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Artist Transforms Guns To Make Music — Literally
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Artist Transforms Guns To Make Music — Literally

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Artist Transforms Guns To Make Music — Literally
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Pedro Reyes creates art using an unusual medium - guns. Reyes is from Mexico, a country plagued by gun violence in recent years. He's melted down firearms to create shovels used to plant trees. And now, using weapons confiscated from Mexican drug gangs, he's creating musical instruments. He calls it "Requiems for Lives Lost." NPR's Greg Allen recently caught up with Reyes in Tampa where his instruments are helping spark a discussion about gun violence in the U.S.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Pedro Reyes says being Mexican is like living in an apartment building under a neighbor who has a swimming pool - and it's leaking.

PEDRO REYES: Just what is leaking is hundreds of thousands of guns.

ALLEN: Reyes wants people to think about that - the availability of guns in this country that's also having an impact in Mexico. At workshops and in a performance this week at the University of South Florida, Reyes used theater to encourage a discussion about guns.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Welcome everyone to tonight's legislative theater: "Amendment to the Amendment."

ALLEN: Specifically, the Second Amendment, which guarantees Americans the right to bear arms. Reyes wants actors and the audience to consider if there are changes possible that might improve the amendment. Reyes believes art should address social issues, like gun violence, even when they're difficult and controversial.

REYES: We have to be allowed to ask questions. If you are not allowed to ask questions, you are not free.

ALLEN: Reyes first began working on the issue of gun violence in 2007 in the Mexican city of Culiacan. As part of a campaign to curb shootings, the city collected 1,527 guns.

REYES: Those 1,527 guns were melted and made into the same number of shovels. So, for every gun now, there's a shovel. And with every shovel, we planted a tree.

ALLEN: His new project transforms guns into something more musical.


ALLEN: This is, what, a marimba I guess?

REYES: Yeah, sort of a marimba. You have these different notes, so you can bang and say, well, this is an A, this is a B, this is a C, depending on the length of the barrel.

ALLEN: As in gun barrel. A few years ago, a government agency in Mexico gave Reyes 6,700 guns that had been confiscated from criminal gangs and rendered inoperable. Since then, he's been turning them into electric guitars, violins, flutes and percussion instruments.


ALLEN: Musicians and technicians help him make the guns playable. Reyes is mostly interested in the concept and how they look.

REYES: It's not that I draw or anything. It's more like a kind of assemblage, like a collage, no? That you put parts and you see how they make up a shape. And that can be, you know, like the body of the instrument.

ALLEN: Reyes' instruments are part of an exhibition called "Disarm" up through March at the University of South Florida's Contemporary Art Museum.


ALLEN: Caleb Murray, a graduate student in the school's jazz composition program, had a few of Reyes' instruments in front of him. One looked like a small tenor saxophone.

CALEB MURRAY: Yeah, that's a tenor saxophone reed and I think that's a tenor saxophone mouthpiece. It fits really well on there. It sounds a little bit more like a clarinet, if anything. But, yeah, it's a saxophone made out of a gun, right, a gun barrel.

ALLEN: Murray played it in a concert this week.


ALLEN: Dominic Walker and Teague Bechtel are both guitarists in the University's graduate jazz program. They were playing what looked like steel guitars fashioned from nine-millimeter semiautomatic handguns.

DOMINIC WALKER: I mean that was pretty surprising, you know, the first time that we went and saw them. It was like, oh, OK, this is what's going on here. But, you know, it's just a new experience or something.

TEAGUE BECHTEL: We just have to make sure the safety's on.


ALLEN: Zack Pedigo was playing a bass. The neck was made from a double-barreled shotgun. Curved magazines from AK-47s were used to form the body of the bass guitar.

ZACH PEDIGO: To me, at least, the concept is about taking weapons that are destructive in nature and chaotic and trying to make them for something else. So, instead of objects of destruction, they become objects of creation.

ALLEN: That's exactly Pedro Reyes' point. Art, he says, is about transformation.

REYES: It's the same metal, but it is no longer a gun. It's now a flute or a guitar.

ALLEN: And is that better than it being a gun? I mean, do you feel, like, guns are bad?

REYES: Yes, I do believe that guns are bad. Because, you know, it's an industry that to thrive, it needs conflict.

ALLEN: It's a political statement - one many will disagree with - but which Reyes says it at the heart of his work.


ALLEN: The instruments played in concert this week in Tampa are just the first generation of his music project. He's now beginning to turn guns into more sophisticated electronic instruments that can be programmed through a computer. Reyes says he expects to be working on this for some time. He still has thousands of guns to turn into art. Greg Allen, NPR news, Miami.


LYDEN: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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