Car Music Project
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Car Music Project

Band Jazz Avant-garde


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(Filed: 19/08/2006)
By Nik Berg

Composer Bill Milbrodt loves the sound of his old Honda Accord even though it was scrapped years ago, as Nik Berg reports

For some, the simple sound of an engine on song is music enough, but New Jersey-based composer Bill Milbrodt decided he could go one better. He created a whole orchestra of instruments from his 1982 Honda Accord.

When the car came to the end of its useful life, Bill couldn't bear to see it crushed and so embarked on a project to make music from scrap metal.

The endeavour has lasted more than a decade. "The Honda had endured close to 200,000 miles of road life with little maintenance," Milbrodt says. "The paint was faded, pesky springs poked through the upholstery, knobs were missing and the electrical system was iffy. It dripped oil, blew smoke and made more noise than a cement mixer."

An unusual source of inspiration, but Emmy award-winner Milbrodt is unlike most musicians. His work is a fusion of jazz and classical, sounds that are assembled (much like the parts of a car) to create a unique, eerily absorbing whole. Before Milbrodt could create his instruments he had to disassemble the Accord, which took five mechanics in a friendly garage eight hours. All the parts were then delivered to Milbrodt's friend Ray Faunce III, a metal sculptor. Milbrodt enlisted a team of musicians, engineers, glass-cutters and metal fabricators to reincarnate the Accord.

The process took 18 months and resulted in some beautiful looking (and sounding) instruments. All four families of the traditional orchestra are represented in Milbrodt's Car Music Project. For the strings there are the Air Guitar (made from an air filter and a windscreen frame) and the Tank Bass (fabricated from the fuel tank, part of the radiator and a brake caliper). The brass section comprises the Strutbone (created from a MacPherson suspension strut and part of the gear lever) and the Exhaustophone (you can probably guess where that came from).

The wind section features Tube Flutes (created from a trailing tube and an air-conditioning tube), the Tenor Convertible (a kind of saxophone, made from a trailing arm) and there's the huge, 55-piece Percarsion set featuring a wide variety of instruments including a Trunk Drum and a large frame supporting springs, gears, windows and vents. Everything in the band comes from the Accord, except the Exhaustophone.

Milbrodt says: "The exhaust system was rusted and fume-laden. No musician in his right mind would put his mouth near it for fear of inhaling toxic leftovers from the pores in the metal, so we had to use off-the-shelf parts for that." Milbrodt set about writing music to suit the instruments and finding musicians not only willing to embrace his eccentric idea but capable of playing his quirky instruments. Saxophone players will know that traditional reed instruments have conical reeds, but Milbrodt's car parts versions have tubular reeds, making them far harder to play.

The instruments might look spectacular but they're imperfect - they were spawned by an old car, remember - and so delicate musicians' fingers have to cope with numerous dents and bumps on the metal. The instruments were finished and first played in 1995, but 10 years of tinkering ensued before Milbrodt finally pieced together his dream band and the five-strong group started playing live - with the creator himself on the Air Guitar.
Described by music critics as an "avant-garde genius", Milbrodt was thrilled with the response. "The public has been terrific so far," he says. "We did three concerts in 2005 and got a wonderful reaction. I anticipated that audience interest would be limited to people with a love for the arts, particularly the fringe. As it turned out, we attracted people from ages five through 90, from all walks of life: musicians, engineers and college kids."

Inspired by the reaction, the Car Music Project is heading into the studio with plans to release a CD. It will feature the weirdly titled Crenabulations No1, Noodles and Carbonation, to name but three compositions. Millbrodt - an eccentric perfectionist - insists the album will be recorded live, which has meant going back to sculptor Faunce to create special baffles for studio use.

After the CD there will be more concerts and more instruments - possibly even a European tour. "I would love to perform in the UK and other parts of Europe and hope we can do it very soon," says Milbrodt. If you can't wait to hear the Car Music Project play, visit for a demo.

