S2E15. A hail of music notes
In his latest project, Serbian socially-engaged artist Nikola Macura transforms weapons into musical instruments: "If you can change the sound of objects, you can also change the purpose of their use"
welcome back to BarBalkans, the newsletter with blurred boundaries.
What sound can a weapon make?
The hiss of a rocket, the hail of bullets fired from a kalašnikov, the explosion of a bomb.
The noise of war, which deafened the Western Balkans in the Nineties.
Or you can create a symphony, turning the noise into music.
All it takes is someone changing the purpose of weapons’ use, starting with those that have caused death in the past.
From the noise of war to the sound of peace.
In Serbia, Nikola Macura is showing that this is possible.
Nikola, can you explain how did you come up with the idea of transforming weapons into musical instruments?
“I’m a sculpturer and I’m employed at the Novi Sad Academy of Arts as an assistant professor in the Department of Sculpture.
I deal with sculpture, installation and intervention in public space and I’ve been involved in socially-engaged art for almost 20 years.
To date I’ve made a large number of installations and my very last project, still in progress, concerns the relationship between sculpture and sound.
I’ve called it From noise to sound. It is a process of redesigning military waste - like weapons, helmets, guns, rifles, grenades - into sound objects. Or rather, musical instruments.
I came up with this idea six years ago, because I wanted to do something with old weapons that are all around us in the Western Balkans. Unfortunately, here there is a lot of military waste, because of the Yugoslav wars in the Nineties.
At the very beginning I made a light installation called Disco helmets. Only then I started to create a sound installation”.
How was the beginning of this new project?
“Well, six years ago I was alone creating the first percussions, without the help of any musician. At the beginning, I didn’t expect that these objects could make music, I just wanted to get new sounds.
However, I was surprised when player Milica Svilar told me that she could actually play the cello I created from a mortar. That’s when I started thinking in a new way: how can I create objects that are able to make music?
So I realized that the first percussions were not so good, becuse they didn’t have the sound I expected.
Even if these are not proper musical instruments, it is very complex to create objects that make music.
Since I’m not a musician, I decided to form a team of competent people who could help me: an acoustician, a few musicians, some composers”.
The creative process
What are the steps for the creation of these musical instruments?
“This process is very slow, because I want to experiment and to find out if I can get an acoustic sound from the object I have in my hands. In this case, I want to transform the sound of weapons, symbolically and physically.
First, I get old weapons from ordinary people, or I buy them in places selling military waste. I choose only objects that look interesting to me and I don’t need any special license to handle and disassemble them.
Then, I bring this old weapons in my studio. I make some sketches to figure out how to put different parts and different objects together, but also how to get sounds from them.
For example, if I want to create a cello, I need something that can be the sound-box, like a tank of gas. And then I assemble it with a mortar, that gives the form to the neck.
If I want my ‘special’ guitar to look like a real one, I know that ergonomics is crucial. For this reason I can use an helmet for the sounding board and a kalašnikov for the neck.
At the end, after assembling the instrument, I call the acoustician to try it and the musicians to play it”.
How many musical instruments have you already made?
“I’ve already created six musical instruments, that I call ‘prototypes’. One cello, one violin, one guitar, an instrument that can be played by saxophonists and percussions.
And now I’m creating a gusle, a single-stringed musical instrument traditionally played in the Balkans.
For the moment, I don’t sell the prototypes. My idea is to put all the musical instruments in a single orchestra and organize a concert in Novi Sad next June.
I want players to be able to make music through these objects. This is very important for my socially-engaged artistic project”.
The social impact
What is the message you want to deliver through your art?
“This is definitely not something only about sounds and music. For me, the most important aspect in this project is to use weapons from the Balkan wars in a different way, redesigning the sound of these objects.
In other words, I want to change the social environment by creating music from objects that were originally designed for hurting and killing people”.
How has it been welcomed by Serbian and Balkan society?
When I began, I expected many different opinions and critics. At the end, everyone liked this project, people only gave me positive feedbacks. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised.
Probably, the reason is linked to the new awareness in the Western Balkans about the ethnic conflicts. I think that the biggest problem is represented by politicians and political strategies, people don’t want new wars.
I’m not talking only about Serbia. In all the Balkan countries, we just want normal lives, for us and for our children. Maybe this is why this project has been welcomed so enthusiastically”.
Do you think that this project can be reproduced in other contexts that have recently experienced war?
“Yes, for me this is not an exclusevily Balkan project. I use military waste of the Yugoslav wars only because I live here.
But I think that this idea of transforming weapons into musical instruments can be realized everywhere, thanks to the message it wants to deliver: if you can change the sound of objects, you can also change the purpose of their use.
What once was a weapon can be used also to make music, not just war. The change is your responsibility, no matter where you live”.
Pit stop. Sittin’ at the BarBalkans
We have reached the end of this piece of road.
Sittin’ at our bar, the BarBalkans, it’s time to ask for recommendations.
Before we get back on the road, let’s listen to our guest.
Nikola, what do you recommend to drink?
“One of the many craft beers that you can find in Serbia.
Also in Novi Sad, where I live, there is a dynamic environment that stimulates the opening of new small craft breweries.
At the same time, you can’t not try rakija, it is a must if you pass by a Balkan bar!”
Let’s continue the BarBalkans journey. We will meet again in a week, for the 16th stop.
A big hug and have a good journey!
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