Hybrid Vision: Meet the man making amazing instruments out of trash he finds on the street

“It turns out that one one of my most playable instruments is a golf club…I’m seeing that transformative quality in my head all the time. What can I say? I’m attracted to trash. I don’t know why.”

ken butler

Meet Ken Butler, the man making amazing stringed instruments out of trash he finds on the streets of New York City.

Ken Butler is the ultimate advocate for the notion that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” The Brooklyn-based artist and musician has been making stringed instruments out of garbage since 1978 – a process he calls ‘bricoluthiery’ – making use of anything he finds on the streets of New York City; from hockey sticks to sleds to violin cases.

The amazing short documentary from Great Big Story below grants an insight into Butler’s history and experience with his unique craft.

“Since 1978 I think  I’ve made about 400 instruments,” he says. “This whole thing started for me when I was in my basement in Portland, Oregon, and I saw a rusty old beat-up hatchet. I put two strings and two tuning pegs on it, plugged it into my guitar amp, and was quite stunned that it actual sounded like a horrible violin.”

The term bricolthiery is an amalgam of two words: Bricolage – A construction made of whatever materials are “at hand”; and luthiery: The craft of making string instruments.

Although this process is nothing new – people have been making guitars out of cigar boxes and tin cans since the 19th century – the breadth of the materials Butler works with certainly is; almost anything is within the scope of his craft.

Butler studied viola in his childhood and maintained an interest in music for the rest of his life.

He has been featured in exhibitions and performances around the world including The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, The Prada Foundation in Venice (as part of the “Art or Sound” exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2014), and The Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

His works have been featured in The New York Times, The Village Voice, Artforum, Smithsonian, and Sculpture Magazine and have been featured on TV multiple times, including a live appearance on The Tonight Show (seen in the video).

Watch the amazing doco, Found Sounds: Making Instruments From Trash, below – and definitely check out Butler’s website here.

If you’re into instruments made from trash, check out Prisma Guitars – the company building custom basses and guitar from old skateboards.

[via Great Big Story]