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Tunes for toys 

Pablo Picasso once proclaimed himself king of the rag pickers. Straddling the worlds of visual and aural arts, embracing old music boxes, tube amplifiers, rotisserie grill motors, toys and such, Frank Pahl is, at the very least, among the bric-a-brac royalty.

There’s a long pause when he’s asked to explain his aesthetic. His varied projects since the ’80s have included music with the groups Only a Mother and the Scavenger Quartet, music for theater and dance, sundry solo projects and art-space installations.

“Oh, jeez, I haven’t said anything,” he eventually says, almost apologetically, then talks about creating work that’s friendly while embracing low-tech instrumentation and often overlooked or forgotten music. That just starts to describe his musical funhouse.

Consider his upcoming show at Artcite in Windsor. In three installations, contraptions will manipulate music, texts and visuals from films The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (music by Ennio Morricone) and The Magnificent Seven (music by Elmer Bernstein). Another installation, using a modified music box, operates as a sort of homage to composer Toru Takemitsu.

Part of the attraction is that his motor-driven musical automatons make music, he says, “by synching up, but not synching up entirely.” Delightful coincidences are inevitable.

And for the opening, Pahl and three friends will sit around a card table to perform a suite mostly for toys and entirely in the key of C. They’ll have an array of glockenspiels, xylophones, melodicas, cowbells, woodblocks, toy drums, a couple of baritone ukuleles, etc.

This won’t be your typical pop transposed for toys, he promises. “It has more to do with minimalism,” although there’s also a mariachi section, and admittedly other things that take it “all over the place.”

And when Pahl gets around to fully defining his aesthetic, there’ll have to be something about his knack for taking viewers and listeners “all over the place.”

Frank Pahl’s Toy Band Little Bang Theory performs at 8 and 9:30 p.m., Saturday, May 21, at Artcite (109 University Ave. West, Windsor; 519-977-6564). The exhibit Four Quartets continues Wednesday-Saturday through June 18. His Scavenger Quartet plays June 24 at Xhedos in Ferndale.

What it takes
Frank Pahl’s list of instruments and devices.

W. Kim Heron is the managing editor of Metro Times. Send comments to

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