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Llyn Foulkes gets satisfaction from his contraption

Drums, car horns, xylophone, bass, cowbell -- they make beautiful music together.

March 08, 2009|Sharon Mizota

Llyn Foulkes marches to the beat of his own drum -- and bass, xylophone, car horn and cowbell. The idiosyncratic painter, whose works are featured in "Nine Lives," is also an accomplished musician. And his instrument of choice is, well, all of them.

Foulkes plays a homemade contraption called the Machine, a dense, wraparound nest of scavenged and invented instruments whose crowning glory is a clump of old-fashioned car and bicycle horns.

To play his original compositions, Foulkes squeezes the horns' black rubber bulbs, triggers a drum with one foot, strums an electric bass with the other and picks up a pair of mallets to tap out a melody on a swirl of xylophone keys and cowbells. Sometimes he beats an empty plastic water jug. Oh, and he sings too.

The results are both cacophonous and catchy, evoking the sideshow carny stylings of Tom Waits and the sound-effect-laden novelty songs of Foulkes' first idol, the 1940s musical satirist Spike Jones.

This return to the sounds of his childhood is the culmination of a long musical evolution. "From '65 to '71, I was a drummer in a rock band -- played all over the [Sunset] Strip, at the Whisky [a Go Go], next to the Doors, the Byrds and all -- but I got tired of rock music because rock music all became about how loud it is," he says. After a stint leading his own group, the Rubber Band, he struck out on his own in 1980 and has been playing the Machine ever since.

Now, at 74, he hopes to focus more on his music and has grown a bit weary of the art world. "You've got billionaire real estate developers defining what art is and saying this is the great art and it's worth this much money," he says. "I just want to have fun and people like my stuff. That's all."

Foulkes is scheduled to perform with interpretive painter Norton Wisdom at the "Nine Lives" closing party on May 29 at the Hammer Museum.

-- Sharon Mizota

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