Found object sculpture meets music with incoming Artist in Residence, Oregon composer, singer/songwriter, filmmaker, and artist Stephen Cohen, who is promising to design and create a “very, very big, playable string instrument using wood, metals and found objects” during his residency at Bush Barn Art center. The piece will then be available to view and play during the Salem Art Fair.
Cohen started playing guitar in his teens. He performed professionally, recorded albums with his first band The Tree People, and earned a bachelors degree in art from the University of Oregon, where he began making music themed jewelry pieces which sold at shows and in galleries. The jump from musician/performer/jewelry maker to creator of found object instruments came, logically, but kind of accidentally, when Cohen wanted a percussion piece he could play while playing the guitar. The result was a sculptural percussion instrument, and a new avenue for his creativity. He explains the experience “led me to do a series of workshops and residencies at schools and museums where I assisted participants in making their own instruments out of found and recycled materials. And, always looking for new inspiration and new instruments to play, I made a my own cigar box guitar, and an original “5 String Thing” instrument.”
During his residency Cohen will be bringing in materials, designing, and building the instrument, which he projects will be 6 to 10 feet high, 3 feet wide and a few feet deep. He has created a template which has the appearance of a humanoid/robotic figure. The strings on the instrument will be plucked and also played like a slide guitar, and the metal tube legs and other metal and wood parts could be hit with a mallet like a drum. There could be up to 15 strings with a full range of notes. He also plans to adorn the piece with some of his guitar string bracelets and other jewelry.
The technical aspects of putting together a piece like this are complex, but Cohen looks at them as more interesting puzzles than roadblocks. He points out that it needs to be solid enough to stand on its own, and that the woods and metals must resonate when strings (guitar and harp strings, fishing wire, etc.) are attached. Possible materials include hardwoods, plywood, acrylic paints, cigar boxes, brass and copper, and “whatever found materials I can find that will work.” The goal he says is to “make this piece as much a visual work as a musical work.”
Cohen hopes visitors will have fun, be inspired to think, be creative and take a sense of wonder from the experience. He says, “I love interactive creativity because it has the element of spontaneous human communication.” The schedule of when he will be at the Annex will be available on his website, and anyone interested in participating is welcome to stop by, to observe, listen, share ideas, help with some of the artistic construction, and play the instrument when it is ready.