Pocket Piano, Bolsa Bass, Video Scope – Unique Musical Instruments from Critter and Guitari

In this hardware spotlight, we take a look at the synthesizers from Critter and Guitari, the Brooklyn-based creative manufacturers behind the Pocket Piano, Bolsa Bass, Video Scope and more.

Critter_Header_640

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 (read on for our impressions).

Critter and Guitari

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!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlRkDMnTInI

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: http://www.yallsostupid.com/

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

Critter & Guitari Pocket Piano

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Your love affair with the Pocket Piano begins with the wooden keys. Along with the shapely aluminum and wood enclosure, which is just light enough to carry around (with 9 volt battery installed), the Pocket Piano begs to be played. It can easily be be carried in one hand and played with the other while offering a warm tone (thanks to the wood enclosure) through a small speaker at the end of the device.

The 18 maple keys allow polyphonic play of seven digital synthesizers: Vibrato Synth, Harmonic Sweeper, Two-Octave Arpeggiator, Octave Cascade, Mono FM Synth, FM Arpeggiator, and Mono Glider.The arpeggiator modes are especially inspiring and offer vast amounts of control with just four knobs and two buttons. One of the buttons changes the synth mode, another button changes sounds within that synth (and also a hold function with the latest firmware). One of the knobs controls volume, one controls pitch, and the last two (to the left) control two variables for the synths.

The number of playable sounds that are packed into this device are plentiful while the limits that are placed on control allow for fast mastery of the instrument. The keys and knobs are easy to play together and when used withe the arpeggiators offer a digital kaleidoscope of sounds. To get an idea of what this sounds like, check out the above video from Big City Music who demonstrates the Pocket Piano with the Red Panda Particle pedal.

The Critter & Guitari Pocket Piano is offered in two colors (silver, green) and two versions (MIDI or non-MIDI) and they are available for $175 / $275 through the company’s website. The MIDI version offers fairly extensive control and a wider range of tones when played with an external MIDI device. We opted for the basic version of the Pocket Piano, and for our purposes it was fairly easy to dial in an appropriate tempo with the arpeggiator to match other music. Part of the charm of experience seems to come from playing the Pocket Piano like an instrument – playing the keys, tweaking the filter, riding the clock on the arpeggiator to create inspiring movements in sound.

There is no doubt that the Pocket Piano creates sounds and melodies that we would never think to create in a DAW. It remains a favorite go to for sound design experiments (run it through any pedal for fun results) and for noodeling away on the couch. It should be noted that my three year old child is also a big fan of the Pocket Piano (which has proven durable enough to withstand use by a three year old).

Bolsa Bass

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

First things first: the Bolsa Bass doesn’t have a speaker because you wouldn’t hear the notes that it produces through a three inch speaker. We wondered the same thing too and then understood the design choice when booming lows came out of our studio monitors. Despite it’s playful pink exterior, the Bolsa bass produces six modes of low and resonant bass tones that were more inspiring than what we anticipated from the small device.

The Bolsa bass has the same wooden keys and plastic knobs as the Pocket Piano and can be played in a similar way. It also offers a built in sequencer that records notes as well as knob playback and robust MIDI features that allow you to play a full scale of notes. In use we found the Bolsa Bass to be most practical and fun when linked to a sequencer, such as the Korg ESX-1, pictured above. This method allows for full play-ability of the knobs which offer variables like filter sweeps and delay time. The Bolsa Bass can really deliver punch with powerful low end and offers ”32-bit floating point DSP synthesis,” which to our ears sounds really clean.

In use this device seems perfect for live performers who are using MIDI, especially those armed with hardware sequencers like the Korg Electribes and Elektron Octatracks. The resonant bass sounds that come from the Bolsa Bass are professional sounding and offer wall-rattling tones that sit nicely in a mix and command presence. We were impressed in our garage setup test and hope the neighbors don’t hate us.

The Bolsa Bass is currently available for $250 through the Critter & Guitari website.

B&W Video Scope

Critter_Guitari_Video_Scope_640

The Critter & Guitari B&W video scope is a neat little device that creates semi-random visual signals based on an audio input and two variable control knobs on the front of the box. The geometric patterns vary from simple (four square that move clockwise) to kinetic with control over speed and type of visual by way of the two knobs. In use our first thought was “we gotta use this at the next gig!” We haven’t had the chance to use the Video Scope with a projector yet but we imagine it will be a simple and effective way to bring visual performance to an audio live PA or DJ set.

B&W Video Scope Visual Examples

BW_Video_Scope_Examples_640

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKHQJhFxZjA

We had a great time with the Critter & Guitari instruments and can easily recommend them as fun and professional-sounding instruments that offer something a bit different than most other electronic music devices on the market. For more information on the company and their products, head to http://www.critterandguitari.com.


Sound Design Program

Become fluent in the language of sound design and synthesis with this comprehensive program. This six-level Sound Design program uses Native Instruments’ Komplete as a platform for learning synthesis and sampling techniques. Starting with an introduction to the properties of sound, this comprehensive series of courses covers the major techniques used for contemporary sound design.

What’s Included:
Sound Design Level 1: Introduction to Komplete
Sound Design Level 2: Synthesis with Massive, FM8 and Absynth
Sound Design Level 3: Sampling with Kontakt and Battery
Sound Design Level 4: Advanced Sound Design
Sound Design Level 5: Reaktor Ensembles and Production Techniques
Sound Design Level 6: Reaktor Programming and Instrument Building

Become fluent in the language of sound design and synthesis with this comprehensive program. This six-level Sound Design program uses Native Instruments’ Komplete as a platform for learning synthesis and sampling techniques. Starting with an introduction to the properties of sound, this comprehensive series of courses covers the major techniques used for contemporary sound design.

You will learn to create your own sounds with a variety of techniques and add a personal sonic signature to your tracks. We introduce you to the latest synthesis and sampling technologies and show you how to use the world’s largest and most diverse sound library. In the advanced levels, you will acquire total control over all aspects of the Komplete instruments while practicing genre-based sound design.

Click here for detailed information on this program, including start dates and payment plans.

If you have questions, please call 877.DUBSPOT or send us a message.

0