Scrap Arts Music is a joyous collision of creativity, experimental sound, and energetic movement, with percussion pieces performed on reborn hunks of junk. It’s challenging to describe and impossible to ignore.
Since 1998, when he founded Scrap Arts Music in Vancouver with his wife Justine Murdy, composer and performer Gregory Kozak has built more than two hundred otherworldly, fanciful percussion instruments. Think, Dr. Seuss meets steampunk with a hint of Rube Goldberg. The instruments are built from items Kozak scavenges from industrial scrapyards, metal shops, and dumpsters. The only new elements are drumheads and some of the wheels. All the instruments are portable, so the performers can push them around the stage, which they do constantly. One instrument—a funky tricycle-like contraption Kozak welded together from hunks of discarded metal—can even be ridden as it’s played,
“It carries and moves stuff, but it’s also covered with bells and horns and things,” Kozak says. “I made these metallic things that look like flames to come out of a door, like musical chimes.”
COVID-19 brought a stop to touring and performing for Scrap Arts. The unexpected break gave Kozak and Murdy, who now live in Victoria, B.C., time to complete their latest project, Children of Metropolis, which their company has been presenting as a work-in-progress since 2017. They’re adding film to the eighty-minute “percussive bonanza” of eleven compositions played on 145 Kozak-created instruments. They’re also adding a storytelling element that emphasizes the origins of the upcycled instruments, something they say audiences can unfortunately miss, despite program notes. “We don’t have words in our performance and people just didn’t make the leap to think that those instruments used to be scrap,” Murdy says.
The latest iteration tells the story of Grigor (Kozak), a junk collector living in the remains of the city German filmmaker Fritz Lang created in his 1927 silent film Metropolis. Grigor impulsively starts to make instruments from things he finds, which eventually help save the city’s citizens.
With her background in architecture, Murdy has the kind of organizing mind that makes her a perfect creative partner. She also works on the artistic side, looking after all aspects of art direction, from costumes to staging, designing, and running lighting for the Scrap Arts Music performances.
Victoria-based filmmaker and writer Andrew Struthers, whose Hinterland Who’s Who spoof Spiders on Drugs went viral in 2006, made the film that will be continually projected behind the musicians in Children of Metropolis. Scrap Arts’ five-musician corps is tightly choreographed and constantly in motion onstage. The physicality of the performance inevitably draws comparisons to Blue Man Group and Stomp—in fact, one former member went on to join Blue Man Group, and another is now with Cirque du Soleil.
“It’s hard and meticulous work that I love to do,” Kozak says. “I’m trying to build an orchestra of invented musical instruments and with that, our attempt to bring people into the world that emerges from making stuff with your own two hands.”
Every Scrap Arts instrument has a story. Take the three-legged, bug-like standing drum Kozak made from a discarded airplane propeller housing, steel bowls, and aluminum rods. He’s especially proud of the beautiful Bellini accordion he rescued from a dumpster. He cut it up, separated the reed banks, capped them with pieces he found in “a plumbing boneyard” and made fifteen new instruments that he dubbed “Sigh-Chordians.” They can be played either by blowing into them through a tube, or working them like a squeezebox.
“I did actually compose a piece for the Sigh-Chordians and the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra that we premiered, and they sounded beautiful with the orchestra’s fantastic string section,” says Kozak.
The Canada Council for the Arts has supported the creation, rehearsals, and production of Children of Metropolis, and most recently supported the development of a multimedia app for the production. Scrap Arts hopes to return to touring as soon as restrictions ease, and there are plans to play the Ottawa Chamberfest summer festival in July 2022.

FYI: Scrap Arts Music is recording its second album, the music from Children of Metropolis. They’ll be in the studio in August or September, supported by funding from FACTOR (Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings).