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The Window Gallery presents the work of contemporary makers of unusual and newly invented musical instruments, including emerging artists as well as recognized pioneers. The emphasis is on originality in concept and design, recognizing the seminal role of the search for new sounds in the expansion of musical horizons. Equally essential to the exhibits are notions of beauty, craft, and humor.

The Window Gallery is curated by Bart Hopkin and David Samas. Located at 55 Taylor Street in San Francisco, the gallery is open to the public Monday through Friday, 9 am – 5 pm, and during performances.

Email the Gallery Manager for information, questions, comments or to propose an installation. View past installations.

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Mon, Jan 1 — Wed, Feb 28, 2018
Banjofrogs and Humanitars: Instruments and Art by Fred Carlson

About the Artist

Innovative California luthier Fred Carlson got his start in rural Vermont, where as a teenager in the early 1970s he worked with artist Ken Riportella, a maker of musical sculptures. In 1975 Fred studied guitar-building with acclaimed lutherie teacher Charles Fox. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s Fred built and repaired stringed instruments professionally in a collective craft and woodworking studio that was run by members of the communal farm where he lived for some 20 years. In 1984, Fred’s violin-building partner, Suzy Norris, inspired him with her use of sympathetic strings to develop the Sympitar, a guitar with internal resonating strings. In 1985 Fred showed a prototype of the Sympitar to guitarist/composer Alex de Grassi, who still performs and records with one of the early Sympitars that his feedback helped evolve. Moving to California in 1989, Fred has continued to expand the aesthetic and functional boundaries of the guitar with instruments like the Harp-Sympitar, the Barikoto and the Banjalarpe, original designs that are acoustically and aesthetically adventurous while maintaining the important functional qualities of fine musical instruments, and honoring the traditions of the craft.

Artist Statement

As a teenager some 45 years ago, I got involved in making musical instruments because I wanted to make myself a banjo.  I was living in commune in rural Vermont, filled with woodworkers and musicians.  A woman there played old-time 5-string banjo, and I desperately wanted to learn how to do that.  We built all our own houses there, and there were some very skilled cabinet makers that I got to rub shoulders with.  It occurred to me that I could probably build a banjo if I had some help.  I was attending a very small, alternative high school program at the time, and I asked the director if he could find someone to help me build a banjo.  That led me to working for several years with a wonderful artist/sculptor, Ken Riportella, who was making Appalachian dulcimers in wild, sculpted shapes.  I did eventually make myself a little wooden banjo that I traveled everywhere with, learning to play old mountain tunes and songs.  I sewed a case for it out of an old raincoat I got from the Catholic Daughters Rummage Sale, an annual event in Montpelier, Vermont, that was run by octagenarian identical twin ladies who wore matching plaid outfits.  That was about as good as a rummage sale gets, and those were happy, innocent days in my life.

I got distracted, then, by guitar making, and by becoming a “professional” luthier, something I studied and practised seriously for many years.  But, my natural tendancy has always been toward creativity; I gravitated towards unusual shapes and gradually my work got more assymetrical, farther away from traditional guitar making.  I always wanted to use color, and to have the wood be more plastic than it is, to be able to get shapes that don’t come easy with a chisel.

In a parallel thread of my life, I was doing a lot of theater performance, and got interested in mask-making, strongly influenced by the work of Peter Schumann, of Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Theater.  At some point, I began to get the urge to combine the mask-making with the instrument building; it seemed that a large mask might make a really great resonating shell (back) for a stringed instrument.

Over the years, as I got more involved in making more and more complicated variations on multi-string harp guitar things for clients, I made an occasional foray into the mask-as-a-back idea.  It was fun, and I began to develop a paper-and-glue laminate material that had the right consistency to make a reasonable resonator.