- Daily Telegraph, London, UK

By Kevin Shihoten
17 Jul 2007

Lincoln Center will present the ensemble Car Music Project next month as part of its Out of Doors free concert series.

The Car Music Project uses brass, percussion, string and woodwind instruments constructed from the parts of a 1982 Honda Accord owned by its founder, Emmy Award-winning composer Bill Milbrodt.

Milbrodt decided in 1994 to have his dilapidated car taken apart and reincarnated as instruments; he gathered a team of musicians, an engineer, glass cutter, physicist and a metal fabricator with whom he then worked over the next year.

Metal sculptor Ray Faunce III spent 18 months dismantling the car and creating by hand a collection of western orchestral instruments, including the trombone-like Exhaustaphone and Strutbone, made from struts, shifter linkage and an exhaust system.

A "Percarsion" set with over 55 instruments comprises springs, gears, windows, pistons and crankshafts hanging from a circle of racks 15 feet in a diameter. A Tank Bass is made from a gas tank and cymbals are made up of floorboards.

The ensemble's current roster was assembled in 2005 and has Eric Haltmeier on its convertibles and tube flutes (made from strut covers and tubular parts); James Spotto on Strutbone and Exhaustaphone; William Trigg playing Percarsion, cymbals and drums; and Wilbo Wright on Tank Bass. Milbrodt plays the banjo-like Air Guitar, made from an air cleaner and break calipers and played with metal finger slides.

Spotto studied at Rowan University's Maynard Ferguson Institute of Jazz Studies and leads a brass quintet. Trigg is a noted a 20th century music expert who has worked with the New York City Ballet and Brooklyn Philharmonic, and Wright is a skilled bassist and improviser with a following in the U.S. and Europe.

The ensemble's classifies itself on its MySpace page as progressive, experimental and rock, and their music is described as a blend of toe-tapping beats and soundscapes, fusing jazz and classical styles. "Stuff you can hum," says Milbrodt.

For example, the piece 8-4-2-1 is a jazzy and lively shuffle that contrasts with Wrinkles in Space, which consists of both notated music and a sound collage allowing for free-form improvisation.

Writes one reviewer, "It's as if the entire history of music has been rewritten from scratch." - Playbill Arts

Sunday 8/5

We were unaware that making music with a car transcended tapping out a tune on the horn and making your passengers guess what it is. Composer Bill Milbrodt took a slightly less annoying approach to playing musical wheels by transforming his elderly Honda Accord into the Car Music Project. Instead of sending the 1982 jalopy to the big junkyard in the sky, he dismantled it to make 66 brass, wind, percussion, and stringed instruments—all expertly used by Milbrodt and a quartet to create avant-jazz numbers. Grab your favorite shotgun rider and marvel at the myriad ways that four doors can rock. (Thompson)
At 5, Lincoln Center, Josie Robertson Plz Broadway & 64th St New York, NY 10023 Upper West Side (212) 721-6500, $FREE - The Village Voice (Voice Choices)

August, 2007

Special Online Only Article

No Hot Wax, the first CD by the Car Music Project, composer Bill Milbrodt's band that performs music on instruments made from car parts "and other stuff," is now available on the internet through CD Baby at No Hot Wax, it is a 5-song extended play (EP) CD appropriately described on its cover as "five unpolished musical excursions: far enough along to let the Car Music Project's music permeate a room, but just raw enough to expose some of the effort behind it." The band introduced No Hot Wax the weekend of August 4th and 5th at their Musikfest and Lincoln Center performances.

"CD Baby is the place to buy the actual CD," says Milbrodt. He adds that individual songs will become available on Apple iTunes and other music download sites in the coming weeks.

