Beautiful Machines: Critter & Guitari’s Simple, Sculptural Synthesizers

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Bushwick-based studio Critter  & Guitari makes synthesizers that look more like toys or minimalist sculptures than serious equipment. It’s what you’d expect from company founders Chris Kucinski and Owen Osborn, college friends and musicians who used to design interactive sculptures for art exhibits. “Around 2010, we thought, what if these things actually did something besides being cool to look at?” Kucinski says. In neon pinks, greens, and yellows, their synths stand out in a monochromatic market. Each has only a few unlabeled knobs, so musicians have to rely on intuition and creativity instead of techy gizmos. “People gravitate towards the synths because they’re simple,” Kucinski says. “It’s not like, ‘no, don’t touch that knob!’”

Critter & Guitari’s cult following includes some indie giants: Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh plays the Kaleidoloop, a portable sound collector/manipulator; a few Flaming Lips tracks feature the Pocket Piano, a synth with wooden buttons instead of piano keys; the Strokes use the Videoscope, a lo-fi video synthesizer, for stage visuals; and, in April, Jack White’s Third Man Records commissioned custom C&G designs. Still, this equipment isn’t just for professionals—as Kucinski says, “Little kids can play these things.”

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