The Making of Thingamajigs

The new Berkeley Art Museum artists-in-residence will teach kids how to make instruments out of found objects.

As it turns out, bamboo, tin cans, buckets, postage tape, pinecones, and soda straws are the stuff of great instruments. So say the folks behind Thingamajigs, an arts organization devoted to throwing to the wind everything you thought about music — starting with reimagining the tools used to make it in the first place.

The group first got started in 1997 while founders Edward Schocker and Dylan Bolles were studying at Mills College, whose contemporary music program is famous for churning out artists and composers keenly focused on thinking outside of the box. “The idea is based on getting as far as possible away from Europe and the heavy Western tradition,” said Schocker. “California is about as far away as you can get from that without heading to the East. And Mills College is pretty central to that culture here.”

As part of that departure, and influenced by the East Bay’s entrenched culture of makers and tinkerers, the duo started an annual music festival focused on creating music through found objects. “A lot of people at Mills at the time were experimenting with electronic music,” Schocker said. “We were some of the few people who were working acoustically, but we wanted to challenge people’s notions of that as well.”

The festival was a success and continued to grow in popularity each year, and in 2000 Schocker and Bolles realized what started as a day-long event could become a lot more. They created a performance group, set up an artist exchange, and added an educational program that brought them into Oakland public schools — many of which can’t afford their own instruments — to teach kids how to build and play instruments made out of materials in their immediate environment. Five years ago, they incorporated as a nonprofit.

And starting on July 21, the Thingamajigs Performance Group will be artists-in-residence at Berkeley Art Museum, collaborating with poet Sasha Hom to investigate the ideas of “Migrations, Maps, and Labyrinths” in a month-long series of performances, talks, workshops, and open rehearsals. Join them this Sunday, July 21, at Berkeley Art Museum (2575 Bancroft Way) to play some “thingamajigs,” build your own, and listen to the artists perform some of their own compositions.

The event will kick off the performance group’s residency, and Schocker says it’s no coincidence that its program will start with something so focused on kids; it’s significiant that its particular mode of experimentation appeals as much to the art world as to small children. “When kids see someone playing an instrument built out of sticks or pinecones, they see it for what it is — their eyes open up and they want to learn how to play it themselves,” Schocker said. “They don’t think, ‘Oh, that’s weird or unusual.’ It’s that magic that’s still very much there.” Noon-2 p.m., $7. 510-642-0808 or


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