In a cave-like workshop in Poble Sec, Roger Aixut, a Catalan and founding member of the music group CaboSanRoque, tinkers with a fierce-looking contraption. Three feet high and perched on the legs of a dining table, three giant cylinders embedded with hundreds of screws are linked by bicycle chain to a pristine, workable washing machine. When pressed into action, the whole monster comes alive like a giant mechanical toy: the cylinders rotate and are struck by piano keys, churning out a surprisingly rhythmic sound.
This is the latest extraordinary musical machine envisioned and built by Aixut. As with the toy cars whizzing round a plastic track, or the electronic poodle pounding a keyboard with its paws (both incorporated into the set of ‘La Caixeta’ or ‘Little Music Box’), the ‘machine’ is performed alongside more conventional instruments by the eclectic troupe CaboSanRoque, made up of Aixut, Ramón Garriga, Laia Torrents, Josep Seguí, Carles Martínez-Almoyna, Núria Carrera, Alberto Mezquíriz, and sound technician Guiu Lluisà. On the brink of releasing their third album, Música a Màquina, the group’s sound is mechanical enthused with latin rhythms. That’s appropriate to the group’s beginnings, according to Aixut.
How did it all start?
Six years ago I found a trunk in the street. On it, there was a shipping tag with the name of its owner, a Señor Gabriel López, the journey it made, from Montevideo in Uruguay to Barcelona in 1967 and the ship it sailed on, the Cabo San Roque. The trunk became our first double bass and the cruise ship gave us our name. As musicians, we came from different backgrounds: I trained as an architect and played guitar; Laia had studied classical piano at the Conservatori. The eight of us were thrown together by a desire to create something. We don’t just recycle materials for instruments, we recycle musicians too.
You played in Barcelona’s Grec Festival last year with ‘Little Music Box’. What is that?
We found a box of videos in the street and with the help of our filmmaker friends, Reykjavik, we linked them up to make a movie. Then we performed a live soundtrack inside our ‘box’ with an array of 40 invented instruments. It might look chaotic and improvised, but it was comprised, composed and rehearsed to the note.
Now you’re back with this… machine. How did that evolve?
A friend’s parents asked us to move a piano. We took the piano to bits and extracted the keys. As with the little mechanical toys, I work with the idea of rotation, so we went looking for something cylindrical of a certain size. We found the water pipes in Zona Franca and chucked them in the van. We liked the idea of a washing machine interpreting the clothes in it and spinning out live sounds, so I linked it to the rest of the instrument by pulleys, which adjust to the speed of the spin of the drum. We change the rhythm of the tunes by switching the position of colour-coded rubber rings.
Wow. Have you had any problems with it?
It’s not easy to move around and needs maintenance, but actually we have found that things that cost more than €600 are those that tend to break down. Electronic items, for example. One time, though, an enthusiastic audience urged us to play on spin cycle. I knew it was asking for trouble. The whole contraption started vibrating like mad. I thought it would explode! The crowd went wild…
Where can we see you?
We’re going to Frankfurt this month with the book fair, where Catalan is the guest culture this year. In the early spring [of 2008] we’re performing live at the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya in Barcelona in the theatre piece, Caucasian Chalk Circle. Otherwise, check our website. We’ll be around… this is a way of life for us.