"The Use of Unexpected Instruments Throughout Music"


For our group's wiki project, we will present nine different examples of music groups or single artists who all employ the use of nontraditional materials as instruments. The materials used to make up these instruments range from car parts to vegetables. Enjoy exploring these innovative ideas and instruments!

Roles/Areas of Responsibility

Member Role
Dennis Caldwell Project Manager/Writer
Dana Snider Copy Editor/Writer
Kyle Brashear Wiki-Editor/Writer
Adam Ackerman Videographer/Cartographer/Writer
Townsend Bullard Image Specialist/Writer
Kelsey Hileman Bibliographer/Writer
Carly Steele Bibliographer/Writer
Mary Law Discographer/Writer
Sara Dibiase Webographer/Writer

Topic One: Plastic Musik

Written by: Adam Ackerman
Plastic Musik is an event unlike any other. They are a group of performers who use only plastic instruments to remake songs from the past. They use it all when it comes to making music; from plastic tubes, laundry tubs, and "Boomwhackers." However, it is not only about the music to the group. They have choreographed movements and dances to entertain the crowd. Their drum scenes are some of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed. They will use their neighbor's drum and even their drumsticks. Throwing up the drumsticks only to have their neighbors catch them and use them. It is a sight to see. They also use on-stage interaction and audience participation to gain the interest of the audience. Do not be surprised if the next show you attend you are called up to the stage to play with the band. It brings fun and personality to the crowd because they can display their musical talent while having a good time. Every show is different with Plastic Musik because the performers show their own personality on stage and that can lead to ridiculous drum solos that will stimulate the senses. The whole idea that every show is different due to the artists feelings is really cool because the show will change depending on how the performer wants his performance to go.

Plastic Musik produces all types of music from their "plastic instruments". They will play everything from Mozart's 40th to Hip-Hop and Rap. Hearing their take on classic music is really interesting. The feeling of hearing a favorite song from different instruments is really amazing and unforgettable. It makes you think that music is around you at all times. Especially seeing them use such regular items.

Plastic Musik started in 2002 with three drummers and is based out of Las Vegas, NV. It has now evolved into a whole production with five muti- instrumentalists, a three-peice rock outfit, and a DJ. They are currently on a huge nation wide tour to bring their unusual music to people all around the world.

Topic Two: The Car Music Project

Written by: Kyle Brashear

Bill Milbrodt created his band called the Car Music Project after his beat-up 1982 Honda Civic, “no longer had value as a vehicle,” with, “seats so worn that passengers were poked by the springs,” (Milbrodt). Milbrodt’s idea was to use the different parts of his car to form a group similar to the traditional western orchestra, with instruments from the percussion, wind, brass, and string families. Milbrodt knew this task would not be simple; although the percussion instruments would be easy to construct, string, wind, and brass instruments would be more challenging. To tackle approaching difficulties, Milbrodt decided he would make “hybrid” instruments. These instruments would be assembled from mostly car parts with the addition of a part such as a mouthpiece. One example of a hybrid instrument is the strutbone. This instrument is made from, “tubular parts found inside struts and shock absorbers,” along with a real trombone mouthpiece (Milbrodt). Percussion instruments that do not have any attachments are recognized as “purebreds”. Fourteen car gears are placed in ascending order of pitch, with the lowest sounds on the left and the highest sounds on the right. These gears are purebred percussion instruments.

In his note about how the Car Music Project began, Bill Milbrodt writes, “The Car Music Project was never about cars. It’s always been about sounds,”(Milbrodt). In this way, Milbrodt is quite similar to John Cage, composer of 4'33". The organized sounds, no matter what “instruments” are used, create music. The Car Music Project embraces the unexpected noises the imperfect instruments tend to make, and the members find that the unique disorder is what the band likes best. One quote included on the Car Music Project’s website reads, “Sonic imperfections don’t change the language. They add color, just like a foreign accent does. Or like slang, a mispronunciation, or a play on words”(Milbrodt). Though the Car Music Project’s sound is open-ended, funky beats, Milbrodt has also used car parts in another project.