No Hot Wax delivers 16 minutes of the Car Music Project in the studio making their unique music and soundscapes on instruments that were never meant to be: the strutbone, exhaustaphone, air guitar, tank bass, and percarsion. All five tracks are described as "test mixes". Since its inception in 2005, the band has often presented music that is still in-the-works to give audiences some insight into the project's evolution. This has occurred both at live performances and in recordings, beginning with the band's Rough Roads DVD which included three rough mixes. "A lot of people are interested in how we develop our sound, our instruments, and playing techniques, so we try to be open about it," said Milbrodt. "To create a live feel, all five pieces were recorded by the full band playing together," Milbrodt says, "We did not use click tracks." He explained that he went to great lengths to make it possible for the five band members to have eye contact during the recording. "I installed small video cameras with monitors between two sound booths, and we then positioned the musicians so that we could all see each other while recording." Each player was then recorded to his own tracks, "so we could go back in and correct mistakes one by one," Milbrodt continued, "while keeping the live feel intact."

No Hot Wax was recorded at the Jam Room Music Complex in Howell, New Jersey. Jam Room owner Arnie Brown engineered the recording sessions. Milbrodt prepared the test mixes at his own studio. "In 2008, we'll make the final mixes available on a full length CD with thirteen songs," Milbrodt explained, "That will make the evolutionary process of the project even more apparent." - Upstage Magazine

July 23, 2006

Somewhere in the cracks between classical, jazz and blues, haunted in equal parts by the great American love affair with the automobile and a child-like fascination with Frankenstein's monster, you'll find the Car Music Project.

The brainchild of composer and guitarist Bill Milbrodt, the ensemble of highly trained musicians performs on instruments that resemble sculpture and are constructed entirely from the pieces of a used car — Milbrodt's own '82 Honda Accord, rendered discorporate and reinvented with the help of sculptor Ray Faunce specifically to serve Milbrodt's fiendish musical plans.

After completing the instruments in 1994, Milbrodt began forming an ensemble, workshopping compositions in one-off performances with musicians and selecting a permanent lineup only last year. No Asbury Park performance has been scheduled yet, but local concertgoers were in attendance Friday night at their annual concert at Hamilton Township's Grounds for Sculpture, the verdant estate-size private gardens full of contemporary statuary owned by world famous sculptor Seward Johnson.

The gas tank, with a metal neck and strings added, serves quite well as an upright bass and is performed by Wilbo Wright, a former member of Yo La Tengo. The air cleaner, likewise, has an unusually bright sound in its new life as an electric slide guitar, played by Milbrodt himself. On drums was The College of New Jersey professor Bill Trigg, using car windows that made excellent gongs, each offering an unusual collection of specific pitches. The entire trunk, taillight assemblies included, makes a delicious percussion combo with sounds analogous to the bass drum, tom-tom and woodblock. Other instruments included Strutphone and Exhaustaphone (James Spotto), tenor and alto Convertibles and Tube Flutes (sax player Dave Homan and flutist Audrey Wright-Welber). A conventional electronic piano, played by Alan Wasserman, rounded off the ensemble.

Milbrodt composes the foundations of the pieces, leaving plenty of room for improvisation for the individual players. Adjustments in the instruments and in playing technique are also frequently required to create the sounds he is after. But by and large the effect remains true to his intention, an angular, jaunty, tune-filled music. Inflections of Stravinsky and Ellington rub elbows with more contemporary elements, but overall the music has a strangely old-fashioned charm — odd melodies with dance-like ostinato accompaniments, branching only occasionally into freer, soundscape terrain.

The performance at the Grounds for Sculpture opened with some electronics issues, balance and feedback problems. The Air Guitar in particular was by turns inaudible and overpowering. With the exception of the Air Guitar and the electronic piano, the amplification seemed unnecessary in the small, walled-in garden and the intricate, unusual colors of these handmade instruments would probably have been better served without it.

The Car Music Project will perform Aug. 11 in a special performance for families during Musikfest in Bethlehem, Pa. Word has it that the group is in the process of recording and will soon be ramping up its performance schedule, so keep an eye out for upcoming events on its Web site,

( - Asbury Park Press (Music Notes)

July 25, 2005
The Car Music Project

In 1998, I was fortunate to receive an invitation from a friend, Bill Milbrodt, an avant-garde composer I had come to know as a result of our mutual interest in technology and art. Milbrodt runs his own music company and has created music and soundscapes for A Visit with Ann Rice, Frank Gorshin’s A Lasting Impression, ESPN’s America’s Horse, and live theater. In 1991, he won an Emmy Award in New York for Outstanding Original Music Composition for his electronic score for American Venus, a surreal video short.

