Throughout his life, Gunnar Schonbeck, a musician and professor at Bennington College, believed that anyone and anything can make music. Armed with this simple philosophy and an arsenal of ordinary objects and scrap materials, he created more than 1,000 unique musical instruments that can be played by anyone, regardless of skill level.
More than 200 of Schonbeck’s unconventional instruments are on display at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, in an exhibit aptly titled “No Experience Required.” The eccentric collection includes drums made from aircraft fuselages, a towering 9-foot banjo, a steel-string harp, and ukuleles made from coconuts.
The collection includes colorful monochords in the shape of trapezoids, and triangle-shaped cellos. There is a “Western Gamelan” made from the leaf springs of automobiles, and a series of “Sound Towers,” large plywood boxes that can be struck with a mallet to make a sound.
Schonbeck constructed his instruments over a 50-year period, up until his death in 2005. Six years later, Mark Stewart, a former student of Schonbeck’s and Paul Simon’s music director, brought the instruments to the museum. All are open to visitors to play, honoring Schonbeck’s belief that every human being is a musician.