What makes sound? What makes music? If you’d like to explore these questions, and perhaps set your students on a summer quest, consider Frank Pahl. Frank Pahl is a Michigan musician and composer who works with automatic music, or music created using automatic instruments. Automatic instruments don’t require a human to directly operate them, like the organ in this picture. Perhaps the easiest way to begin is to just take a look and a listen.
Historically, automatic instruments have included things like musical clocks, church bells, automatic (player) pianos, or calliopes. Pahl uses all manner of electronic and mechanical materials destined for the trash heap to create music typically categorized as “avant-guard.” He even creates in “toy pop,” music performed using toys.
Browse through some of his online videos. For me, the importance isn’t in using the specific instruments or style of music, but in the notion that one can make music with “found” sound, sound generated by ordinary things used in extraordinary ways. That might include—for the mechanically inclined—creating automatic instruments, but it also could be a challenge to make music using things not typically described as instruments. I have to admit, the idea has me looking around my house in new ways. Perhaps your students would enjoy the challenge of creating music over the summer. Who knows what exciting things they may return with, come fall.
Just to inspire you, here’s a photo of Frank with “Little Bang Theory,” a toy pop trio. Don’t you just want to know what they’re playing?