Turning Discarded Objects into Musical Instruments as a Message for The Environment.
(Part 1)

Stijn Claeys / Musician and Engineer

Music and Engineering are Our Inspirations.

Geared up in protective suits and gas masks, Trashbeatz plays pieces of rubbish repurposed into original musical instruments. Engineer Stijn Claeys, the band leader, is driven by a passion for music backed by his rich experience with musical instruments and a quirky urge to create.

Percussion instruments turn my energy straight into music.

My mother loves music so deeply, she made it a major part of my childhood. I started taking lessons on the piano and trumpet at age 6. Later, in my teens, my repertoire grew to include a whole range of percussion instruments, as well as the French horn and trombone. My love for percussion began at about age 12. With a drum set I could turn my energy directly into music.
Another fun part of percussion was improvisation. My education in classical music prepared me to play what was written, but not to create music off the cuff. If a friend asked me to make music on the piano at the spur of the moment, I would hesitate and flop. Ad-libbing with percussion instruments came more naturally and brought me more joy. Slowly, over time, I got the feel for creating music from scratch.

The seven-year-old Stijn playing a drum at a family party. Stijn could already play the piano, trumpet, and several other instruments.

The engineering mind creates musical instruments.

Though music was a major part of my life throughout my boyhood and teens, I never chose it as a future vocation. My parents encouraged me to acquire skills and knowledge in other fields that inspired me. When I started college at age 18, I began to study engineering. By learning the principles of that field, I hoped to understand the mechanisms at work in acoustic and electric instruments. I continued playing acoustic music at college, and immersed myself in hands-on projects to produce sounds electronically. In one project I designed and built an equalizer.

Stijn’s graduation assignment, a hand-built equalizer, produced the quality of sound he wanted to achieve. His professor was also pleased.

With the engineering knowledge I learned at school, I can understand how things operate within a system and make unconventional designs work practically in real life. This is the perfect mindset for creating a musical instrument from scratch. The guitar, as we know it today, makes a good example. The instrument has evolved through a long process of change and modification, and is evolving still today. Other objects can produce the sound of a guitar, even without a wooden body. A piece of trash with the required properties can do the trick: as long as the mechanism is understood, the sound can be recreated. This approach to music, through engineering, together with my experience with musical instruments, led me to Trashbeatz.

A challenge to create low-cost musical instruments.

Trashbeatz started as a workshop I organized for Formaat, the Flemish Federation of Youth clubs. I wanted to do something challenging, something nobody had ever tried before. I decided to work with Koen Boone, now a member of Trashbeatz, on an idea to turn domestic waste into musical instruments. We thought the idea was brilliant. Creating musical instruments was exciting to begin with, and we could do it cheaply using discarded objects. We ventured out with a minivan and collected two loads of discarded household waste. Then we invited people in our neighborhood to come to a workshop to fashion the waste objects into percussion instruments.

Stijn and Koen collecting waste materials to be hand-fashioned into musical instruments in their workshop.

Over the next two days, participants came to the workshop to create and play musical instruments of their own. As a grand finale for the event we organized a mini-concert. The participants were thrilled to share the joy of making sounds, especially the people who had never played musical instruments before. They also loved our costumes, the protective suits and gas masks. At first we wore them to collect the waste. Later, we decided to keep them as the symbolic uniform of Trashbeatz. Inspired by the success of the workshop, we traveled to many places to hold more of them and give concerts through which Trashbeatz came into being.

The first workshop in Brussels took place in 2003. Participants enjoyed making musical instruments and creating music with them. At the end of the workshop they performed in front of an audience.That was the moment Trashbeatz was born.

Read the Part 2

Stijn Claeys / Musician and Engineer
Stijn Claeys from Ghent, Belgium, is a full-time engineer working in a high-tech company. He is also the leader and percussionist of Trashbeatz, a band that creates original instruments from waste materials. The band plays their instruments in white protective suits and gas masks. They perform to raise awareness of the finite resources of the planet. One day they hope to release an album and stage a world tour to spread their message far and wide.

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