THEY call him the “Washing Machine Instrument Guy”.
21-year-old WAAPA student Jaxon Degebrodt makes his own experimental instruments from recycled materials using everything from cork and glass to coffee cups and old balls.
All the components have been recycled apart from the electrical wiring, which has to conform to safety standards.
“The purpose of these instruments is to make non-confronting machines that produce minimal environmental impact, they’re all built out of recycled materials, and each instrument is made to be re-designed and re-built easily,” he says.
Degebrodt is one of several avant-garde musos performing in the Unbecoming concert at the Fremantle Old Customs House on Sunday night (May 21) – a platform for experimental and improvised music that otherwise might not get heard.
Degebrodt says he was inspired to start making his own sustainable instruments after feeling uncomfortable about regularly replacing the reed in his clarinet – he discovered the reeds were packaged in a non-recyclable box and each one was shrink-wrapped and had its own plastic case.
One of his first instruments he built was the Electronic Foraged Materialophone, based on the sixxen, a percussion instrument invented by Greek-French avant-garde composer Iannis Xenakis.
Living up to its name, the EFM looks and sounds like something out of a 1950s sci-fi B movie.
“The instrument functions as a junk-percussion set up, but every item is bell-shaped so that they work as speakers and can play distorted noises from an external input,” Degebrodt says.
During his collaborative performance at Unbecoming he will play the ’nathan’, an electronic instrument based on the guzheng, a Chinese plucked zither.
Featuring bits of old cork to prop up the strings, the ‘nathan’ sounds like a weird oriental acid trip with everything in slow motion and tuned down a step.
“The nathan can be re-tuned constantly and I’m always putting extra bits of cork, glass or metal in its strings to play with its sound quality,” Degebrodt says.
“Even as it’s grown older, to the point where a guitar would need its strings replaced, the instrument can be modified to make a better sound. The instruments focus not just on recycling materials but also sound.
“The nathan has another pickup on the other side of its bridge which picks up the other end of the tuned string, which most often is not an ‘in-tune’ note.”
Degebrodt divides his time between writing prose and playing/composing music, and right now he’s busy creating the short film GRAND PRIX: Infinity, a sci-fi comedy for his WAAPA graduation recital.
“I’m a musician and a film nerd so my stories come out in music and movies,” he says.
“The film is incredibly tacky and fun but I’ve had a few artists excited to join the project so our team is slowly building.”
Featuring current students and recent graduates from music programs at WAAPA and UWA, Unbecoming will have everything from bizarre electro-acoustic soundscapes to strange pieces with clarinet, guitar and violin.
Degebrodt will be joined on-stage by Nick Kyriakacis (bouzouki player) and Lara Pollard (folk writer and experimental guitarist).
“…the ideas we have inside us come out and mix in these performances – if you can’t put yourself into a performance you’re just a person with an out of tune guitar,” Degebrodt says.
Unbecoming is at the Fremantle Old Customs House on Sunday night (May 21) at 7.30pm. Tix are pay-what-you-can at events.humanitix.com/unbecoming.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK