Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
Japanese musician Ei Wada hears tunes in your trashed machines.
According to the latest numbers from the United Nations, the world generated 14.1 million tons of small appliance waste in 2014, made of the discarded vacuum cleaners, microwaves, toasters, and video cameras you once treasured, then tossed. There were 7 million tons of scrapped screens, 3.3 million tons of small IT equipment (PCs, keyboards, scanners, etc.), and 1.1 million tons of lamps.
For Japanese experimental musician Ei Wada, those mountains of garbage are music. Since 2009, he’s been recycling e-waste to make strange but compelling electronic instruments.
Wada, an experimental musician and artist, studied programming before he turned to traditional Indonesian Gamelan music. As Motherboard’s Emiko Jozuka reports, Wada was fooling around with some old cassette tapes one day when he noticed they made noises similar to the “alien” ones emitted by Gamelan ensembles.
Now Wada—joined by an occasional merry band of recycling musicians—tries to recreate those folk sounds using the machines people don’t want anymore. His music groups, the Open Reel Ensemble and the Braun Tube Jazz Band, make thumping, electronic dance numbers using reel-to-reel tape recorders, cathode ray tube (CRT)-dependent TV sets, PCs, discarded ventilator fans, and turntables.
An arrangement of four tall glass columns crowned by tape reels, each slowly leaking black tape that piles up at the bottom of each case, creating almost geological patterns. When the reels are empty, they reverse—and the music they each contain starts to play.
“All these tech objects are a symbol of Japan’s economic growth, but they also get thrown away in great numbers,” Wada told Motherboard. “It’s good to not just say bye to things that are thrown away, but to instill old things with new meaning, and celebrate their unique points.”
For the e-waste, at least, it’s a more scintillating second life than a trash heap.