Gregory Kozak
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Gregory Kozak

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
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***** out of five

While the rest of us cycle, run or push weights to keep in shape, Gregory Kozak and his unique percussion group ScrapArtsMusic get an impressive workout every time they step onstage.

Simon Thomsen. Greg Samek, Christa Mercey and Spencer Cole joined Kozak for a breathtakingly athletic performance at Thursday night's penultimate WSO New Music Festival concert named for the ensemble. AN audience heavy on young people thrilled to the sights, sounds and moves of this truly original group that shows there are no limits to the musical imagination.

Vancouverite Kozak co-founded and created ScrapArtsMusic in 1998 with Justine Murdy. Kozak, self-described as "a percussion virtuoso with a talent for welding," designed and built the 145-plus instruments the quintet plays, composed the music and choreography. Murdy handles lighting, instrument and costume design –- black outfits with armbands, which could double as supportive braces for the percussion boot camp.

Using industrial scrap and everything from artillery shells, accordion parts and brass sheets to balloons, dishwasher hoses and bagpipe reeds, Kozak just may have single-handedly performed a million acts of green. Who knew that scrap yards and dumps were treasure troves for the makings of new and marvelous musical instruments?

The group mesmerized the audience from the opening number Whorlies, named for the instruments they used – lengths of bilge hose spun around to produce eerie humming notes. The faster they spun, the higher the pitch.

The action never stopped throughout the 85-minute show – the troupe quickly rolling out instruments and setting them up in different configurations. Dry ice wafted smoke across the stage and innovative lighting formed effective silhouettes of the artists as they leapt, twisted, turned and attacked their instruments.

Dancing, hollering performers vigorously beat drums made from irrigation hose and plumbing coupling joints.

By now you're getting the idea of the uniqueness of this entire concept. Kozak is a kind of mad scientist when it comes to instrument invention.

But as impressive as all the instruments were, the performers themselves stole the show with their cheerful and technical prowess. High kicking, virtuosic and adrenaline-packed, this was an event in itself -- one we won't soon forget.

- Winnipeg Free Press - Gwenda Nemerofsky


The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival ended not with a bang, but a contemplative whimper Friday night as its 18th annual version of the event wound down its week-long exploration of all things ecstatic.

The grandly titled program, Symphonic Rebirth, featured the North American premiere of British composer John Tavener's Requiem (2008) with Rebecca Woodmass (soprano), James McLennan (tenor), the Canadian Mennonite University Chorus (Janet Brenneman/Rudy Schellenberg, co-conductors), and the WSO (including a lofty brass section in the balcony) arranged roughly as a cruciform.

At centre stage was WSO principal cellist Yuri Hooker -- representing the primordial white light that is said to appear when the spirit passes into the next realm. WSO maestro Alexander Mickelthwate led the combined forces throughout the 40-minute work as well as the entire program.

If you're looking for a Requiem with fire and brimstone ( la Verdi), or melodious lushness (think Faure) this is probably not it. What Tavener does, instead, is blend together Roman Catholic, Sanskrit, Hebrew and Arabic texts into one giant melting pot of faith traditions that, while commendable, is nevertheless fraught with pitfalls of cohesion and perilous fragmentation.

He does provide a key for understanding with the work's subtitle: "Our glory lies where we cease to exist." However, with the exception of the climatic fourth movement, Khali's Dance, much of the work felt like a marriage of convenience. It's only during the final movement where Tavener's point is driven home.

As an increasingly complex tapestry of sound gradually subsumes Woodmass and McLennan, it's as if all become equal -- singing, as it were, with one voice.

WSO composer-in-residence Vincent Ho, if not already one of Canada's most gifted younger composers, is surely the luckiest. His highly anticipated world premiere of Fallen Angel: In Memoriam Richard D'Amore (2006) was named on Monday as one of five winning entries (out of 156) in the CBC Evolution composer's competition, that will see Ho packing his bags for a Banff residency next month.

Fallen Angel is dedicated to the California-based photographer Richard D'Amore, 66, who died while Ho was completing the score. The stirring work itself gives further proof of Ho's expansive dramatic sensibility, with a focused intensity that speaks directly to the heart. After opening with savage percussive brutality, the piece eventually bleeds into mournful quotes of Bach's Air on the G String, before a gossamer piano interpolation ends the work with a final, unresolved cadence.

Gregory Kozak's Concerto for Chariot of Choir and Strings provided the magic for the night, with the ScrapArtsMusic's co-founder/composer/inventor donning gloves to stroke the 22 aluminum wire strings of his latest creation: a 30-foot junkyard contraption with the delicate soul of a glass harmonica.

The program also included a world premiere of rjan Sandred's Labyrinths in the Wind, featuring Allen
Harrington performing on a Yamaha WX5 wind MIDI controller.

holly.harris@shaw.ca

CONCERT REVIEW
WSO New Music Festival
Symphonic Rebirth
Friday, February 6
Centennial Concert Hall
Attendance: 1,310
(three and a half stars out of five)

- Winnipeg Free Press - Holly Harris


All three of the concerts I attended this past weekend offered an unusual mix, either of music or of music plus dialogue or of both. While none of the three was completely successful and all suffered from one weakness or another, they did fall into a definite order from most effective to least.
Occupying first place was the Sunday afternoon concert given by the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia in the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater; close behind was the Philadelphia Orchestra's concert of Saturday evening, performed in the Kimmel's Verizon Hall; and trailing behind in third place was the Friday night program presented by Philomel in the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields here in Chestnut Hill.

The most fascinating aspect of Sunday's Chamber Orchestra concert was the presence of the guest artists, Scrap Arts Music. You may already be wondering, "Who and what are Scrap Arts Music?" Well, they're pretty much precisely what their name implies. The ensemble of five young musicians, four men and one woman under the directorship of Gregory Kozak, create their own percussion instruments out of what most of us would describe as scrap metal and then allow the characteristics of those instruments to inspire the creation of their music. The Chamber Orchestra's assistant conductor, Jeri Lynne Johnson, heard the group in performance at the Painted Bride Arts Center and commissioned Kozak to compose a work for both his ensemble and hers. The result was Composition for Sigh-Chordians and Strings, which received its world premiere on Sunday at the start of the program's second half under Johnson's baton as well as Kozak's energetic leadership of his players. The remainder of the concert featured Kozak's Synthesoid Plasmatron of 1999, Ribs of 2001 and Agreement, also from 1999.

Composition for Sigh-Chordians and Strings is a beautifully evocative that pairs the eerie sounds of the wind with the focused tones of string instruments. It proffers an arching structure that is delineated through the rising and falling of intensities and speeds, and it travels through time with an hypnotic power over the listener.

Synthesoid Plasmatron, Ribs and Agreement are all more percussive in nature, and yet if anything all three are even more varied in timbral color and textural range than is Composition for Sigh-Chordians and Strings. Kozak's sense of unfolding form is flawless in all three of these works and his ear for the imaginative layering of propulsive rhythms is impeccable.

I would be doing the five members of the group a grave disservice if I didn't mention and praise here the spectacular choreography of their playing of their many instruments. Just watching them dash around the Perelman's stage in immaculate ensemble and with explosive intensity was breathtaking. They made a thrilling contribution to the afternoon's music-making -- and Jeri Lynne Johnson deserves tremendous credit for having had the openness of mind to have encountered Scrap Arts Music in the first place and for having the courage in the second to commission a score from Kozak. Classical music exists within but it can only thrive when those traditions are invigorated with fresh input.
... - Chestnut Hill Review (Philadelphia) - Michael Caruso



The Composition for Sigh-Chordions and Strings by Scrap Arts leader Gregory Kozak followed the model of Bartók's Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion. Kozak's instruments tend to be, in the spirit of American composer Harry Partch, mutated versions of the familiar, whether twirling hoses that render an airborne layer of sound or mini-versions of concertina accordions. Their capabilities are limited but distinctive, resulting in ethereal sounds that meld willingly with traditional instruments and give them a whole new cast. As in Bartók, the orchestra doesn't interact intensively with soloists, but provides a solid frame of rhythmic counterpoint.

