, it became the victim of spilled chicken noodle soup (The perpetrator, never identified with certainty, was most likely a child or dog). The cleanup that followed revealed the sketch’s potential as a standalone, so I filed it until recently, when I added a new opening. The result is Noodles
Crenabulations No. 1
The first of five parts. “Crenabulate” is a word I made up while cooking in the kitchen with my stepson when he was between 5 and 7 years old. We would “crenabulate” something when we improvised a previously untested concoction.
I can’t think of a title.
Wrinkles in Space, Part 2
The second of three parts: A sonic impression inspired by anomalies in the activities within our universe that, according to Albert Einstein, probably cause gravity. In essence, Einstein theorized that galaxies push against the fabric of space-time, thereby causing it to bend and fold, with gravity as one of the results that we can experience. If space and time can indeed be bent and folded like an old piece of corduroy, my impression of that process would be something like Wrinkles. In Part 2, numerous unexpected sonic events, created through improvisation, pressure the boundaries of the written composition. Yet like our universe, it seems to somehow remain intact.
I enjoyed playing the Air Guitar riff that opens the piece and reoccurs throughout.
This is self-explanatory.
The Ferret and the Futon
A sonic pantomime: The heavily inebriated “owner” of a relaxing ferret mistakes his pet for a foot-long hot dog. Not interested in being slathered with mustard and onions, the wily critter wears his master down, and ultimately steals his super-sized roll for use as a futon.
A featurette for the Strutbone (Jay Spotto on Strutbone).
A feature for our wind instruments, the Tenor and Alto Convertibles and Tube Flutes #1 and #2 (Dave Homan on winds).
Like Bugs to a Flashlight
A four-part sonic pantomime inspired by characters who came out for the cameras when, in early 2005, a decision was enacted to allow a brain-damaged woman to die. When tv coverage of the event ended, these real life characters disappeared quickly, seemingly, with little residual commitment to their moral crusade. Part 1: Scouting the Terrain, Part 2: The Monk in Designer Shades, Part 3: The Screaming Reverend, Part 4: Here Comes CNN.
A fast paced shuffle in which our Percarsion and Tank Bass swap solos (William Trigg on Percarsion, Wilbo Wright on Tank Bass)”