It was a gray, west coast day near the end of winter. In the University town of Santa Cruz, California, Robert Minden sat musing over tomorrows lecture to a large undergraduate class. Like in a dream, a mysterious sound came drifting through his office window. He went in search. The strangely captivating melody led him to ex-vaudevillian, lumberjack and wobblie, Thomas Jefferson Scribner, a wily street musician playing music on a carpenters hand saw. That was the beginning.
Minden created the ensemble as an artistic experiment in 1986 in Vancouver, Canada. With a relentless pursuit of the endless sonic possibilities of urban junk, the Ensemble quickly became internationally renown for its dramatic mix of narrative and music on found instruments. The core members were Robert Minden, daughters Andrea Minden (flute) and Dewi Minden (trumpet), and musician Carla Hallett (French horn). Together with visual artist Nancy Walker, they collaborated for ten years on performance and recording projects.
drawing: nancy walker
The inaugural recording of the Ensemble, THE BOY WHO WANTED TO TALK TO WHALES, was nominated for a 1990 JUNO award. This contemporary folk tale, scored for storyteller, percussion and invented instruments, was released on World Music Day at Torontos Roy Thompson Hall to critical acclaim. ""There has never, ever, been an album in Canada (or anywhere else) quite like this one for young listeners. (Kitchener-Waterloo Record.) Then followed LONG JOURNEY HOME (1992), richly textured music for found and ancient sound sources; a compelling aural adventure (Canadian Composer magazine) ; and WHISPER IN MY EAR (1994), a celebration of the acoustic sounds of junk; "intelligence, humour, manic inventiveness and oceanic friendliness." (Gary Norris, Canadian Press 1994). The recordings are orchestrated with an improbable ensemble of abandoned objects; "absolutely baffling" (American Record Guide). Work in television included a ten-part series written and performed for SESAME STREET, and the CBC documentary, The Music Maker on Adrienne Clarkson Presents. Their video, Music For Recycled Bottles is seen regularly on PBS.