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Austin Musicians Compose Musical Piece Played Inside A Dumpster To Commemorate 2020

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

If you're looking for a metaphor for 2020, why not a dumpster fire? A group of artists in Austin, Texas, decided to make that image flicker to life, if you please, by creating a performance piece with music played inside smoking dumpsters. That's how BJ Leiderman composed our theme music. Andrew Weber of member station KUT protected his ears, along with his face, to witness a dumpster fire of a concert.

ANDREW WEBER, BYLINE: Kyle Evans runs Rolling Ryot, an Austin arts group specializing in sound art. For years, they were just that - rolling. They mostly performed on bikes. Last year, they got enough money to get a space. They're renovating, tossing out drywall into dumpsters. And they realized the dumpsters make some interesting sounds because that's just kind of how their brains work.

KYLE EVANS: We jokingly - this is like in 2019 - we were like, oh, we should call it Dumpster Fire, like ha-ha.

WEBER: Get some percussionists, put them in a dumpster and see what happens. They kept the idea in their back pocket. Then 2020 happened. They had to shut down their space, and they resurrected the idea.

EVANS: This year has been a literal dumpster fire, so it's nice to show that metaphorically. But also, it's cathartic to bang on things really loudly and hear other people bang on things.

WEBER: They got new dumpsters and a couple of percussionists. One of them is named Thor Harris, a longtime Austin musician who looks pretty much like you would imagine a guy named Thor would look - braided long hair, pretty muscular, and, of course, he's holding a giant hammer. He's got a couple of them.

THOR HARRIS: Some of them are about the size of croquet mallets, and then some of them are like, you know when you kill someone in a cartoon with a huge hammer? They're that big. They're just cartoon-gigantic.

WEBER: The sound is absolutely concussive.

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL CLANGING)

WEBER: After Thor's soundcheck, the audience begins filling in the rows of socially distanced chairs in front of two blue dumpsters, 70 feet apart in an empty lot. The show starts.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

WEBER: Machines in each dumpster spew out smoke while a row of lights mimic an open flame because they can't really set Thor on fire. While Thor hammers away, wearing a mask and those big earmuffs you see on construction sites, Erin Hazel and her year-old son Elio, also wearing earmuffs, danced to the wall of sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

WEBER: Erin lost her job because of the pandemic, so the show's been a nice release for the two.

ERIN HAZEL: It was great because he loves percussion and banging on things, and this was a great way for him to immerse and experience in, I think, a safe way.

WEBER: This is the first time she and Elio had gone out since the pandemic - since his birth. So that in itself felt strange. It was a chance to forget, just for a bit, the dumpster fire this year has been.

For NPR News, I'm Andrew Weber in Austin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRE")

OHIO PLAYERS: (Singing) Fire. Fire. Fire. Fire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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