These days a lot of modern music depends heavily on technology. Guitars are electric and beats electronic. But since ancient times human beings have found a way to make music with the things they found in nature. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney has the story of one man who is helping his neighbors rediscover the roots of music:
These days a lot of modern music depends heavily on technology. Guitars are electric and beats
electronic. But since ancient times human beings have found a way to make music with the
things they found in nature. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney has the story of
one man who is helping his neighbors rediscover the roots of music:
In the woods behind Frank Youngman’s log home in Cadillac, Michigan there’s a small fire in a
fire circle. The smoke is wafting around logs that hang from the trees that surround the fire. It
curls around old car springs and break drums that also hang from the nearby trees. And big
hollowed out logs are propped up just inches off the ground.
On this cold, snowy Saturday there are five teenage boys and two adults banging on the logs and
car parts with sticks. And making music on what Frank Youngman calls his Sound Garden.
“I was out cutting firewood with our kids one day. And we were throwing it in the back of the
truck and it kept hitting each other. The logs were hitting each other. I just started noticing they
had all these different pitches and so I said, ‘kids throw ’em back out here.’ So we start laying it
out on the ground and we sorta constructed this crude xylophone. And pretty soon we were just
playing. I’d start a grove and they’d start playing and the four of us were on our knees around
these logs on the ground playing and we had a blast. After that, I kept thinking, wouldn’t it be fun
to have some instrument out in our woods here that when were walking by on the trail or skiing,
you could just stop and play a little bit.”
And eventually he built it. Youngman is a music teacher and band director, so he had an ear for
picking out the right logs with which to build his dream. Small logs are arranged to create
primitive xylophones and marimbas. Big logs act as bass drums. And the pieces of scrap metal
are miscellaneous percussion instruments. And any chance he gets, he’ll drag people out here to
“Someone will start something just a click, cluck, cluck. Real simple little thing and then
someone layer in on top of it and it’s been fun cause they start to get the idea that we can slow
down and let it happen over a longer period of time and let it develop.”
He says after a while the people playing will start communicating and sharing musical ideas with
looks, nods, and beats.
As the rhythm gets going Ryan Newson and Mike Filkins emerge from their sullen teenage shells
and begin dancing and grooving to the beat. Like many people in town they first thought Frank
Youngman’s Sound Garden was really, really weird, but slowly they came around.
“You can’t explain the fun of playing it. You just have to go out there. The diversity of sounds
you get when hit stuff that you’re not even used to. When you play a drum set all day you just get
eight or nine different sounds you can play with, but with this it’s just a new set of sounds you can
screw around with and do what you want.”
The experience of playing the Sound Garden can vary from time to time. Frank Youngman says
night time playing has a different vibe from daytime playing. He thinks the Soundgarden’s best in
winter because the snow muffles the sounds and the woods are quiet, but then again other seasons
also have their appeal for instance warmer weather brings a chorus of frogs.
“In the spring, its great when the spring peepers. I’ve gone out by myself and you start hearing all
this sounds of springs birds and the peepers are just deafening at night sometimes and even they’ll
get a rhythm going and you get thousands of those things – rrrepperr rrrepper – they just get this
kind of pulsing rhythm and I’ve gone out and played with the peepers which sounds kind of
Crazy and maybe it is.”
Whether or not its crazy, the Sound Garden resonates with teenagers and adults alike, according
to 17-year old Mike Filkins.
I can imagine there will be people trying to build these now. This is just unbelievable. I was very
surprised how much it took off and how many people like it.”
And, in fact, a second Sound Garden has been built. After word got out about Frank Youngman’s
backyard one, the director of Cadillac’s Convention and Visitors Bureau suggested he create one
for the town’s new riverside Greenway. It’s just been finished in time to ring in the New Year
during Cadillac’s first night celebration.
“It’s a pretty primitive experience, you know, but I think it does kind of get back to musical roots
in some ways. It starts with rhythm – beating on a log – whether its signaling, talking over great
distances or just listening to each other and just responding.”
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tamar Charney.
WEB INFO: For more information about the Sound Garden or Cadillac’s First Night celebration
which include demonstrations and a Sound Garden performance, www.cadillacmichigan.com.