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Building a Handgun Music Box Is a Crapshoot

But Tadas Maksimovas' 10-pistol instrument is a blast.

by DJ Pangburn
Dec 17 2015, 2:40pm

Images courtesy the artist

We hear it over and over again, echoing across every time there's an active shooter or a trigger happy deputy—“Guns don’t kill people, people do," a lyric that's lost its meaning, if ever it had meaning to begin with. But this hasn't deterred Amsterdam-based artist Tadas Maksimovas from reclaiming the phrase and remixing it for his gun-based musical instrument, The Gun Music Box.

Maksimovas characterizes it on his website as nearly the same as a customizable music box one might find in a toy shop. But this one is larger, and Maksimovas and his team have replaced a traditional music box's steel combs with 10 working pistols. "[I]n instead of playing music, it shoots the beat," Maksimovas explains. "This was our way of using guns for a more positive reason than killing, by converting them into instruments and creating music. Not everything worked out perfectly but what is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?"

In crafting The Gun Music Box, Maksimovas' team researched gun instruments online, then met with Dutch craftsman Akko Goldenbeld, who made a music box that plays the sounds of Eindhoven. They then sought out "slingshot genius" Jorg Sprave, who built a prototype music box that helped the team create a triggering mechanism for the finished product. The team also visited a music box museum in Utrecht, and bought some toy music boxes to figure out how they work through reverse engineering.

This apparently was the easy part. The real challenge, according to Maksimovas, was obtaining licenses for each of the 10 pistols, a task that he describes as "very time-consuming." They also found that bullets often became jammed in the barrel, and triggers would break quite easily.

"To keep the neighbors happy and not accidentally shoot anyone while playing it we used a programmable wooden Barrel-Organ," Maksimovas explains. Where we altered it slightly to play the same notes no matter which key is kicked." Initially, instead of buying a rare and expensive wooden barrel-organ, the team attempted to 3D-print one—several, in fact, none of which worked. So they ended up buying a wooden barrel-organ anyway.

"Once the beat was created we tested it on this toy and later transferred the positions of each pin to the main gun music box," Maksimovas explains. "[And] once the instrument was made it was time to make a music track with it. We wanted to write a song emphasizing the main concept: make music, not war. This is where up-and-coming music artist MC Mesijus joined us to make a music track using The Gun Music Box."

The team shot a music video to accompany The Gun Music Box, but the mass shootings at the Bataclan in Paris gave the team some reservations, and the The Gun Music Box itself took on a symbolic meaning the team hadn't intended. Yet, Maksimovas still feels that the pistol-powered musical instrument makes an equally symbolic statement of peace, creativity, and craftsmanship. Check out the making of The Gun Music Box below:

The Making of The Gun Music Box from Tadas Maksimovas on Vimeo.

Click here to see more of Tadas Maksimovas's work.

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