Don’t trash it, play it

Musician Gil Bohadana creates a special kind of harmony with instruments in which even a Kassam can produce a hit of the positive kind.

Gil Bohadana 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gil Bohadana 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There are musical instruments with a pedigree, like a Stradivarius violin and a Steinway piano. And there are those like Gil Bohadana plays – which are garbage.
If ever you needed proof that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, Bohadana is the person to go to. As part of Bohadana’s Groovy Junkyard Project, he collects all sorts of discarded items and turns them into instruments.
It hits the right note in an age in which recycling and saving the environment combine with world music.
I recently got a glimpse of Bohadana’s considerable talents at a short performance at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory – a show in which improvisation and imagination struck a chord.
Among the instruments Bohadana plays – or plays with – are gas cylinders with carefully prepared “tongues” cut out, each one creating a different note. “It’s my ‘All that gas’ piece,” quips Bohadana.
Another unusual instrument, with particularly humble origins, is constructed from old sewage pipes. He strikes the openings with rubber flipflops to create music that he dedicates to Israeli bureaucracy with a Hebrew title Betzinorot hamekubalim – “through the regular channels.”
When Bohadana talks of having something “in the pipeline,” you immediately wonder what material the pipe is made from. The water sprinkler turned PVC flute based on the Indian bansuri, the metal parts of windscreen wipers that become an African kalimba (or thumb piano), the Australian lager-phone, combining beer bottle tops with an old broomstick – these are only some of the instruments Bohadana uses to create harmony of both the musical and the philosophical type. One of his drums, for instance, is the drum of a washing machine doing the sort of cycle that exists only on his musical program.
Bohadana, 46, is a member of Kibbutz Yasur in Galilee, where he runs other musical enterprises with his wife, Hagit (“She’s a real musician,” he says).
He has always been involved in music, playing various wind instruments – including recorder, clarinet and saxophone – as a child and in a youth orchestra. After military service, Bohadana traveled abroad extensively and was exposed to many different sounds and instruments.
On his return, he began trying to recreate them with what he could find locally – very locally; literally in his backyard or the garbage.
His ideas come from, well, anywhere. “In the Far East, in Vietnam and Cambodia, for instance, I saw instruments made out of bamboo, which I wanted to recreate; but apart from the fact that bamboo is not readily found in Israel, it’s also not suited to our climate, hence the idea of the plastic sewage pipes and sprinklers,” he explains.
Imagination does not hamper his work, but there are practicalities to consider: “I made the pipes so they could be folded down and fit into the trunk of my car.”
Pretty much anything goes as far as Bohadana’s concerned. “I have used door frames, closets, the handlebars of a bike, a finger- football game, all sorts of springs...”
One of the most unusual instruments – and surely the most Israeli – is made from the remnants of a Kassam missile, which Bohadana turns into a type of xylophone in a welcome twist on the concept of beating swords into plowshares.
“It originated when I gave a performance in a shelter in Sderot and someone brought me the Kassam shell,” Bohadana recounts. The Kassam casing produces a different sound, depending on where it is struck. The missile music became a surprise hit on YouTube, where many Bohadana clips appear.
The Groovy Junkyard Project ( is part of Bohadana’s broader Eco-Music Project, which combines performances, often with ex-Riverdance percussionist Abe Doron; the Green Sounds workshops that teach children about music and the environment (and how to build their own recycled instruments); and the construction of “musical gardens.”
It’s hard to imagine someone more in tune with his surroundings. And indeed, Bohadana’s background as a former professional landscape artist is evident, for example, in the musical environmental sculptures that he creates for parks and playgrounds.
He talks – and plays – with enthusiasm and obviously finds his work a lot of fun. He also still travels extensively collecting ideas on the road (and that includes in the gutters and hard shoulders, of course.) The Bohadanas are taking the Groovy Junkyard to the US on January 23.
IN HIS workshops in schools and kindergartens, Bohadana (the father of two young daughters, both musical) grabs the minds and imaginations of the next generation.
While many of the instruments require adult supervision or help (do not try to turn gas cylinders into drums at home), others are simple enough for even preschoolers to create and use, such as plastic water bottle drums; plastic lemon bottles that create the sound of owls; and a metal tray that makes a perfect gong.
After his performance, my young son and I began looking at the wok in our kitchen as a cool instrument rather than just a deep frying pan, and we enjoyed toying with the idea of what Bohadana would do with an old, burnedout electric radiator – an eyesore that could become music to the ears.
Discussion of what key to play takes on a different meaning, having seen Bohadana shaking an anklet made of old keys and bottle tops as he blows down the plastic piping that used to belong in the cowshed.
Since teaching about music and the environment is such an important part of Bohadana’s work, it is no surprise to find that he has coauthored a children’s book (being published imminently in Hebrew) with nature writer Ran Levy-Yamamori. It combines a story and instructions on how to make some of his instruments.
“The story is about a boy who is always picking up trash, and all the kids laugh at him until they end up playing in his orchestra.”
It seems fitting to end on that happy note...