It has been only in the last couple of years that I’ve gotten back into banjo building, and have discovered that this papier-mache material is well suited for making a banjo shell/back.  The original ancestors of our modern banjo came from Africa, and were basically gourds with skin stretched over them.  I tried growing gourds…the climate where I now live in coastal California isn’t right.  But I realized I could make my own gourd substitute using my papier-mache material, and have control over shape, color and so on.

So, I’ve been reinventing the ancient, African gourd banjo using recycled Safeway paper grocery bags and Titebond glue.  One thing that draws me to the banjo is an amazing fact of its existence:  it came to us through so much suffering, a people forced into slavery and servitude for centuries, and somehow the instrument is universally associated with joy.  My most recent work has been in trying to manifest that joy into the sculpture of the instrument.

Thu, Feb 1 — Sat, Mar 31, 2018
Ken Butler: Hybrid Visions

Atrium Display: Ken Butler, Hybrid Visions 

Artist Statement

Contemporary urban life is a bewildering collage of multiple images, ideas, sounds, and objects in a constant state of flux as information overload becomes the touchstone of our age. As we move from the mechanical to the electronic, this churning mass chews up and spits out material with re-assigned priorities and updates. The resulting detritus is a living corpse – a random and chaotic body of juxtaposed and deconstructed items and associations. From this storehouse of forsaken objects and hardware I, the urban bricoleur, further dismantle and reassemble the consumer society into assemblages in the form of musical instrument/objects, then coax them to sing for their supper.


Ken Butler is an artist and musician whose Hybrid musical instruments, performances and other works explore the interaction and transformation of common and uncommon objects, altered images, and sounds as function and form collide in the intersection of art and music. Butler is internationally recognized as an innovator of experimental musical instruments created from diverse materials including tools, sports equipment, and household objects. The idea of bricolage, essentially using whatever is “at hand”, is at the center of his art, encompassing a wide range of practice that combines assemblage art, live music, instrument design, performance art, theater, sculpture, installation, photography, film/video, graphic design, drawing, and collage.
Ken Butler studied viola as a child and maintained an interest in music while studying visual arts in France, at Colorado College, and Portland State University where he completed his MFA in painting. He has been featured in exhibitions and performances worldwide 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), The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Mass Moca, and The Kitchen, The Brooklyn Museum, Lincoln Center and The Metropolitan Museum in New York City as well as in Canada, South America, Thailand, and Japan.

His works have been reviewed in The New York Times, The Village Voice, Artforum, Smithsonian, and Sculpture Magazine and have been featured on PBS, CNN, MTV, and NBC, including a live appearance on The Tonight Show. Awards include fellowships from the Oregon Arts Commission, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pollack/Krasner Foundation. He won first prize in the 2016 international Guthman Musical Instrument Competition at Georgia Tech University.

Butler has performed with John Zorn, Laurie Anderson, David Van Tieghem, Butch Morris, The Soldier String Quartet, Matt Darriau’s Paradox Trio, The Tonight Show Band, and The Master Gnawa musicians of Morocco. His CD, Voices of Anxious Objects is on Tzadik records. Works by Ken Butler are represented in public and private collections in Portland, Seattle, Vail, Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal, Washington, Paris, Tel Aviv, and New York City including the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He resides in Brooklyn, New York.

Created primarily from consumer detritus with a patina of use, the hybrid instruments express a poetic spirit of re-invention and hyper-utility as new associations momentarily create a striking and re-animated cultural identity for forsaken objects. String instruments become body, tool, weapon, toy, machine, phallus, creature, fetish, sculpture, icon, symbol, and voice. Pianos become cybernetic and symbolic architecture. Anxious objects speak in tongues.


Collages and other flatworks, made principally from altered photos of the artist’s hybrid musical instrument sculptures, further re-configure and amplify the head-neck-body ergo-iconography of string instruments, pushing it into the realm of abstraction and color-field painting. The hands-on physicality of these works echoes the improvisational sensibilities of making live music and creates a reliquary of silent sound shapes that reflect this transition from found object to body to instrument to abstract icon and architecture. Proportion, balance, harmony, texture, scale, tension, release, dynamics, and resonance aptly apply to numerous art forms.


