Music Tech Video Spotlight – Unique Synths from Critter and Guitari in Brooklyn, NY

We recently visited the creative studio of Critter and Guitari in Brooklyn, NY. We take a hands-on look at some of their quirky and unique synthesizer offerings.

When it comes to modern electronic musical instruments, most products on the market are “do everything” devices that aim to fulfill all of your studio needs. While many of these products look great on paper, the end result is often a confusing and un-inspiring instrument (or effect, DAW, etc.) that often takes longer to learn than it does to create sound.

Brooklyn-based synth designers Chris Kucinski and Owen Osborn seem to be offering an alternative to this mentality with a boutique line of instruments and video creation devices called Critter& Guitari. We recently had a chance to ask Chris and Owen a few questions about the company and to check out three of their products: the Pocket PianoBolsa Bassand B&W Video Scope (click here for our impressions).


Interview with Critter and Guitari’s Chris Kucinski and Owen Osborn

One thing that I have noticed in using these devices (Pocket Piano, Bolsa Bass) is that they are incredibly addictive to play because of their simplicity (easy to master) while being very expressive at the same time (thinking here about how the keys respond in some patches). How did you come to find this winning formula with your product design?

Thanks! Coming from music, art, engineering and architecture backgrounds we had a lot of opportunities to experiment and explore different designs. We built musical and interactive sculptures for art shows and watched how people played with them. These works ended up being a proving ground for ideas. So there have been many iterations of various instruments that led to those two instruments.

Is less really more when it comes to musical instruments?

We think so! We like immediacy in making music. For us, that immediacy leads to more musical, fun, and spontaneous creations and keeps the energy up. The sonic parameters we design in to each instrument are geared towards those aspects of making music. Being able to record an audio loop like a Kaleidoloop does or a sequence on the Bolsa Bass or Melody Mill as soon as you can think of it is huge. We think it helps get you out of your head – making music instead of thinking about it.

Who builds these beautiful devices?

We’re a team of three. We assemble each instrument by hand, test and ship them out all from our Brooklyn studio. We have an assembly line set up to build big batches of instruments at once. The parts that are made specifically for us such as the wood and aluminum enclosures and wood buttons are all made in the USA.

Are the Critter & Guitari products a calculated response to the multitude of “do everything” products that flood music instrument market?

Recognizing and embracing your constraints is a good thing! The best instruments are the intuitive instruments – drums, piano, stringed instruments, etc. They don’t do everything, but they do plenty and they do it well. That’s where we’re coming from. Drop-down menus and system settings are boring and anti-music.

What inspired you to create a wooden box synthesizer? And where did the idea for wooden keys come from?

As we iterated through designs of what was to become the Pocket Piano, we would use cigar boxes for enclosures – drilling out holes for keys and jacks – to protect the circuitry and have some semblance of a finished instrument. For the production runs of Pocket Pianos, we continued using wood since it sounds good! We wanted a nice, refined touch when you played the Pocket Piano so we chose maple for the keys too.

The speaker and battery power in the Pocket Piano are one of our favorite features. What are your thoughts on portability with modern music equipment?

Including the speaker and battery power on our instruments is in line with our goals of making music with spontaneity and immediacy. It’s great that electronic musical instruments can be so small and portable, but we wanted to make sure people could hear them. It’s important that our instruments are as self-contained and self-sufficient as possible!

What’s the deal with the amazing (and bizarre) Critter & Guitari videos? 

Our friend Devin Flynn is the genius behind the videos! He’s a fantastic musician and animator. We’re very lucky to have him create the animations for us. Check out more of his work here:

How did the Video Scope come about? And how does it work?

We use similar electronics to work with sound and video. So while we’ve been making sound instruments, we’ve also been soldering up video circuits as well. The Video Scope is sort of a hybrid. It takes a sound input and converts it into a video signal using different colors and patterns.

Tell us about any upcoming products, projects, or tidbits that you have going on..

We’re always working on new instruments, usually a few at the same time. Our development process is experimental so we really don’t know much about them until they are done. We’re always posting on Instagram & Facebook also.

See what Critter & Guitari are up to on Instagram and Facebook

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