An Orchestra of Guns


Friday, March 15, 2013

Pedro Reyes has one of the most unusual artist’s studios you could ever find: a warehouse full of firearms, nearly 7,000 of them. Machine guns, shotguns, and grenade launchers are part of the inventory. Reyes was offered these guns — confiscated from criminals — by a government official to make his singular, beautiful, frightening musical instruments.

Buzz-saws and welding torches are his principal tools. “You could turn the barrel of a shotgun into a flute,” Reyes explains, “Then, take the chargers of an AK-47 to become the body of a bass.” Reyes has built 50 instruments so far, from violins to xylophones, to an entire drum set. (See photos of the instruments below.)

The sculptures are working instruments, and Reyes has formed an ensemble to play them. John Coxon, a member of the British rock band Spiritualized, composed music for the gun-orchestra. “I wanted a record that sounded interesting and sort of vibrant and musical and life-affirming in some way,” Coxon says. “I didn’t want to make a kind of death metal record.” But playing the instruments can be unnerving. To play one harmonica built from the muzzle of a gun, “you hold the revolver to your face to play it.”

It’s nearly impossible to get a gun legally in Mexico; most weapons used by the drug cartels are purchased through straw buyers in the US and smuggled across the border. As a Mexican he feels it isn’t his place to lobby the US Congress for stricter gun laws. His work is a “wordless intervention” in the gun control debate.

“Culture is taking something and with the same matter, making a different thing,” Reyes says. "And that’s the same thing with ideas, you know? We have to work on how we move from the current status quos into a new one.”

Our story was produced in collaboration with Round Earth Media’s Mexico Reporting Project.

Bonus Track: "Death Metal," by Disarm


Slideshow: Pedro Reyes' Gun-Orchestra

Courtesy of Lisson Gallery, London; Photograph © Ken Adlard
Pedro Reyes’ Lap-Steel Guitar, part of his solo exhibition Disarm at Lisson Gallery in London.
Courtesy of Lisson Gallery, London; Photograph © Ken Adlard
Courtesy of Lisson Gallery, London; Photograph © Ken Adlard
Courtesy of Lisson Gallery, London; Photograph © Ken Adlard
Courtesy of Lisson Gallery, London; Photograph © Ken Adlard
Courtesy of Lisson Gallery, London; Photograph © Ken Adlard
Bass Guitar
Courtesy of Lisson Gallery, London; Photograph © Ken Adlard


Marlon Bishop and Omar Sanchez de Tagle

Comments [7]

Dayne from York,Pa

Where can we buy the music?

Jun. 29 2014 09:25 AM
David from Seattle area

Fascinating story. A friend of mine does something similar in his metal sculpture. The lead-in, though, mentioned a gun homicide rate in the US of 20 times that of the rest of the rich world. This is a little hard to understand when the overall homicide rate in the US is roughly 3.2 times that of Western Europe--still much too high, obviously, but nowhere near 20 times (

Mar. 25 2013 05:42 PM
Jenny from Studio 360

Hi Janet and Liz --
The gun-instruments will be part of the Carnegie International, which runs October 5, 2013 – March 16, 2014 at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Art. That's all the information available at the moment – but you can check in on the exhibition's website later in the year:

Mar. 21 2013 01:27 PM
Janet from Pittsburgh

Like Liz, I have had NO luck trying to find out where and when the Pittsburgh event will be. Please help!

Mar. 20 2013 12:38 PM
Juan Checa from Miami

Hey! Check my webpage! Im a lirical singer:

Mar. 18 2013 09:54 PM
Liz from Pittsburgh, PA

What a compelling and beautiful story. When I heard the US debut would be in Pittsburgh in October, I was thrilled. I have tried to look up information but haven't found anything. Can you provide more information about this planned debut?

Mar. 18 2013 02:55 PM
Mike Sherline from Tucson, AZ

What an original idea! As a retired tuba player, I was hoping maybe he'd figure out a way to make a cup mouthpiece type instrument.

The amount of gun violence is appalling. But I'm getting so tired of hearing people on the radio talking about people being killed BY guns. They're inanimate objects. Please emphasize that people are killed only BY other people. Unfortunately a lot are killed WITH guns, and there must be a way to keep them away from those who would use them inappropriately.

Mar. 16 2013 06:27 PM

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