Orchestra of Objects founder working with LEEDS 2023 to develop exciting new school partnership

Ben Gates is the founder of the Orchestra of Objects, a company inventing musical instruments from a wasteland of unwanted industrial objects.

By Alex Grant
Sunday, 27th March 2022, 11:45 am

He’s working with LEEDS 2023 on an exciting new project for children and young people.

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The idea for the Orchestra of Objects grew from a tiny seed twenty years ago. I was studying Fine Art at university, and for one of my projects I built an interactive sculpture that doubled up as a musical instrument.

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He’s working with LEEDS 2023 on an exciting new project for children and young people.

I knew very little about music, I was just captivated by the idea that a sculpture could make a sound. I’ve been completely fascinated ever since.

I build my instruments from anything I can get my hands on - old pipes, bits of wood, rusty wheels, strange metal parts from other machines. They’re tooting, whistling and plinking gizmos that look like something from a Dr Seuss book.

I take them to schools and festivals and lead workshops where people work together to create a beautiful soundscape, or build their own orchestra of bizarre instruments.

I’ve learnt an awful lot along the way. The first workshop I ever led (years ago now!) was a total disaster. I hadn’t realised how intense it would feel to be surrounded by sound. The instruments weren’t harmonised so it was a complete cacophony when people started to play.

The idea for the Orchestra of Objects grew from a tiny seed twenty years ago.

From that experience I learnt how important it is for the instruments to be tuned to each other, so that no matter what people are playing it always sounds natural.

There’s a really special energy that comes from making music together as a group. You feel like you’re part of something; it’s electric. But over the years it’s become about more than the music. It’s about putting smiles on faces and inspiring creativity, and I really believe it helps with people’s wellbeing.

At the moment I’m working with LEEDS 2023 on their school partnership seed commissions. I’m one of ten artists developing early-stage ideas for projects with schools and colleges during the year of culture, and the process so far has been really exciting.

I’ve been developing lots of ideas and collaborating with artists on what the future project could be. I did some initial workshops with theatre students at Wakefield College, I’ve been throwing ideas around with master storyteller Ian Douglas about how you can play with acoustics, and I’m going to be working with the students at Leeds Conservatoire.

I’ve landed on the idea of building a permanent sound garden in a school or college. A lot of my work comes into a place and then leaves, but this time I’d like something to stick around and become part of everyday life in a school. I love the idea of students creating the instruments together and then exploring the sounds freely as part of their school day.

My next step is to have conversations with teachers and school leaders about getting involved. I’m running a workshop at Playful Anywhere's Playlab in Leeds on 29th March, where teachers can come and play with the instruments and we can talk about how we might be able to build things together.

If you’re a teacher and would like to come along please get in touch with me at [email protected] I’d love to hear from you - and to hear you play an instrument!

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