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 clearly a musical polyglot in the truest sense of the term: Stewart is a virtuoso guitarist and prolific instrument inventor, and has performed with everyone from Bruce Springsteen 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 the latest episode of Q2’s 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. Stewart grew up singing madrigals with his family band around the dinner table, and since then he’s developed 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 his travels around the world: the extinct plectrum guitar prototype, conch shells, a 19th-century relative of the tuba, wooden nose flutes and recorders of every shape and size.
The basement workshop is filled with new inventions constructed from his surrounding urban environment: collected garbage, PVC pipes picked up on street corners, giant “harp ears” that Stewart is crafting for a new opera project, and latent objects of every sort, each charged with unexplored musical potential.
Video: Kim Nowacki and Hannis Brown