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One Man’s Treasure | Don Knaack is The Junkman | July 2011

Photography by Sam Balling

Don Knaack | The Junkman

For someone known as the Junkman, Donald Knaack is a very neat man. His house, nestled on a back road in Manchester, VT, has a modest yard and is a modest home, with a dining room table, other furniture, and many decorations that are handmade, mostly out of recycled material. He gives us a tour, first to the garage, his workshop, where tabletops are filled with everything from metal scraps to already completed chimes made from shells and old ski poles. One wall has shelving units full of garbage bins, all labeled with names like “Bell Sounds”, and above us is another storage room, filled with instruments Don makes out of junk- a loose term that usually means anything most people find useless.

Upstairs in his house is a small office, which is his recording studio, with pads on the walls he had specially constructed for the room to absorb high and low-end sound waves from caterwauling off the wooden walls while Don records; because the Junkman plays it loud! He uses ProTools on a Mac, has a keyboard, and then has lines strung taught about a foot down from the ceiling, where he hangs many of his junk instruments to bang on them.

Don’s most elaborate creations, however, are his playstations, structures based on frames made out of various materials, for instance the old tennis judge’s chair he has in his backyard. He performs at events and works with schools, having people donate junk that he then attaches to the frames, sometimes snowboards become drums and sometimes old pipes become xylophones. About 15 people can play on a playstation at any one time, making for some seriously intense and therapeutic jam sessions.

Don Knaack | The Junkman

“They’re horribly therapeutic,” Don shakes his head with a grin. He made one in the Midwest out of farm equipment “because that’s what they had,” and another structure in his backyard has a frame from an old ski patrol gurney and is mountain themed. He points to the tennis chair. “I ’ve had a drunk hanging off the top, upside down by his feet. He was totally having a ball. I was expecting him to fall on his head any second, and he didn’t do it!” Don laughs. He’s played colleges where jams last an hour, people coming and going as they please, wailing away on the playstations with wooden sticks.

Beyond this physical therapy, Don has taken on the role of environmental educator. He has two albums released already, with songs like “Styrofoam Never Dies” and “The Bushes Don’t Protect the Trees”, and when he’s in schools he teaches about recycling, reducing waste in every aspect of life, and promotes awareness of the environment.

All this is just the beginning to the Junkman, however. His first albums were mostly percussive. “I’m a purist,” he laughs, having moved away from traditional percussion entirely. “I have music that doesn’t sound like anyone else’s,” he adds. “I’m using instruments they don’t use.” Those albums were configured around those sounds, such as “Paper Music”, where the sounds come from cardboard being beaten and paper being ripped.


0 # georgie mallett 2011-07-06 10:50
Love the article and the photos
0 # DONALD KNAACK 2011-07-07 11:36
0 # Chelsie Henderson 2011-07-28 22:22
Yeah! Can't wait to see him in action at VYO camp Reveille! Thanks for sharing his story, John!


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