The Really Rubbish Orchestra

Music-makers encourage industries to clean up their act

The Really Rubbish Orchestra co-founder Maurice Cairnduff is talking about his latest creation - an electric skateboard guitar generated with a solar-powered amp. 

‘The design is a standard component of our workshops for children and young people,’ he explains. ‘It’s about 18 months old, and is based on a number of prototype slide guitars developed using waste timber from the refurbishment of the Fly pub in Belfast’s Lower Crescent. The design has recently been augmented with a new, lower-cost amplification system.’ 

The offbeat guitar is but one of the weird and wonderful instruments used by Northern Ireland’s most environmentally-friendly music collective. Based in Antrim, Cairnduff and wife Irene started the Really Rubbish Orchestra in 1996 as the centerpiece of their not-for-profit community outreach programme. 

Since then, the Orchestra has existed in various forms, comprising a continually growing set of original musical instruments made from everyday waste materials, all of which are developed and designed by Cairnduff. Unique in that it has no musicians, the Really Rubbish Orchestra is self-funded, generating a modest income from workshops for schools and local authorities. 

On August 11, open-minded music fans will be able to see and hear the orchestra for themselves when it performs at the Great Hall in Queen’s University’s Lanyon Building. 

The event is organised by the Art of Sustainability group, and members of the public are encouraged to bring along their own home-made instruments and join in. 

The Really Rubbish Orchestra has no copyright issues with the music it makes, and Cairnduff hopes the performance will be recorded and broadcast on local radio. 

While the event is ostensibly about creating unique and interesting sounds, Cairnduff also hopes attendees will pay heed to the orchestra’s serious message about sustainability. 

He says: ‘While grandstanding or government directives might increase society’s comfort factor, consumers will not be weaned off their dependence on the consumer society until the resource-efficient alternatives are more attractive than existing products and services.’ 

As well as governments and individuals, Cairnduff believes the music industry has much work to do, too. Large music events often see hundreds of empty bottles and cans abandoned, backstage or on festival sites. The Really Rubbish Orchestra is on the case - Cairnduff has a number of instruments designed from plastic drinks bottles. 

The Art of Sustainability’s Robert Geoghegan agrees that the industry has to clean up its act, but feels it is already heading in the right direction. ‘In many respects the music industry has de-materialised itself,’ he says. ‘Records turned into tapes then CDs and now the immaterial MP3. There is something to be said for that.’ 

Longford-born Geoghegan, 24, is one of the three postgraduate students from Queen’s University, Belfast, who built the Art of Sustainability website as the final project of their sustainable development degree. The others are Niamh Bradley, 23, from Londonderry and 28-year-old Portadown man Karl McAlinden. 

Geoghegan says: ‘We are looking to promote the concept of the worth that lies in waste. Waste is not garbage; it is a resource with a value and worth. As landfills bulge and incinerators loom, this message is becoming ever more pertinent.’

Andrew Johnston

The Really Rubbish Orchestra perform in the Great Hall, Queen’s University, Belfast, on August 11 at 7pm. Click here for full details and booking..