Three solo Scrap Arts pieces followed, not as thoughtful as Kozak's Composition but more confidently infused with physicality, reminiscent of the Off-Broadway show Stomp. I loved the timbral counterpoint - heterogeneous layers of sound, both competing and merging - but not all that banging. The audience cheered. I felt like Maggie Smith's character in the film Gosford Park, wanting to implore those around me with words like "Don't encourage them!"

- Philadelphia Inquirer - David Patrick Stearns


Before Evelyn Glennie emerged for a brilliantly modulated bongo solo, Scrap Arts Music from Canada gave a display of their craft.

Using an anything-goes approach as sound-source, this quintet have the total package: near-faultless command of their instruments, a unanimity of ensemble that even from a distance impresses as extraordinary, and athletic choreography that obviously requires just as much conditioning as any physically draining sport. As later with Glennie, students were incorporated into the action, the whole corps bringing off an exciting sonic mix of rhythmic interplay and juxtaposed sounds from the most finely polished scrap metal I ever seen. It’s a pity the musicians have complete their appearances here. Even for the percussively jaded, this group is a knock-out.

- The Age (Melbourne, Australia) - Clive O’Connell, Reviewer


LAWRENCE -- Before hauling your junk to the driveway for curbside pickup, you might take another look and cock an ear to your discards' latent musical potential.

That is precisely what Scrap Arts Music director Gregory Kozak did several years ago in his hometown of Vancouver, Canada.

Seeking a distinctive sound beyond the standardized instrumentation of such conventionalized genres as jazz and rock, Kozak salvaged a medley of plastic pipes, hoses, coils, plumbing fixtures, two-by-fours, pop cans, steel bowls and aluminum drums, transforming them into a futuristic array of eye- and ear-grabbing sound generators.

The result of Kozak's quest is the aptly named Scrap Arts Music, a lively percussion quintet which proved Tuesday night at Lawrence's Lied Center that recycling can pay rich musical dividends.

In addition to devising the group's sonically and visually arresting instruments, Kozak serves as Scrap Arts Music's composer, choreographer and artistic director. However, unless one perused the credits in the program, one would have been hard-pressed to name the leader on the basis of the group's performance.

Indeed, each of the group's members -- Scott Bishop, Malcolm Shoolbraid, Sarka Kocicka, Simon Thomsen and Kozak -- had equal and ample time to strut his or her percussive stuff. Still, the group's principal effect was the result of its elaborate and precisely choreographed rhythms and movements.

In "Engine of the Future," for instance, the fivesome reached a thunderous climax abetted by close-quarter maneuvers worthy of the Rockettes and a cascade of sounds produced by such ingeniously named thump-machines as "annoy-o-phones," "hour glass drums," "gymnastic mat paddles" and a "junk-on-a-stick."

In the course of wending its way through an often astonishing program of Kozak originals graced with such titles as "Synthesoid Plasmatron," "Annoyophonia" and "Conundrum," the group demonstrated more than mere virtuosity.

Indeed, in soundscapes ranging from the explosive "Artillery Peace" (featuring instruments fashioned from huge artillery shells) to the delicately deployed tones of "Scrapology," the group essayed an impressive musicality in which melody and harmony and tonal color had as great an impact as percussion.

Scrap Art Music also brought a funny bone, which resonated with appropriate good and goofy cheer in Satie-esque miniatures, such as "Whorlies." Musical good humor also abounded in the more elaborate "Assembly Required," in which various lengths of exhaust tubing were constantly reconfigured to produce various pitches and timbres, including several "impolite" sounds that the Mel Brooks of "Blazing Saddles" would have heartily endorsed.