In addition to the collages and assemlages, a series of complex and detailed pencil drawings from 2004-05 illustrate envisioned and often elaborate audio-visual sculptures and installations that further extend the formal dialogue of art forms and the transformative deconstruction of musical instruments into surreal realms of high and low technology and invention. Bicycles, pianos, projectors, musical chairs, exotic racing cars, and dinosaurs are subjected to transformation and re-construction.

Fri, Mar 9 — Mon, Apr 30, 2018
The Universal Music of Dr. UM: Works by Darrell DeVore

About the Artist

Darrell DeVore (1939-2005), also known as Dr. UM, was a musician, instrument maker, graphic artist, wordsmith, philosophizer, and an inspiring and uplifting presence for all who came in contact with him.

Darrell grew up in St. Joseph, Missouri. He taught himself jazz piano and as a young man made a place for himself in the Kansas City jazz scene. In 1967 he moved to California. He found the jazz scene here a bit less fertile; dipped a toe but not much more in San Francisco’s psychedelic rock scene (including a stint with The Charlatans); and then gradually set about creating a musical world for himself that was more uniquely his own. The music became freer, more exploratory, and more rooted in a peculiarly DeVorean philosophical and spiritual perspective. He became, for a time, a fluteman (his word) – making, playing and selling bamboo flutes on streets, in parks, and wherever else the passing people might enjoy them. In addition, he began turning out a range of other musical sound makers. None of them were high-tech; many were made of gourd or bamboo, but he also made good use of scrap metal and Styrofoam. All of them reflected an abiding interest not only in the notes of music, but in sound itself. He connected with an evolving array of like-minded allies (again, his word) in free-music assemblages including Pygmy Unit, Moire Pulse, Lingua Quartet, and others. He also continued with his own idiosyncratic and visionary jazz practice, focused on piano. And it wasn’t music alone that engaged him: Darrell’s inner and outer perspectives manifested themselves in page upon page of prose in a rather beautiful handwriting that was somehow both unfussy and elegant, and in a very personal graphic style which looks sometimes like biological forms, sometimes like coded messages from another world.

All this seemed to come from a philosophical outlook that flowed through and informed everything he did. This perspective was expansive and free; not easily described. It had an animist quality in recognizing the spirits within things and places. It had a deep feeling for a human nature that abides outside the influence of civilizing forces. It reflected a great faith in the power of sound and, most importantly, of listening, to point to essential truths and ways of being in the world.

Eventually Darrell settled in Petaluma, where for many years he practiced Sound Magic with children in the Petaluma School District. His later years were spent mostly in Studio UM*, the rambling chicken shack in the midst of an unmown field on the outskirts where he built and played. Within it and around it there appeared an evolving array of bamboo structures and accumulated sound objects. Music people from the Bay Area and beyond made the pilgrimage to join in music sessions and take in the world that had been created there. People wanted to be part of it because Darrell had a profound impact on those around him. Different people no doubt were drawn to different facets of it, but central for most, I think, was this: Darrell had a deeply transformational way of dismissing the unimportant stuff, and opening the space for what is essential about music, about listening, and about being alive.

In this exhibit we have gathered a sampling of DeVore instruments, graphics and writings. Our thanks for instrument loans and generous assistance go to Oma DeVore, Trane DeVore, Cain DeVore and Cecily Axt; George Brooks, Will Combs, Sally Davis, Kim Epifano, Karen Ezekiel, Rasa Gustaitis, Emily Klion, Gary Knowlton, Mike Knowlton, Kevin Lambert, Tom Nunn, Steve Shain, Sara Winge, and Jim Zeno.


*In the DeVore lexicon, UM stood for Universal Music.

The Window Gallery at the Center for New Music is supported by the San Francisco Arts Commission in 2016-17.

The Window Gallery at the Center for New Music was supported by New Music USA in 2014.