Kenneth Butler and His Hybrid Musical Instruments
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Kenneth Butler and His Hybrid Musical Instruments

Kenneth Lee \\\"Ken\\\" Butler is an artist and musician, as well as an experimental musical instrument builder. His hybrid musical instruments and other artworks show us that simple and ordinary things can be used in so many ways.

Kenneth Lee "Ken" Butler is an artist and musician, as well as an experimental musical instrument builder. His hybrid musical instruments and other artworks show us that simple and ordinary things can be used in so many ways. Ken Butler’s way of using whatever is at hand (bricolage) is at the center of his art, encompassing a wide range of practice that combines live music, instrument design, performance art, theater, sculpture, installation, photography, film/video, graphic design, drawing, and collage.

If Ken Butler’s collection of musical instruments doesn’t strike a chord with some listeners, it’s hardly surprising. Ken dismisses conventional instruments in favor of the toothbrush violin, the golf-club sitar, or the hockey-stick cello.

New Yorker Ken created his first hybrid instrument in 1978 by adding a fingerboard, tailpiece, tuning pegs, and a bridge to a small hatchet, which he then played as a violin. The success of his ax violin led him to create more than 200 additional wacky instruments from such diverse objects as bicycle wheels, umbrellas, shotguns, and snow shovels. He usually chooses objects that are of roughly similar shape or proportion to the instrument that they then become.

To decide what would make a good instrument, Ken Butler seeks out objects that are relatively strong, but also relatively lightweight, and that allow for the placement of tuning pegs and strings. That’s how awesome, talented and innovative he was as a musician! He can find music in any object that might not be possible for us to use as musical instruments.

The American musician and visual artist, who studied the viola as a child, has seen his creations displayed in museums and galleries in Peru, Europe, and Tokyo, as well as in several museums around the world such as the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Brooklyn Museum, Lincoln Center, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. . In 1997, he released an album – Voices of Anxious Objects – and he has performed with ensembles playing 15 of his instruments.

His works have been reviewed in The New York Times, The Village Voice, Artforum, Smithsonian, and Sculpture Magazine. Awards include fellowships from the Oregon Arts Commission, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Butler’s playable hybrid musical instruments, made from household objects and tools, have been also featured in numerous exhibitions and performances throughout the world.  Butler has also been featured on different popular TV shows including a live performance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Ken Butler is internationally recognized as an innovator of experimental musical instruments created from diverse materials which include tools, sports equipment, and household objects.


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Comments (4)
Ranked #16 in Music & Musicians

Quite a fascinating man.

Ranked #59 in Music & Musicians

Thanks, sir, for the comment!

Ranked #1 in Music & Musicians

Good job! Voted and appreciated.

Ranked #59 in Music & Musicians

Comment and vote are also appreciated, Ileen! Thanks