Ken Butler’s anxious objects


With his background as a professional jazz guitarist and his MFA in painting, Ken Butler had a long-standing interest in combining his two passions, but he couldn’t find the right connection. Then one night an axe in his basement caught his eye.

In about an hour and a half he had added a bridge, strings, and a contact microphone to the axe. As he describes it, “Suddenly the world opened up to me in terms of “That’s a cello. That’s a violin.’”

Since that night Butler has built hundreds of hybrid instruments, which he describes as “anxious objects”. While all of them can be played, he considers most of them to be primarily collage sculptures; but some of them sound good enough that he considers them real instruments, and performs on them. His raw materials have included a toy Uzi, a motorcycle manifold, and parts of discarded mannequins (inset).

This according to “Ken Butler & the anxious objects: Turning unmusical things into instruments” by W. Kim Heron (Metro Times, 28 January 2004).  Below, Butler demonstrates several of his creations.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Instruments, Visual art