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Dylan Martorell Made An Instrument Out Of Chopsticks And Potatoes

Vice: Here in Australia, people are most familiar with your intricate line drawings.

by Briony Wright
02 November 2008, 12:00am



Vice: Here in Australia, people are most familiar with your intricate line drawings. Is that what you mainly focus on?

Dylan Martorell:
Not really. Many of my previous exhibitions haven’t even involved drawing—they were more focused around video and sound art. I draw all the time so it’s nice to have a break sometimes. The drawings in my latest exhibition, “Umbel Ballits,” were very different from my usual intricate, improvised kind of drawings. They were essentially musical scores that I turned into diagrams—more like a cross between math and music, using really strict rules. It was nice to not have a choice and to have quite defined guidelines and rules.

So those drawings are actually pieces of music?

Yeah, it was based on a grid where the vertical axis was time and the horizontal was hertz frequencies. I did the drawings straight from the sheet music and then, as part of the show, performed the scores from my drawings using instruments I had made. I’d never heard them before so it was really interesting. Depending on the structure, some of them could be played on a keyboard or a melodica. One of them sounded horrible but a few of them sounded pretty good.

Neato. You’re in a couple of bands as well.

Yeah, I’m in a band called Snawklor. A lot of it is field recordings that we run underneath other sounds and effects from instruments that I make. Usually everything I do is quite minimal—layers of minimalism. I’m not doing hot licks or anything but maybe that will come in 40 years when I actually learn how to play an instrument. When I do my shredding album.

And what about your other band, the Hi God People?

Because it’s quite a big group, we tend to break up a couple of times a year—someone will say they’ve had enough—but then we always get back together. I think the Hi God People should be like Menudo and just recruit young people all the time. Fresh blood. I think the band should keep going, but I don’t know if any of us should still be in it.

You seem to have an ongoing fascination with all things organic. Where does that come from?

I’ve always used the basic structure of plants as an inspiration for my work and as the building blocks for my sculptures and drawings. It makes its way into my music also. For instance, I made an instrument out of potatoes and chopsticks and built it around a platform of keyboards. The potatoes were essentially playing the keyboards.

You also make a lot of elaborate costumes.

I’ve been designing and making costumes for different shows for 12 years, but most of them are for exhibitions now. I’ve decided not to wear costumes on stage anymore. I decided that it’s better to actually be playing my instrument. I really don’t know why it took me so long to come to this conclusion—there have been gigs where my costume was so big that I’d be onstage and not able to reach the frets on the guitar or the keyboard. It didn’t work so well. We relied heavily on the smoke machine.

Have you ever been asked to make something for anything other than a performance, like a wedding dress, for example?

No, but I was asked to play at a wedding with one of my first bands, and that didn’t turn out so well. I accidentally whipped the bride in the face with a rubber snake, which was one of our stage props. She was in tears. That was a shameful moment of my life.

Sorry. What does the future hold for you?

Next year I’ll be doing a residency in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. There’s so much happening over there right now—lots of people from Melbourne going over to play and exhibit. The punk scene over there is really strong too, apparently, so I’m not too sure how they’re going to digest our drone fest. We’ll probably get run out of town. The plan is that we’ll be over there doing workshops with kids, which I’m really excited about. I want to rent a place and make it an open house for traveling Australians. Apparently you can rent a place there for $600 a year.



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