Video: Mark Stewart's Island of Misfit Toys

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Mark Stewart surrounds himself with instruments — both traditional and handmade — at his home in Park Slope.

In his own words, Mark Stewart makes a living playing a little bit of popular music, quite a bit of semi-popular music and an enormous amount of unpopular music – the last being all the music you probably haven't heard.

It's a humble assertion for a musician who's a musical polygot in the truest sense of the term: Stewart is a is a virtuoso guitarist, a prolific instrument inventor, and has performed with everyone from Bruce Springstein to Philip Glass, Stevie Wonder and film composer Clint Mansell. He's also the founding guitarist of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, a member of Steve Reich and Musicians and music director for Paul Simon's band.

For this episode of Q2 Spaces, we visited Mark Stewart's home and studio in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He shares the space with his wife, who runs a nonprofit dance company and his son – a young filmmaker. He grew up singing madrigals with his family band around the dinner table and since then his musical appetite has ballooned into an insatiable urge to find the hidden music in every conceivable object. 

The walls of his practice room – Stewart's "Island of Misfit Toys" – are covered with soundmakers acquired from multiple travels around the world: the extinct plectrum guitar prototype, conch shells, a 19th-century relative of the tuba, wooden nose flutes and recorder-like instruments of every shape and size.

The basement workshop is filled with new inventions constructed from his surrounding urban environment – collected garbage, PVC pipes collected from street corners, giant "harp ears" that Stewart is crafting for a new opera project and latent objects of every sort charged with unexplored musical potential.


Music: Performed by Bang on a Can All-Stars
Breakfast at J&M (by David Longstreth | David Longstreth Music/SESAC)
Sunray (by David Lang | Red Poppy/ASCAP)
Hout (by Louis Andriessen | Boosey & Hawkes/ASCAP)

Music: Performed by Mark Stewart live at Look & Listen Festival 2012
Sounds for the Common Object
To Whom It May Concern