I’ve been wanting to see Ken Butler play live forever but never had a chance and I just learned that he was batteling cancer and hence was absent from the scenes. Luckily he said that he survived it and he seemed in good health.
For those who are not familiar with him pick up his CD on Zorn’s Tzadik records or check out kenbutler.com
Ken is an amazingly creative individual who builds his own instruments out of tennis rackets, walking canes, kitchen and home utensils and a ton of other parts. He basically will put a contact microphone on anything that makes a sound and make music with it.
On this show at the Williamsburg gallery Sideshow he was accompanied by a trio of great percussion players (including Mathias Kunzli), an oud player and his artist/loft-mate on upright. All these instruments definitely gave the show a very groovy orientation and often times the tribal excitment offered by the two djambé’s made the crowd shake it a bit too (pretty unheard of for an experimental music concert, if you know what I mean).
Ken performed about a half a dozen pieces, usually a pedal on a chord with somewhat of a structured theme and a lot of improvisation. Every piece was based around an instrument and the crowd roared every time he picked up a new one. From guitar-like objects with one or two necks made from tennis rackets, canes and hockey sticks to banjo-looking objects made from pots, canes and other materials to umbrellas, knifes, paint brushes, swords, cloth hangers. Everything pretty much was either plucked or picked as if it was a guitar or bowed with an arco as if it was a violin. He even played a bow with another bow and then finished by playing his pants’ zipper and knocking on his head while teething a mic.
It was definitely an impressive and interesting array of sound-making devices from one of the most interesting artists around.