Ken Butler’s Hybrid Instruments

Ken Butler’s Hybrid Instruments

4 T

Brooklyn-based artist Ken Butler has been creating his imaginative instruments since 1978. Discarded, found objects become re-imagined through Ken’s vision: an ax becomes a 3/4 size violin, half a skateboard found in the street lives on as a guitar, an alligator skull sings as a two-string violin, old snowshoes make new tracks as a cello.

Want to see these creations in person? Ken will be bringing an array of his instruments to Maker Faire New York, taking place September 21 and 22 at the New York Hall of Science in Queens.

In his own words:

Created primarily from urban detritus, the hybrid instruments express a poetic spirit of re-invention and hyper-utility as hidden meanings and associations momentarily create a striking and re-animated cultural identity for common objects. String instruments become body, tool, weapon, toy, symbol, machine, phallus, creature, sculpture, icon, and voice. Pianos and keyboards become cybernetic and symbolic architecture. Anxious objects speak in tongues. Bridging fine art, craft, technology, and music, the hybrids exist as ergonomic functional musical instruments as well as sculpture; they are constructed from readily available consumer objects designed to perform a different function, and when amplified are shaped with cutting-edge sound processing allowing artful musical sounds and expression.

Here’s a glimpse at some of his stringed instruments:
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Check out this beautiful mini profile of Ken to get insight into what inspires him (made by Emon Hassan for Narratively):

And here’s footage of Ken jamming on his instruments:

YouTube player

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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