As evidenced by the delight of a host of youngsters, placing Scrap Arts Music in the Lied's Kansas Family Series proved sanguine. For adults, the quintet's emotionally stirring music made the point that percussion can be more than mere stomps or bangs on cans.

Chuck Berg is a professor at The University of Kansas. He can be reached at cberg@ku.edu.
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© Copyright 2003 CJOnline / The Topeka Capital-Journal / Morris Communications

- Topeka Capital-Journal -- Chuck Berg


To the periodic table of entertainment elements that contains names like SPECTRE and M*A*S*H may now be added SWARM The initials stand for Symphonic Work Assembly of Rhythm and Movement, which has come thumping, twanging and twirling out of Canada and into the New Victory Theater in the reborn Times Square for a stay through Feb. 22.
In human form, Swarm consists of five trained and talented musicians, four men and a woman, literally beating their way through -- and out of -- commonly accepted expression. By the time their 90-minute show has ended, they have evoked the primitive, embodied the hip and reached out toward an almost extraterrestrial avant-garde. All in all, Swarm proves to be a novel, lively curiosity.

To the periodic table of entertainment elements that contains names like SPECTRE and M*A*S*H may now be added SWARM The initials stand for Symphonic Work Assembly of Rhythm and Movement, which has come thumping, twanging and twirling out of Canada and into the New Victory Theater in the reborn Times Square for a stay through Feb. 22.

In human form, Swarm consists of five trained and talented musicians, four men and a woman, literally beating their way through -- and out of -- commonly accepted expression. By the time their 90-minute show has ended, they have evoked the primitive, embodied the hip and reached out toward an almost extraterrestrial avant-garde. All in all, Swarm proves to be a novel, lively curiosity.

Because the ensemble's primary instruments are drums, Swarm's music -- especially in the first half of the show -- can tend toward the monotonous, despite the neatly synchronized, highly energetic movements that send the players leaping, swaying and hopping while they perform, emitting an occasional yelp or chant and wheeling their drums around the stage.

Like their players, outfitted in orange coveralls or overalls and adorned with beards, head wraps or knitted caps, the drums are off the -- no pun intended -- regularly beaten path.

Among others, there are the Buddha belly, a 95-pound wearable drum suit looking like armor and beaten by the performer; tuned exhaust hoses, and a mandala drum with curved attachments. There is also an undulating marimba that looks from some angles like a section of dinosaur spine and ribs.

In the second half of the show, the music becomes more complex and interesting. On the stage at the outset are the 24-foot-long string, a stainless steel nine-string instrument resembling a laser gun, played with rosin-covered gloves; nearby is an instrument that looks like a lunar lander with dish antennas, thin cables and struts. It can be bowed, plucked and thumped in conjunction with the long string.

In this piece the performers are costumed like space travelers, and their music possesses an otherworldly quality.

The innovative, inventive intellects and inexhaustible bodies behind Swarm are Scott Bishop, Dave Hatfield, Robin Reid and the ensemble's co-founders, Gregory Kozak and Bill Wallace.

SWARM

The Symphonic Work Assembly of Rhythm and Movement, a Canadian-based percussion band. Co-founders, Gregory Kozak and Bill Wallace; director of art, Mr. Wallace; director of music and composer, Mr. Kozak; instrument designer, Mr. Wallace. Presented by the New 42d Street. At the New Victory Theater, 209 West 42d Street, Manhattan.

WITH: Scott Bishop, Dave Hatfield, Gregory Kozak, Robin Reid and Bill Wallace.

- The New York Times


by RUPERT BOTTENBERG

The musical art of percussion, in North America, is founded largely on imports. We investigate styles from around the globe and throughout history, processing and reconfiguring, for lack of a strong tradition of our own. Gregory Kozak, leader of Vancouver’s five-piece Scrap Arts Music ensemble, has gone further than most in uncovering an original North American voice of rhythmic pops, thumps, rattles and crashes.

