Indiana Daily Student
If Bloomington resident Bill Robertson were to place a personal ad for a new friend, it might read something like this:
WPM seeks like-minded person of any race or gender for country drives and collecting road kill and sheet metal. Experience in building percussive machines and robots a plus. Must enjoy the "Simpsons," 1930s jazz and punk rock. Body scars welcomed.
No, Robertson wouldn't be joking. He's a well-mannered electrical engineer who has a knack for constructing mechanical animals from bones. He is also the mastermind behind local musical throng, the Scar of Indiana Machine and Drum Corpse.
"I hate to say this is a hobby - that's like flying radio control airplanes," Robertson said recently at his modern suburban home. "It sounds corny, but I call it a passion."
The Scar of Indiana is like nothing you have seen or heard before. Five humans possessed by a frenzied spirit strike that smash metal drums and cymbals while simultaneously controlling a multitude of robots and machines contributing to the calculated chaos. Chainsaws, sanders and a washing machine add to the fascinating and powerful percussive rhythm Scar of Indiana emancipates.
Scar of Indiana has been a five-member band since its creation, though two of the founding members have since left. Now the Scar lineup consists of Robertson, Walking Ruins member John Terrill, Jon Young of Pretty Pony and Panoply Academy Glee Club, Tanya Kukuschkin and IU continuing studies student Jenny Beasley.
Not only is the band a tightly-formed instrumental drum "corpse," but the actual machines bring a sense of freak-show curiosity from the average watcher.
Imagine the commercialized percussive troupe STOMP battling for survival against a medieval version of Mad Max and the Thunder Dome.
When Robertson isn't working at local Crain Naval Depot, he can be found fastening metal blades to a 1950 carpet scrubber-cum-instrument. Or possibly searching the roadside for road kill. Don't be alarmed - Robertson doesn't have a fetish for dead creatures. He uses the bones to build full- skeletal replicas of the animals. Then, adding machinery and electronics, he brings them to life.
Dazy, a full-skeletal cow that Robertson has recreated, is familiar to some Bloomington residents because of her stay at the Waldron Arts Center in 1994. Not only is Dazy able to roller skate, she can also relieve herself on command, just like those new Barbie dolls.
"When I was a little kid, I always made weird contraptions and the such," Robertson said. "I've always been into really jerry-rigged-type stuff."
The stage presence of Scar can often be confrontational and jarring because of the machines and antics of the band: Scar of Indiana is full sensory overload.
"We each play different sets of drums. I play a steel drum and a little machine," Young said. "We have a guitar strumming machine and foot switches to operate the machines. Bill also plays a set of three wind instruments."
The "little machine" that Young refers to is Robertson's "wind instrument," consisting of an air compressor, accordion, trumpet and flute.
"I had to do something with some kind of wind instrument. I'd like to get a set of bag pipes but they are so expensive," Robertson said. "So I thought I'd get some bullshit instruments and hook them up to an air-compressor. I'm trying to get that nasty, mideastern squeaky, sort of oboe-ish sound."
With the addition of wind instruments, the musical makeup of Scar has expanded beyond percussion and rhythm to allow any form of sound.
To some, Scar is viewed as a performance art experiment gone awry. But referring to Scar as performance art is missing the point. Unlike the nonfunctional aspects of many performance art groups, Robertson makes sure that everything on stage makes some kind of sound.
"All of the machines make some sort of contributing noise," Robertson said. "I don't want any props just for the sake of props."
At Scar's March performance at the Sugar Doe Cafe in Louisville, Ky., the audience was treated to the sweet smells of fruit. Robertson dropped various citrus goods into the spinning blades of an upside-down lawnmower, on which a tube had been mounted to create a giant blender. After the fruit came light bulbs, which made some audience members believe they were inhaling glass particles. At the climax of the song, Robertson dangled a cornish game hen over the mower and dropped it in.
"That freaked some people out," Robertson said.
Many of the undaunted and brave had prepared themselves to witness the Scar of Indiana in action April 19 at WIUS' Culture Shock festival where the band was scheduled to perform on the "Shock" stage in Dunn Meadow.
"We will try and engage the crowd," Young had said in anticipation of the show. "Hopefully, no one will get hurt, or at least not that bad."
Unfortunately, the band was forced to cancel at the last minute, causing many soon-to-be-fans to sulk away.
Those whose interests have been perked by Scar might have to wait a long time to see the troupe since no future performances are planned yet. The last time Scar played Bloomington was at the WFHB Street Dance last July. Because of Scar's lack of local shows, Robertson hasn't seen many of the newer acts in Bloomington, opting to see his Scar-mates perform in their other bands.
"I don't go out much anymore. In this last year I haven't read the newspaper, and I watch very little TV," Robertson said. "I got 150 episodes of the "Simpsons" on tape - I'll just watch that."
Robertson, a Bloomington resident for the past 12 years, has criss-crossed his way through the town's music scene, performing in a number of older acts including the Rumprangers, Six City Rhythm Boys, Virginia Scrapings, Tourette's Syndrome and the Gynecologists. These more traditional rock bands served as precursors for the Percussion Ensemble, which served as the blueprint of Scar.
"(The Ensemble) started out several years ago at the Black Box Theater," Robertson said, referring to the now-defunct Bloomington venue. "I'd tried to get in other bands for the past three years or so and there was nothing that I was really interested in, so I just started to work more on the Percussion Ensemble. At the last show I made a machine, and from there it turned into Scar."
"We were the Drum Shits first," Robertson laughs, "but no one wanted to put that on the marquee. I thought it was a great name."
Bill Robertson's Bloomington legacy has now spanned more than a decade. The Scar of Indiana Drum and Machine Corpse has become a band that many people have heard but few have witnessed, raising expectations for the next performance.
So what's in the future for a band held by a soldering gun?
"We'd like to do more shows, maybe a video," Robertson said. "I'm not really sure. Whatever happens, happens."