connecting zero waste and musical creativity through resourcefulness
“Records are made out of oil. All those big rock shows go from town to town in fuel-gobbling 45 foot trucks… and when they get there, they use up enormous amounts of electrical energy with their lights, their amplifiers, their PA systems… their smoke machines. And all those synthesizers… look at all the plastic they got in ‘em… and the guitar picks… you name it…” (Frank Zappa, Joe’s Garage, Liner notes, 1979, CBS).
Our global ecological crises – climate change, plastic pollution, species extinctions, ecosystem degradation etc. – are not usually associated with the music industry. Yet, as part of modern civilisation, pollution and waste inevitably comes from a music industry geared towards entertainment, art and profit at the expense ecological health and survival. But can musicians play a role in responding to ecological overshoot by harnessing the creative tools we use for musical artistry?
A useful touchpoint where creative and ‘eco-friendly’ practices meet is in the innate human skill of resourcefulness—making do with the resources available to you. Resourcefulness requires creativity and lateral thinking, both of which can help to achieve artistic outcomes while reharmonising our modern lifestyles with the Earth. Resourcefulness is, in other words, creativity for Papatūānuku.
Making musical instruments from repurposed materials is a way of expressing this environmentalist/resourceful aesthetic. Repurposing materials for musical instruments – whether junk/waste, found/rescued objects, natural materials, household items – is an age-old tradition. However, today’s environmental crises give this practice new purpose and a different type of necessity. Ecological considerations should lead us to consider the materials we use, where they come from, what they’re made of, how they behave when we use them, and where they will end up in future. Sticking trash together with disposable sticky tape or toxic glues, or turning highly recyclable materials into unrecyclable instruments that are hardly used, might create more problems than they solve.
This article describes the processes and importance of a resourceful musical practice. It provides a background to music’s environmental impacts, zero waste principles, and aspects of mātauranga Māori to highlight the relevance of musicians being resource-aware when making music. It also explores examples of ecologically oriented resourceful music-making from Aotearoa and around the globe, including my own attempts as a case study.
Liam Prince has a background in both music and the zero waste movement. He is co-founder of The Rubbish Trip, Chair of the Aotearoa Plastic Pollution Alliance, Compost Manager at Kaicycle, researcher at Zero Waste Network, and Co-Founder of Takeaway Throwaways. Liam studied jazz performance (drums) at Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music from 2010-2013, completed a Masters in Musicology in 2017, and taught musicology at Massey University in 2020