After the Car Music Project gained some recognition, Ford Motor Company approached Milbrodt about helping put together a new commercial for the Ford Focus. With the supply of two brand new Ford vehicles, Milbrodt’s assignment was to create hybrid car instruments that would be able to perform uniform, classical pieces. In the first YouTube video below is the example of a Car Music Project song. This song, “Interrupt” is organized with a steady beat, however the overall feel of the song is unconventional and funky. The second YoutTube video is an interview with Milbrodt about his project with Ford. For approximately the first minute of the video, the music playing sounds similar to what one would hear at a classical music performance. This beginning segment sounds nothing like the Car Music Project’s genre, however, Bill Milbrodt assures that all of the instruments are indeed made from Ford Focus car parts. Though Milbrodt was able to successfully complete the task of creating beautiful, perfect music from car parts for the Ford commercial, he is sure to emphasize that that is not the Car Music Project’s same goal. The Car Music Project will continue to, “embrace the noise,” and hold performances that each are unique from day to day.

To see the complete "Ode to Ford" commercial look in the Videography!
To find more about odd instruments and how to build your own, check out Bart Hopkin's Musical Instrument Design, more information located in the bibliography.

-Milbrodt, Bill. Car Music Project. Milbrodt/Music Sound and Design, 2001. Web. 16 Apr. 2011. <http://www.carmusicproject.com/>.

Topic Three:

Written by: Townsend Bullard

Topic Four: Ólöf Arnalds

Written by: Dennis Caldwell

Sometimes unusual or unexpected collaborations, especially in music, are great at succeeding in merging two already great sounds into a fluid, professional piece. This is the case with Ólöf Arnalds. A singer-songwriter from Iceland, Arnalds is a master of many string instruments, but is widely known for her use of the South American instrument, the charango – especially in one of her most popular songs, “Klara” – which she wrote for her younger sister. Even putting that aside, Arnalds is a classically trained violinist and singer. She taught herself how to play guitar, by playing in other bands and with other Icelandic musicians before venturing out on her own.

Known mostly notably in her homeland of Iceland, Arnalds has recently been making a splash in the international music scene after the release of her first CD to incorporate singing in English. “Innundir skinni” was released in 2010 and was produced by well-known Icelandic musician, Kjartan Sveinsson (member of band, Sigur Ros), and Arnalds also had the pleasure of singing a duet with Internationally known, Bjork. On “Innundir skinni,” Arnalds played not just one or two instruments, but seven! Since finding her own voice and producing solo music, she has been able to reach broader audiences and on her upcoming mini-tour, she is visiting the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Norway. Before becoming a solo artist, though, Ólöf toured for five years with the Icelandic band, Mùm. This is where she picked up a lot of influence for the folk-y, almost fairy-like quality for most of her songs. On PRI’s Global Hit, Arnalds admits too, that a lot of people hear some Asian influence in her music. Upon hearing it, she usually responds with, “I must have an Asian string in my heart.” She has basically been studying classical violin and singing at the Icelandic Art Academy since 1988 and in 2006, she graduated from her study of composition and new media at the school. She says though, that she is a “half self-trained and half trained” musician.

Apart from just the unexpected use of the charango in her music, Arnalds also plays the 13-stringed, Japanese, instrument called the koto. This is a close relative to the guzheng, a Chinese instrument we studied in Chapter 13 of our text. Being the national instrument of Japan, it is a long instrument made of kiri wood and has 13 strings, strung over 13 movable bridges. These bridges are moved to adjust the pitches of the instrument to the artists’ preference.

The charango is a South American instrument whose origin is a little uncertain. However, the instrument is most commonly associated with being invented in Peru and Bolivia, but also holds ties in Argentina. It is most commonly referred to as a South American ukulele. Traditionally the charango is made of a dried armadillo shell on the back, and a wooden soundbox top, and neck. Modern construction is usually comprised of only wood. Arnald’s has had a great influence on the use of the charango in her homeland, and since ‘hitting it big,’ many music shops in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, have begun selling it. Arnalds says this “warms her heart,” but is surprised, because they [music store employees] tune it the exact same way she does – which she admits is not the traditional way of doing so.

This image shows a traditional Charango. Arnald's charango, does not include the armadillo shell backing though.


