We got in touch with Critter & Guitari, electronic instrument designers from Philadelphia, to ask them four questions about their practice of design, music, and art.
COOPER-HEWITT: Owen, you studied Music at Dartmouth, and Chris, you studied electronics at ITP. Tell us how you met and when/how you knew you wanted to work together. CHRIS KUCINSKI: We actually met as freshmen in college. Owen showed up at school with a bunch of banjos he made. He could, and still can, pick on a banjo like crazy(!), but the fact that he built them left a much deeper impression. I hadn’t thought that was a possibility for me before then. We started playing music together and worked increasingly on art and building instruments. OWEN OSBORN: Yes, creating music especially has been a common activity that makes it easy to work together, and a good way to get inspired as well. I think playing music with someone is a good way to become better at working on an intuitive level. Decisions start to flow with better rhythm and more efficiency.
Critter & Guitari's Pocket Piano MIDI
CH: Your instruments never use words or pictorial icons to explain buttons or controls. The Pocket Piano is a good example of this. Tell us more about this choice, and the challenges and rewards associated with it. CK: We’re excited to design instruments where people can ignore a manual and go straight to figuring out what the instruments do. We’re always aiming for immediacy and fun in making music. Keeping both how the instrument works electronically and how one interacts with it as straightforward as possible is challenging at times. Hearing and seeing who and how someone plays our instruments is always awesome - pros, amateurs, kids, adults, animals. OO: This is not so much a decision as a result of the process of streamlining a musical instrument - simplifying the interface so that it is more intuitive and fun to play. Approaching that point, there becomes less of a need for icons and explanation. This is definitely a challenge with electronics since electronic instruments can affect music on so many levels (it can become harder to tell what your movements have to do with the sound being created), but the payoff is the visual design becomes easier to manage as well.
CH: Do you identify as artists, designers, or both? How do you define these terms? OO: We spend a bunch of time in both of these realms. Most of what we do at Critter & Guitari is turn our art experiments into products. So it usually starts with artmaking and music, and playing with different ways to do this. We might find something we like, and to make it into a product we have to start thinking about how it is put together, the materials, and how other people will use it. CK: We’re pretty lucky that we get to go between those mindsets like that. CH: What exciting things does the future hold for Critter & Guitari? OO: New stuff! Instruments with better connectedness and simplicity. Continuing to experiment. CK: We’re working on getting our instruments in space, as well. Seriously. We want a Kaleidoloop and Pocket Piano jam on the International Space Station, complete with the bleeps, bloops, and other noises the ISS normally makes! Maybe that recording will make the next Voyager Golden Record....