Cars Make Beautiful Music

Many Old Cars readers are familiar with taking a car apart and reassembling it into something that might be considered a work of art. But how about turning that automobile into an orchestra? Well that’s just what composer, producer and sound designer Bill Milbrodt has done. Twice.

    Back in 1992 Milbrodt had a Honda that had served him well for over 200,000 miles. But his Accord had finally traveled to the end of it’s road. Milbrodt, who started his career by writing and performing original compositions for Super 8 movies while still in high school, has always sought to create unique and exciting musical pieces. With influences as varied as Duke Ellington, Gil Evans and Frank Zappa he has always been after sounds and music that are not your usual pop song type of fare. In fact one of his more haunting pieces was for an independent film featuring a girl dressed in bubble wrap that won him an Emmy.

    Instead of just junking the auto, Milbrodt had a different idea. He contracted a team of mechanics to dismantle his Honda and then sorted the parts based on what types of sounds he felt they could produce. Then he brought in his friend, metal sculpture Ray Faunce III and other musicians, engineers and specialists to design and build instruments out of the pile of parts that was salvaged from the Accord.

    Others have taken car parts and made sculptures that resembled instruments and many people have used car parts as percussive pieces, but Bill had a completely singular idea. He wanted instruments, from all the groups of an orchestra, which could be properly tuned and played by musicians. They would then play his original compositions on these hybrid instruments.

    Some of the instruments that they developed included an Air Guitar, made from the air cleaner and A-pillar; a Tank Bass, made from the car’s gas tank and the massive Exhaustaphone made from, you guessed it,  exhaust system piping. To play this instrument you sit on it’s built in tractor seat and play the notes by sliding the curving pipes like a trombone. In the hands of an experienced musician it sounds much like a tuba. Five very talented and experienced musicians including Milbrodt played and recored his eclectic compositions. The venture and band are known as The Car Music Project.

    For the past couple of years they have been engaging audiences young and old with exciting music played on instruments that look more like they should be in a backyard garage than a concert stage. But The Car Music Project has been entertaining people in musical venues as diverse as the children’s stage at a regional music festival and an outdoor event held by the famed Carnegie Hall.

    The publicity generated by this unique project led the Ford Motor Company’s advertising agency to Milbrodt’s door. They were looking for a distinctive way to promote the new British version of their Ford Focus. So why not a car that could become an orchestra?

    A brand new 2008 right-hand drive Focus was shipped to Milbrodt and Faunce. Under a tight deadline their hand assembled-team took the auto apart and created 31 individual instruments. All are completely different from The Car Music Projects’ instruments. These instruments were given names like the Transmission Case Cello-Dulcimer, the Clutch Guitar, a fender bass (made from the car’s fenders) and a Per-Car-Shun Environment with all kinds of banging and clanging car parts. While The Car Music Project’s instruments play and tune like musical instruments the new pieces had a different mission. They not only had to play more like their non-automotive counterparts they had to be finished to concours standards because they were going to star in a television commercial.

    Within four weeks of receiving the Focus the completed instruments were shipped out to Los Angles where they not only stared in the commercial they actually played the commercial’s score.

    The orchestra is now making the rounds in England so that people can see that these instruments are real and do play music and are not a computer generated special effect.

    Milbrodt, who says he knows little more about cars than filling the gas tank and turning the key, certainly knows how to tune one up.

    To see the commercial or to see video on the making of the instruments click on the links below. And to find out more go to

CLICK HERE to view video of interview with Ford Focus  musical instrument creator Bill Milbrodt.

CLICK HERE to view video of Ode to a Ford performance.


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