Milbrodt invited my partners and me to attend a Trenton Avant-garde Festival performance of his work that involved an ensemble of musicians playing instruments made of automobile parts - with piano accompaniment. It was an experience of pure magic. I was intrigued by the ingenuity demonstrated in the sculptural transformation of automotive technology into musical devices and enthralled by the range and expressiveness of the sound they produced.

In the years since, the composer has kept me informed of his continuing progress on the work he refers to as "The Car Music Project." This summer, the project has reached full fruition with high-profile performances at The College of New Jersey Concert Hall and an upcoming show at Grounds For Sculpture, in Hamilton, NJ, on July 29. The current ensemble is comprised of musicians playing instruments made from car parts and contains no traditional instruments.

Milbrodt is an avant-garde genius. Rarely in the world of new music does one encounter a musician/composer/producer who conceives of an entirely novel orchestra and then proceeds to create lengthy and complex compositions for it that contain as much structure as classical music and also a level of improvisation on a par with modern jazz or contemporary rock. In terms of pure uniqueness and creativity, comparisons with John Cage come to mind. But where Cage was conceptualist to a fault, Milbrot is an entertainer. He is motivated by a desire to reach audiences in emotional and visceral ways. The soundscapes he creates convey drama, wistfulness, raw energy, delicate nuance, and even comedic interludes. In this respect, I’m reminded of the orchestral and improvisational work of Frank Zappa. Milbrot’s music is up to the comparison – up there in the rarefied air of pure inspiration, zany inventiveness, and emotional range and power of Zappa’s best work.

There’s unparalleled pleasure in discovering a masterwork like The Car Music Project. It’s as if the entire history of music has been rewritten from scratch. We’re confronted with instruments that bear some generic relationship to familiar forms – the four families of orchestral instruments, for example – strings, brass, winds, and percussion. In Milbrot’s conception the basis of these categories has more to do with the physics of sound than with their historical development. He reinvents them with the junkyard precision of a Road Warrior – taking parts from his old battered personal automobile, enlisting the assistance of sculptors, musicians, metalworkers, glass-cutters, and physicists, and assembling novel contraptions into the instruments necessary to convey his sonic conceptions.

Milbrot applies his prodigious skills in musical composition to wring every bit of sound he can from the strange assemblages and then structures works according to the imperatives of his personal vision. The result is a cohesive, comprehensible experience with universal appeal.

This is an art of transformation and synthesis. Music, the most abstract of the arts, is made concrete by the metaphor of the automobile. The composer is a contemporary shaman who delivers a new message from the refuse of our postmodern society. His production is an inspiring signal from the wasteland that all is not lost. In fact, the best is yet to come. We come to see that “junk” is a relative term. What’s left after 200,000 miles of mundane use is more potentially valuable than when it was new. We catch a glimpse of our human destiny – to create new worlds from the detritus of the discarded old. Reinvention allows for continuing evolution and progress. There are no dead ends. Everything is new again…and you can dance to it!

- Reading Eagle (ARTology with Tullio DeSantis)

July 23, 2006

(BETHLEHEM, PA) -- The Car Music Project will perform at Musikfest in Bethlehem, PA on Friday, August 11, 2006 at 4:30 PM on the festival's Banana Island Stage.The program will be two hours long and a family show specifically for young audiences.

On Friday night, July 14th, The Car Music Project performed live at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ to a full house in the cultural landmark's outdoor Courtyard Concert. In addition to featuring guest artists Alan Wasserman and Audrey Wright-Welber on "A Day at the Beach with the Water People" and "Bumps in Their Time", both written for piano and car parts, band leader and composer Bill Milbrodt introduced a prototype of a new musical instrument named the SST.

