The Car Music Project was conceived in late 1991 by composer Bill Milbrodt (mil-brōt), when his personal car, a battered and road-weary 1982 Honda Accord, was nearing the end of its useful life. Milbrodt explains, "It had endured close to 200,000 miles of road life with little mechanical maintenance and even less cosmetic attention. It would cost more to repair than it was worth and the poor thing had virtually no value as a trade-in. The paint was faded, pesky springs poked through the upholstery, knobs and handles were missing, and the electrical system was iffy. It dripped oil, blew smoke, and made more noise than a cement mixer. It was time to turn the car into music."
Described by music critics as an "avant-garde genius" and likened to Frank Zappa, the Car Music Project's pit crew consists of top notch musicians. Milbrodt is an Emmy award winning composer, Trigg has played with John Cage, Phillip Glass and the New York Philharmonic. Renown jazz bassist Wright is a member of the instrumental avant garde band UI, and has played with Yo La Tengo, Chris Harford and Marc Ribot. Brass player James Spotto is known from his own quintet, "Proper James." Milbrodt's musicians read his music from written scores while fueling it with healthy doses of improvisation, which make every show different. "The written music is like a road map," Milbrodt says, "and includes parts where the players can choose their own routes."
After the car was entirely dismantled, metal sculpturer Ray Faunce III began creating the bands instruments from the old cars parts, a process that took 18 months. Other musicians in the Car Music Project band include:
Brass player James Spotto on Exhaustaphone and Strutbone, constructed from the struts, shifter linkage and exhaust system, playing like a trombone.
Percussionist William Trigg plays "Percarsion", which consists of a fifteen foot-in-diameter circle of racks from which springs, gears, windows, pistons, and crankshafts hang, totaling over 55 percussion instruments. In addition, Trigg plays drums made from the wheels and trunk, and cymbals made from the floorboards.
Wilbo Wright plays the Tank Bass, which is made from the gas tank.
Dissonance is part of the territory. A sprinkling of disorder is, too, and it can drive you crazy or you can celebrate it.
The Car Music Project's unique sound comes from finding ways to use its instruments in ways that are inherent to them -- using the unexpected honks, squeaks, grinds, and rumbles they produce.
It's been said that every life form has a purpose. Milbrodt looks at sounds the same way. "If a sound just happens," he says, "or if a note is played out of tune and we like it, we try to include it."
“Every life form has a purpose.”
Apply that principle to sounds.
Composing for the Car Music Project's instruments requires a bit of an open mind. Although the current set of instruments involves what appear to be fairly standard fingering and placement schemes for tuning, they're imperfect. "That makes the whole process -- from writing to playing -- a bit more interesting," according to Milbrodt.