This video from NPR was a mini concert Arnalds performs 3 pieces. You can see her playing the charango:

Arnalds acoustically performing a Bob Dylan cover:

Topic Five: Donald Knaack also know as the "Junkman"

Written by: Sara Dibiase

Donald Knaack "Junkman"


Donald Knaack also known as "Junkman" has brought a new eco-friendly twist to music. Previously a member and percussionist of the Louisville Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic he now creatively records music of his own from common household items and trash. The idea of the use of recycled materials as instruments was initially introduced by a fellow student friend named John Cage. He further developed this idea and began performing solo performances and eventually recording two albums, "Junk Music" and "Junk Music 2." Performing at many events such as The Sundance Film Festival, The Warped Tour, The Kansas City International Jazz Festival, and appearing on multiple national television networks, Knaack's junkyard music quickly rose in popularity for its unique and creative sound. Knaack now performs at various events all around the world spreading his message to develop a greener world through the use of recycled materials as musical instruments.

I'd say that we typically do not view a wrench, wine bottle, or lampshade as an instrument. Today people generally describe musical instruments as instruments such as the flute, trombone, clarinet etc. Although in studying music it is taught that a musical instrument is not just the typical instrument but also any sound generating medium used to produce tones including the voice. This is important because as it may be in many other instances the generalized thought isn't always correct. Knaack's use of pots, pans, and other recycled materials serves as a great example of this concept stretching the common standards and idea of instruments among individuals.

Knaack also uses physics to better distribute sound in an audience with different musical stage setups. These differing stage setups better drive the sound of his differing instruments through the crowd. He refers to these differing stage setups as “Tech Rider A,” “Tech Rider B,” and “Tech Rider C,” all with differing drum, microphone, and light setups. In some cases he actually has involved the audience in the music asking them to participate by gathering whatever materials they can find around them. Knaack calls this a “JunkJam.” In a JunkJam Knaack will gather wood, pieces of metal, plastic containers, plastic objects, rocks, and other materials to send to the crowd. This approach is very interesting having been the first performer who includes the audience in his show.

You can see in the pictures above just some of the instruments Knaack would commonly use in performances. When closely looking at the differing items you can see how some of the items can be classified as idiophones as well as membranophones. Just as a snare drum would be classified as an membranophone, so would Knaack’s garbage or empty food cans also producing a vibration stretched across a frame resonator. Interestingly enough sounds produced are similar if not exact to what we are typically used to hearing. Such instruments not only create a differing creative sound by supplement Knaack's drive to also promote a greener earth with the use of recycled materials. I think this is a great way to send a message out to the world connecting millions of people with a common interest in music.

Can you tell the difference? Interestingly enough you cannot tell the difference between his use of his recycled bass drum and what would instead typically be used in performances. If you could only listen to the music without knowledge of his differing instruments you most likely wouldn’t notice a change. When listening to Knaack’s performance “Built to Last, Fall Apart” in the link provided you can immediately hear the two rhythmic lines performed at the same time and the interlocking beats of the main drum and items.

Topic Six: The Music Theatre of Stomp

Written by: Kelsey Hileman

Topic Seven: Music Created by Recycled Materials

Written by: Mary Law

The recycled percussion originated in 1995 as a high school talent act. There were originally four members in the group including a band leader, electric guitarist, a percussionist and drummer, and a dj-spinmaster and keyboardist and vocalist. The idea of using recycled materials to create musical instruments originated from the scenes in the New York subway stations. Justin Spencer, the band leader, was inspired by the thought of residents of New York who played on buckets in the subway stations to create the Recycled Percussion group. The band uses many alternatives to traditional instruments. Some of these alternatives include trashcans and buckets instead of drums and drumsticks. Notably, the band used chainsaws and 50 gallon plastic and almost anything that creates a noise when hit against. Similar to many other bands, this band constantly travels.

The first performance was in Goffstown, New Hampshire, in Justin Spencer’s high school talent show. Larry Wright inspired Spencer to perform using buckets because he felt that Wright was the pioneer to all. Spencer also felt that although many people compare his group to other groups such as Stomp and other similar percussion groups, he felt that his group is very much different from everybody else. Spencer said that “Stomp is really a theatrical dance show with heavy percussive elements”, while his group is not a dance group. The group also chose to heavily use factory metal objects in their percussion because it closely related to the theme of recycling. They even used ladders and the 50 gallon drums as musical instruments. However, in the end, Spencer noted that their main focus is always going to be buckets. Buckets will always be their main instrument although they will add new instruments here and there.

