MacArthur Fellows Program

Walter Kitundu

Multimedia Artist | Class of 2008

Inventing instruments inspired by experimental and traditional musical forms to produce electro-acoustic works that navigate the boundary between live and recorded performance.

Title
Multimedia Artist
Affiliation
Exploratorium
Location
San Francisco, California
Age
35 at time of award

Walter Kitundu is a young sound artist and inventor of original musical instruments that navigate the boundary between live and recorded performance. Inspired by hip-hop, other modern musical forms, and traditional Asian and African instruments, Kitundu’s phonoharps are hybrids of turntables and stringed instruments. At once highly sculptural art objects and functional instruments, the phonoharps offer a wide range of melodic possibilities and are surprisingly versatile in performance. The turntable’s pickup collects and amplifies any sound transmitted to it, allowing the performer to employ percussion and string resonance as well as digital manipulation, or sampling, of prerecorded material. Kitundu takes full advantage of the phonoharp’s flexibility in electro-acoustic compositions that seamlessly incorporate experimental, jazz, and pop music influences. Many of Kitundu’s artistic pursuits, including ambitious proposals for public installations of his instruments, reflect his ongoing interest in the interaction between technology and the natural world. His elemental phonoharps, for example, draw on natural forces such as wind, waves, light, and the movement of birds to produce unique sound sculptures. An experimental instrument builder, composer, and musician, Kitundu’s interdisciplinary approach to music-making and performance is inspiring a wide range of musicians and audiences.

Walter Kitundu has been affiliated with the Exploratorium Museum of Science, Art, and Human Perception since 2003, where he is currently a multimedia artist. In 2008, he is the Wornick Distinguished Visiting Professor of Wood Arts at the California College of the Arts and artist-in-residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts. His work has been exhibited and performed at such national and international venues as the Singapore Arts Centre, the Gunnar Gunnarsson Institute, Iceland, the Walker Art Center, and the Museum of Craft and Folk Art. He has also created instruments for and performed with the Kronos Quartet at several venues across the U.S.

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Photos are owned by the MacArthur Foundation and licensed under a Creative Commons license: CC-BY.
Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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