“I’m in a really affluent society here,” he says, “with wonderful garbage all around me. I just thought, where’s my voice in all this? Where’s my village music, as it were? I don’t want to get the tribal thing happening here, but who am I?

“All the Indian, Asian and African music that I love, the people who play them build instruments out of the crap and debris around them. They can’t afford to send away to Taiwan for their bongos or to Philadelphia for their metal shells. So they get resourceful and creative and these amazing craftsmen come up with instruments that I love, things you can pick up and go, ‘Wow, a human being made this.’”

Which means Kozak is as inspired by the way different cultures trump Mother Necessity as he is by specific percussive approaches from Latin America, Africa, Asia and India.

“It’s none of the above, and it’s a blend of all of the above. When you’re playing instruments of your own creation, these sounds have never been heard before. I’ve got things that I call musical instruments that are thrown-away, stainless-steel, industrial-hose-coupling chunks of metal. They aren’t musical instruments, I’ve just decided to call them that. I’ve tuned them with chopsaws, bent them and welded them, and now they’re my colour palette. It’s like I’m painting and these are my tonal colours.”

Sound to be seen

There’s plenty of vibrant visual colour to a Scrap Arts Music performance as well, not to mention explosively energetic yet precisely choreographed dance and fascinating design. The stage is full of Kozak’s unique creations, drums and noisemakers assembled out of oil cans, artillery shells, monkey bars and who knows what else. All are arranged in a manner that suggests both an ancient temple and a futuristic spaceship. Charging headfirst through Kozak’s compositions are a team of remarkable drummer-dancers.

“They’re great people, and really smart, strong, athletic players who aren’t happy unless they’re playing at their peak. The demand from them has been, ‘Neat stuff, Greg, it’s fun, but make us work!’ That’s a great challenge to rise to.”

Scrap Arts Music make a point of booking early shows and making what they do accessible to children. Kozak also does workshops for kids, particularly the “at risk” kind from inner-city environments. “I’m still a kid,” he says, “still in the place where they are, only I have this adult body and get adult permission to go about the world freely and explore. That’s what I’m encouraging them to do. I’m asking them, what’s our definition of garbage? What are we throwing away here? I don’t have to bang that drum very loudly. They’re right on it.”

The outside line

At the same time, Kozak takes care not to proselytize, though his work could be seen as a very concrete display of ecological activism in action. “I’m not trying to wave any flags or put forward any ideologies. I’m very hesitant to do so, especially in our mixed-up world. If there’s only one thing I do, though, it’s pass on ideas and hopefully inspire some people. By messing around with these sounds, a language is coming. I’ve just cracked the door on this thing—I think I’ve got lifetimes of possibilities that I myself have found, and people will come after me, doing their own thing in a similar vein.”

Likewise, Kozak nods to those who came before him. One can look past Test Department and their junkheap industrial rock (heavy metal, indeed!) to the likes of Bradford Reed’s pencilina, Leonard Solomon’s bellowphone, Wendy Mae Chambers’ car-horn organ and of course the legendary composer, theorist and train-hoppin’ hobo Harry Partch (to whom, in particular, Kozak tips his hat). “I’m part of a lineage. There’s a long tradition of people we’d call outsiders creating the most amazing things.

“I’ve always loved that experimentation because of the possibilities and because of the fun. You gotta admit, there’s a big element of humour in what these people are putting together. That’s what my music is about, too. It’s happy, vibrant, positive—I love being a human being and this is the best planet to do it on.” : - Montreal Mirror


Discography

Fabrication Laboratory (1998)
Phon (2001)
Scrapology (2002)
Composition for Sigh-chordions and Strings (2004)
Concerto for Chariot of Choir and Strings (2009)

Photos

Bio

GREGORY KOZAK composes music, creates innovative instruments and choreographs movement. He is both an ensemble musician and a concert soloist. He is Artistic Director of Scrap Arts Music, a creation and performance-based company he co–founded with Justine Murdy in 1998. His world-class five-member touring ensemble, 'ScrapArtsMusic', exclusively plays his 145+ invented instruments and his original repertoire at leading international festivals and theatres around the world.