The group itself received many awards. In 1999 the band was featured on the front cover of USA Today, and two years later began touring the country and performed over 250 shows a year. They received awards yearly including national act of the year six times, best major performer of the year three times, and best live act four times. The band had toured for ten years and eventually made a debut on America’s Got Talent. The group was highest placed in all of the season in America’s Got Talent that was a non singing group and in the end placed third. The band also performed in fall of 2010 in China’s Got Talent and also made an appearance in the 2010 Latin Grammies. In 2010, the band also received one of the highest honors of working with MGM Grand Las Vegas to have their own nightly show at their casino being the only true band with their own nightly show. One of the unique concepts of this band is that when the audience attends their show, they are given a drumstick and a unique instrument. This allows the audience to play along with the band, making it a unique experience for each show for both the band and the audience. Both the media and the producers recognized this to be quite unique.

Topic Eight: The Vegetable Orchestra

Written by: Dana Snider

The Vegetable Orchestra may be exactly what you are expected. Founded in 1998, these musicians create a unique sound on instruments made of fresh vegetables. They originally started out in Vienna (and are still based there), but today, they are playing concerts all over the globe. The band is able to create music of all different genres using the vegetables. This makes their performances very versatile and appealing to all. “The most diverse music styles fuse here - contemporary music, beat-oriented House tracks, experimental Electronic, Free Jazz, Noise, Dub, Clicks'n'Cuts - the musical scope of the ensemble expands consistently, and recently developed vegetable instruments and their inherent sounds often determine the direction.” At the end of a concert, the audience is given a bowl of vegetable soup. The band takes pride in this and believes it makes their music appeal to all of the senses.

This 11-person band has no specific leader and was self-organized. All of the artists come from a very diverse musical background (from pop to rock, from rock to contemporary, etc). They say the do not know who came up with the idea of making music from fresh vegetables, but that is not what is important to them. What is important to them was the “realization” of this unique use of vegetables. This group was not randomly put together. In fact, they all have worked together on previous occasions, but nothing can compare to the unique music they create now. The band also makes it clear that they are not vegetarians! They have been asked multiple times, and say, “Don’t ask again!”

All of the musical instruments are made exclusively from fresh or dried plant materials. The most popular vegetables used are carrots, leeks, celery roots, artichokes, dried pumpkins and onion skins, but it does not stop here. They make use of drilling machines, sharp knives, and other kitchen tools to make their complex and one of a kind instruments. The band gets their vegetables from markets, wherever they may be located at the time. The instruments last for one show, or one session in the studio. The leftovers are then used in the vegetable soup.


Quality of the vegetables is crucial to the quality of sound produced by the instruments. The band stays away from vegetables that are packaged. There are some difficulties when finding these instruments. Every vegetable must be a certain length or width (to produce the right sound), and in different locations size varies drastically. Sometimes instruments dry out on stage, because of temperature, and then produce an unexpected sound, but the band just keeps playing.

The band focuses on composed music, but they say there is always room for some improvisation. They all work together when composing their music, so with 11 people it takes quite a long time. They are also always open to the idea of collaboration with other musicians, and have previously worked with the composer and trumpet player Franz Hautzinger and the Klangforum Vienna. They put on about 20-30 concerts a year, so be sure to catch them if you can!

Topic Nine: The Lego Harpsichord

Written by: Carly Steele

The harpsichord, an instrument that reached its peak during the Renaissane and Baroque periods, has been given a new twist by Henry Lim. Lim is a Lego sculptor and composer from California, who usually designs models such as dinosaurs and pictures of celebrities. Lim decided to build a harpsichord completely out of Lego blocks, excluding the strings. The project took nearly two years to complete, resulting in the only “Lego Harpsichord” known in existence. Lim designed and built the piano with very little assistance. The harpsichord is completely playable and in tune. The first step he took in achieving his musical Lego dream was to decide which instrument to create.


Lim first imagined a Lego piano, but decided due to its immense size, that a smaller and lighter instrument would be more practical. The harpsichord, a lighter version of a piano, consists of more simple mechanisms and does not need the steel framing that supports a 40,000 pound piano. Lim designed several prototypes before he began to build. When the design was finalized, he then began to assess which Lego parts he needed, and how many of each. By staggering the larger blocks amidst smaller blocks, the frame would remain sturdy and not collapse under the movement of the strings inside. Lego also creates mechanical parts, ”Technics”, as well as the standard blocks, to help its users create moving objects. The Technics were used in order to create the keyboard pivots, locking supports for the soundboard and wrestplank, bridge and nut mounts, hinges for the lid, underside of the jack rail, and the tuning and hitch pins. Lim mass ordered the parts from varying online sources such as LEGO Shop at Home and Bricklink. He also shopped at the Legoland California Model Shop Store.

