Interview with Rod Cooper (originally appeared in Inpress)

Lots of people make music. But not so many make the instrument that they’re playing. For those who do it’s usually a guitar or some other conventional instrument. Yet Melbourne is host to another type of instrument builder, one who has little interest in convention, and the results are weird and wonderful constructions that defy imagination. Perhaps it’s a reaction to computer music or made in China off the shelf consumerables, however there’s no doubting a renewed interest in unique hand crafted instrumentation. To the extent that some of its most prominent practitioners have organised a festival to celebrate.
“People have actually moved to Melbourne for the music scene and then they make things and we end up meeting and slowly we’re forming a community,” offers instrument builder and Hand Made Musical Festival (HMM) co organiser Rod Cooper.
“I think there’s something that comes out that is uniquely from the area, from Melbourne, from Australia,” he continues. “We gravitate towards certain sounds that we want to use, certain textures.”
Cooper, who has been creating instruments and sound sculptures for over 20 years, has regularly performed at improvised and experimental music festivals alongside all manner of artists and musicians. In fact the genesis of the festival was borne out of The Make It Up Club, a regular improvised music night at Bar Open curated by co HMM curator Ben Koliatis.
“It was about hacking and bending, people using fruit as oscillators and other acoustic instrument builders like myself,” reports Cooper, “and it was really popular. So we thought lets go a bit further.”
Featuring artists as diverse as Toydeath, who use circuit bent toys to create bizarre noisy pop music, to the more experimental video synthesizer and cracked TV of Vijay Thillaimuthu, there’s a feast of musical styles and approaches on display.
“It’s for artists who are building their own original instruments, the DIY electronics stuff, “ offers Cooper. “We had a list of about 20 people and worked from there. The thing was they had to be builders; we didn’t want any traditional instruments or pedals in the show. I mean it still crept in a bit; you can’t be a Nazi about it. We just want to highlight there’s another form of music that is happening in Melbourne.”
Perhaps the most exciting aspect is the diversity of the festival with performances, artist talks, an instrument makers swap meet, and workshops where a few of the artists help a lucky few create their own unique instruments.
“We want to make this inclusive,” offers Cooper. “We look at all the other festivals and why they haven’t lasted and why they tapered off. It’s important to make it inclusive. We’re encouraging people to get into it.”
Cooper suggests that making instruments isn’t a desire. It’s more of a need. The form and the materials may change, yet the need remains. And it’s something he shares with all of the artists involved.
“I’ve got stacks of printers that I’ve been taking apart and building different mechanisms out of. It’s fun too. I just have an urge to build things all the time. That’s one strong element about the festival. The makers are always saying I’m building heaps and heaps, I just want to play some more. They have this urge and that’s one thing you need to consider. It’s one thing to play music but to set up the whole instrument design and interface of your expression that’s another complicated process to go through creatively.”
Cooper raids hard rubbish collections (shh), building sites and is increasingly interested in reusing and recycling materials, rescuing his material from landfill. Ultimately though his interest is about creating an instrument that feels part of him, that makes sense to him.
“As a performer when you’ve made your own instrument you know it in a different way. You’re inside it. That’s a big difference for me. When I’m playing instruments that I haven’t built. They just don’t feel comfortable. They’re not like my shows that I’ve worn into the shape of my feet. “

Bob Baker Fish

Hand Made Music Festival is on until the 28th of August. Check http://handmademusic.me/ for more details.

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