Linsey Pollak: Music is all around us

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Pollak with a bagpipe made with rubber gloves
Pollak with a bagpipe made with rubber gloves

"This is my first time in India, so I'm very excited. I don't know much about the country. I plan to travel to Udaipur after performing in Mumbai," says Australian musician and instrument maker Linsey Pollak, 66, who is one of the speakers at the eighth edition of TEDx Gateway, to be held on February 4 in the city. He speaks about his love for creating music from the unlikeliest of objects.

The carrot clarinet
The carrot clarinet

How did the idea of creating musical instruments with vegetables and household objects come about?
It all started at a performance called Out Of The Frying Pan many years ago. I was 19 then, and I created 40 different musical instruments out of various things. I wanted to use food, so I used a watermelon, carrots, and potatoes. The carrot clarinet, which has become popular over the years, came about because of a friend, who was putting up a concert, asked, "Can you come up with something new for the performance?" I put on my thinking cap and the shape of a carrot popped up. Though it wasn't a tube, it was a potential tube.

You have recorded 34 albums. Did any of those feature music played on the instruments you created?
The 34 albums have all been of different types of music. But the one that features these instruments is called Mrs Curly And The Norwegian Smoking Pipe. It was recorded in 2014. I played 15 different pieces on instruments that I invented - the saxcello, guidanet, glass-based clarinet, carrot clarinet, and an instrument I call the aluminium narrow bow clarini.

Is there a deeper message that you wish to convey?
Yes, there is a strong philosophy to what I do. And that is: there is music all around us, and we are all musicians. By showing people how simple instruments are and how they can make their own instruments, I encourage them to be creators of music rather than consumers.

What is your most bizarre creation?
I have done quite a few. Mr Curly is a contra-based clarinet with a deep, funky sound, because it's an amplified, electro-acoustic instrument. I guess the various vegetable instruments could be considered bizarre. For example, a potato with bamboo skewers stuck into it to create a kind of bass piano or bass kalimba. I have also created a bagpipe out of a condom. Some people might find that outrageous, but the sound is not.

Have you ever failed on stage?
We were in Switzerland for a performance. At a bio-dynamic farm and restaurant there, they asked if I could make a sound from a bio-dynamically grown beetroot. It was spectacularly unsuccessful. Also, once I was putting a bamboo skewer through a carrot, but it went right through the carrot, and into my hand. So, I had this embarrassing situation of blood pouring everywhere. I had to go off stage to get rid of the blood. There were also a couple of times when my rubber glove bagpipe burst.

What was the first sound from a regular object that caught your attention? How does one find music in the mundane objects?
I can't remember what the first sound was. One needs to have a sense of curiosity, not take things for granted and let go of expectations. All these are related.

What advice do you have for those who dare to dream different ?
I'm lucky to be making a living from doing something I love. That's because I knew what I wanted to do and followed that over the years. My advice is: just follow your dream. It's the journey that is important and not the destination.

What are your plans for your performance in Mumbai?
I will be using six instruments made from household objects; everything from dustpans and brooms to A4 papers. These instruments will be turned into clarinets. Rubber gloves will be used to play the bagpipe and irrigation pipes will be turned into pan pipes. I'll be combining these instruments using a process called live looping, where I record what I am doing. For example, I'm going to have a bass line that is played with the dustpan and the paper clarinet will be playing melody lines.

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