Playing By Ear: Walter Kitundu

One of this year’s MacArthur Foundation Fellows, recipients of the so-called “genius grants,” is San Francisco sound artist Walter Kitundu. His kinetic sculptures have a whimsical elegance reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp, and his musical instruments sound as earthy and iconoclastic as Harry Partch with a hip-hop twist. He uses old turntables as part of the instruments. One is called the Blue Steel String 1200 Phonoharp. Another is the PhonoKora, which he plays in the video clip below.

“Many people for years have been trying to isolate the turntable from vibration, precisely because it’s so good at picking it up,” he said in an NPR interview. “So I turned that on its head. When I pluck the strings of the phoneharp, the vibrations are actually varied into the body of the turntable, and they’re amplified by the cartridge.”

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