The SST is the "String-Spring-Thing", and it is the band' first instrument that is not made out of car parts. Built by Ray Faunce III, who designed and built the band's other instruments, the SST is 7-feet tall and made of tube steel with heavy metal cables and garage door springs running the full height. At the bottom, a standard metal garbage can serves as a resonating box. A microphone, or electric guitar type pickups, are placed inside and the player then plucks, bows, or taps the strings and springs to create an array of colorful metallic sounds ranging from delicate and multi-layered timbres to sounds that would do any science-fiction film proud.

At the Grounds for Sculpture show, the SST was played in an improvised piece called "Machine". William Trigg, the band's stunningly creative percussionist played the SST while bassist, Wilbo Wright, a master of improvisation, programmed a synthesizer and sampling device live and in real time to modify the sounds that Trigg delivered to him. The result of this improvised duet between two master musicians was a palette of stunning new sounds organized into an on-the-spot musical composition to which bandleader Milbrodt added his Air Guitar while directing brass player James Spotto and wind player Dave Homan to add additional colors with the Exhaustaphone, Strutbone, Tenor Convertible, and Tube Flute. Through all of this, Trigg took liberties with parts of the instrument that were not intended for musical use, slapping the outside of the garbage can with his hands and hitting the metal support that holds the cables at the top with sticks and mallets. As it happens, that metal support at the top is a large brake drum, the only car part on the entire instrument). The result was an improvised composition that ranged from quiet, tentative, and pretty to driving and forceful enough to make the listener feel as if the entire outdoor space had risen, then gently settled back to solid ground.

"A Day at the Beach with the Water People", the first piece for piano and car parts performed that night, is a tongue-in-cheek musical illustration of early life moving tentatively from a primordial ocean to land for the first time. Performed by Alan Wasserman on piano and Audrey Wright-Welber on car part winds, with additional sonic colors from the Car Music Project's band members, it showed off the band's ability to meld it's unique sound, which Milbrodt bases on a principle he calls "anti-tuning", with traditional instruments. "Bumps in Their Time", the second piece for piano and car parts, is an impressionistic statement based on the idea that time is measured by change. It, too, showed off the Car Music Project' ability to join the forces of tradition with Milbrodt's wholly unique approach to music.

The piano parts for both pieces were like compositions in themselves. Fully written, and with very few moments that were simple or relaxing, the piano provided the momentum that drove both compositions forward with themes that evolved or changed constantly. Wasserman, a highly accomplished pianist who has studied around the world, provided a solid delivery, moving from the slow and sometimes solid statements Milbrodt tends to use for openings and closings through rapidly flowing passages that blossom out of Milbrodt's melodic themes. In counterpoint to the piano, Ms. Wright-Welber delivered her parts on Alto Convertible and Tube Flute, pulling long piano passages together with the simpler but more overt themes Milbrodt composed for her instruments. Just when the listener thinks the piano might fall into a mad scramble, Ms. Wright-Welber entered like a calming influence, reining the music back in and getting it ready for the next set of changes. To say that she did this well is one thing, but to say she did it well on instruments made from the parts of an old car is another: She did it well. An accomplished Jazz saxophonist, she blended her extraordinary improvisational skills with Milbrodt's written music to help create a unified whole.

The Car Music Project will appear next at Musikfest in Bethlehem, PA, on Friday, August 11th, on the festival's Banana Island Stage. Their performance is scheduled from 4:30 to 6:30 PM and will be designed for a family audience, allowing plenty of time for questions about the instruments and music. Designed specifically for young audiences, the musicians will bring the instruments to the front of the stage so children can look at them up close, touch them, and make some sounds of their own. For more information about the Car Music Project's Musikfest performance, visit the Musikfest web site or the Car Music Project web site at the following web addresses: or

( - UpStage Magazine


"No Hot Wax" 5-song EP CD



-- Elizabeth Thompson, Village Voice

-- Tullio DeSantis, Reading Eagle

-- Lancaster Online

-- Nik Berg, London's Daily Telegraph

Every show leads you down a road you've never travelled before.