After all the necessary parts were acquired, Lim began to build the harpsichord. Lim started with the keyboard, slowly expanding off of that central piece of the instrument. The frame of the harpsichord was next, with turntables added so that the Lego blocks would swivel. Lego blocks appear to be light, but when added together create a great weight that helps large models stay in one piece. Lim claims he was quite nervous when stringing the incident, fearing that one extra rotation might cause the structure to implode. The structure overall has a few small flaws, mainly with the stringing and the lid. The keyboard has a 5 octave range, and all 61 notes of the keyboard must be calibrated. The instrument weighs exactly 150 pounds and the strings wield exactly 350 pounds of tension. However, the bridge had to be placed at an odd angle, causing the strings to lay in different directions. Therefore each string had to be individually calibrated. The lid is a tad flimsy due to its lack of thickness, however, still closes and opens like a real harpsichord. Other artists have followed in Lim’s footsteps, such as Nathan Sawaya, who is seen on the YouTube clip below building a cello out of Lego blocks.


Atlas, A. W. (1998). Renaissance music : music in Western Europe, 1400-1600. New York: Norton.

Ham, Robert. "Ólöf Arnalds Opts for Sing-Along to Silence Crowd Chatter at SXSW." Spinner. 17 Mar 2011: 33. Print.

Hopkin, Bart. Musical Instrument Design: Practical Information for Instrument Making. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp, 2005. Print.

McClare, K. (2003). Weekly World News, Orchestra Makes Music With Veggie Instruments… and their fans are eating it up. Editor: Dick Kupla

Schneider, H. (1954). The Harpichord, An Introduction to Technique, Style, and the Historical Sources. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.


Car Music Project No Hot Wax Released August 8, 2007
Ólöf Arnalds Innundir skinni Released 2010
Ólöf Arnalds Við og Við Released 2009
The Vegetable Orchestra Onionoise Released October 26, 2010
The Vegetable Orchestra Gemise Released 1999


Car Music Project Ode to a Ford Commercial http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-yuY78nLsg
The Lego Harpsichord Lego Cello Demonstration Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0x0gHCpxeI&feature=related
Vienna's Vegetable Orchestra http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7076045n
Ólöf Arnalds NPR: Tiny Desk Concert http://www.npr.org/v2/?i=131413398&#38
Ólöf Arnalds The SoundCloud Sessions: She Belongs to Me (Cover) http://vimeo.com/15420340
Recycled Percussion Performance on America's Got Talent http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdD2j47Qmj4&feature=youtu.be


Bordal, Christian. "http://npr.org/templates/story/storyid=124771829." NPR Music: Olof Arnalds: Timeless Folk & Nursery Rhymes, 23 Mar 2010. Web. 15 Apr 2011.<http://www.npr.com/music>

Brozman, Bob. "http://www.bobbrozman.com/charangos.html." Bob Brozman Charangos!. Web. 13 Apr 2011.<http://www.bobbrozman.com>

Hall, Stan. "Recycled Percussion Refuge of Refuse." DRUMHEAD Magazine. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. <http://www.drumheadmag.com/web/feature.php?id=11>.

Gallafent, Alex. "http://www.theworld.org/2010/11/austria-vegetable-orchestra/." PRI's The World, 08 Nov 2010. Web. 14 Apr 2011. <http://www.theworld.org/2010/11/austria-vegetable-orchestra/>.

Lim, Henry. Harpischord. Henry Lim's Webpage. 2000. Web. 12 Apr. 2011 <http://www.henrylim.org/Harpsichord.html>

Milbrodt, Bill. Car Music Project. Milbrodt/Music Sound and Design, 2001. Web. 16 Apr. 2011. <http://www.carmusicproject.com/>.

Recycled Percussion. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. <http://www.recycledpercussionband.com/page.html>.
"Recycled Percussion." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recycled_Percussion>.

Werman, Marco. "https://media.theworld.org/pod/glohit/1112010.mp3." PRI's The World, 11 Nov 2010. Web. 15 Apr 2011.<http://www.thewrold.org/2010/11/icelandic-singer-songwriter-olof-arnalds>

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