Thursday, July 27, 2017 This Week's Paper

‘The Junk Chime’

// Perennial favorite at Spring Fair

Anyone who has been to the Puyallup Fair or the Spring Fair has no doubt encountered the “Junk Chime,” a collection of miscellaneous metallic junk arranged on a steel framework. It is there to be banged, beaten, bonged and batted with the readily available drumsticks (chopsticks wrapped in duct tape). People of all ages, but especially kids, are inevitably drawn to it. “I like when the kids play the “Junk Chime,” said Benson Smith, the “Junk Chime” inventor. “Sometimes late at night, the older people come and we can get a jam going.” The humble appearing “Junk Chime” has the stuff of magic about it.

Smith, a Seattle-based artist and musician, is a bus driver by day. Smith’s true calling, however, is the making of music and the building of sculptural works. The “Junk Chime” started in 1985 and has continued to evolve ever since as Smith has added more and more to it. “I can’t add too much more to it now,” he asserted. “It’s getting too big for my truck.”

Anything that might make an interesting sound is incorporated into the “Junk Chime” – coffee cans, pots and pans, various car parts, light fixtures, bucket lids, bicycle sprockets, springs and things unidentifiable. “People like to guess what’s what,” Smith said.

When not at the fair or a festival somewhere, the “Junk Chime” framework resides in Smith’s backyard. “It’s exposed to the elements,” he noted, “getting a nice patina of rust.” The sound-making objects are housed in a backyard shed.

In addition to the Washington State Spring Fair and the Washington State Fair in the fall, “Junk Chime” will appear at the Longview Earth Day Fair in April, the Lacey Spring Fair in May and several other events.

Smith plays clarinet and saxophone in a couple of Seattle bands: Mighty Tiny and D20 Brass Band. The latter is a “honk” band that plays arrangements of video game music and bills itself as “a street band for nerds.”

Other works by Smith include “Drum Cage,” a wearable contraption of junk-on-a-frame. Smith’s “Penta Spiral,” a motion activated light and sound device, was in the Seattle Children’s Museum for a number of years.

For many years now, the “Junk Chime” has been a fixture at both the spring and fall fairs in Puyallup. It has become something of an institution. It would not feel quite like the fair without the funky-clunky tones of the “Junk Chime” enlivening the fairgrounds. People love to pause in their fair-wide promenade to pick up a pair of drumsticks and tap out a rhythm.

“Junk Chime” will be appearing at the upcoming Washington State Spring Fair that runs April 10-13. Be sure to stop by and give it a rap-tap-tapping. For further information visit