A musician schooled in jazz and world music who draws inspiration from the avant-garde composers of the 20th century, Kozak learned the art of welding in order to create instruments that could give voice to his unique musical vision.

"Kozak's instruments tend to be, in the spirit of American composer Harry Partch,
mutated versions of the familiar, whether twirling hoses that render an airborne
layer of sound or mini-versions of concertina accordions. Their capabilities are limited
but distinctive, resulting in ethereal sounds that meld willingly with traditional
instruments and give them a whole new cast."
-- PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER (David Patrick Stearns)

Gregory's concern over our throw-away society inspired him to build his instruments exclusively from industrial scrap and found objects.

"Kozak just may have single-handedly performed a million acts of green."
-- WINNIPEG FREE PRESS (Gwenda Nemerofsky)

A musician first and foremost, Kozak was recently commissioned by the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) to compose a new work inspired by the theme of Extace! (ecstacy) for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. The 13-minute piece made its debut at the 2009 WSO New Music Festival and featured Gregory as soloist with his latest invention, the 32-foot long, 22-stringed instrument dubbed the “Chariot of Choir”. Components of this invented instrument demonstrate Kozak’s signature re-use of scrapped materials, including parts from a BC saw mill, a mini submarine ballast, and a flying saucer prop from a low-budget sci-fi flick – all serving ingenious musical functions in their re-purposing.

“Gregory Kozak's 'Concerto for Chariot of Choir and Strings' provided the magic
for the night.”
-- WINNIPEG FREE PRESS (Holly Harris)

Innovative exploration and collaboration have characterized much of Gregory Kozak’s artistic and professional career.

He composed a symphonic piece for 65 young classical musicians and invented instruments, which was performed at the Vancouver International Children’s Festival’s 20th anniversary celebrations in 1997. Later that year, his first show of original work toured the US and made an acclaimed Broadway debut in February 1998.

"They have evoked the primitive, embodied the hip and reached out to an almost
extraterrestrial avant-garde."
-- THE NEW YORK TIMES (Lawrence Van Gelder)

Gregory’s first CD of original music, entitled "Fabrication Laboratory", was released that summer.

In July 1998, Gregory Kozak and partner Justine Murdy established Scrap Arts Music - an artistic company devoted to creating new instruments that would further Gregory's compositional and performance possibilities. Soon after a group of five spirited and uniquely talented performers was playing before large crowds at sporting arenas and international arts festivals. Gregory’s second CD of original music, "Phon", featuring quintet and well over a hundred invented instruments, was released in 2001.

Since the release of "Phon", Gregory Kozak and his quintet have toured the world performing ScrapArtsMusic's signature invented instrument extravaganza before literally hundreds of thousands of fans in Canada, USA, UK, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, Netherlands, Mexico, Belgium, Spain, Guatemala and Taiwan.

In addition to festival and theatre engagements, Gregory has also received commissions to create original works for ScrapArtsMusic and other performers, including chamber orchestras, circus companies and dancers. One such collaboration was with the esteemed Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia; "Composition for Sighchordions and Strings" had its world premiere at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center in 2004.

"'Composition for Sigh-Chordians and Strings' is a beautifully evocative piece that
pairs the eerie sounds of the wind with the focused tones of string instruments.
It proffers an arching structure that is delineated through the rising and falling of
intensities and speeds, and it travels through time with an hypnotic power over
the listener. 'Synthesoid Plasmatron', 'Ribs' and 'Agreement' are all more percussive
in nature, and yet if anything all three are even more varied in timbral color and
textural range... Kozak's sense of unfolding form is flawless... and his ear for the
imaginative layering of propulsive rhythms is impeccable."
-- CHESTNUT HILL REVIEW (Michael