Think back to your old talking toys. You know, like the Speak and Spell, or the mini Barbie Karaoke machine (what, you didn't have one of those?).
Now imagine them souped-up and turned into musical instruments. That's kind of the idea behind Casper Electronics in Troy.
Pete Edwards has been modifying and creating unique electronic instruments for about nine years using things like old circuit boards, keyboards and old toys. He's worked on projects for all sorts of musicians, including Negativland, Mike Patton (of bands like Faith No More and Mr. Bungle) and Danny Elfman. .
Recently Edwards and his partner Kate Sweater, moved their shop from Brooklyn to Troy. Hmm.
The shop is set up in an old hair salon on Fulton Street. It's a combination studio for Edwards and a workshop venue called "Casperland." The place is complete with Casper Electronic's cutely cartoonish icons. It's sort of like a mini-amusement park of electronic instruments.
Edwards studied sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design, but was always fascinated with what he calls "the science of sound." He taught himself everything he knows about sound and electronic arts.
Almost all of Edwards' pieces are custom-made, and he's usually working on a handful of projects at any given time. The materials he uses come from dumpster diving, tag sales, eBay and other second hand outlets. Why does he use this stuff?
He says there's a kind of duality about the pieces that he enjoys. They give people a sense of "whoa that's crazy!" mixed with a bit of nostalgia. He also really likes giving things a second purpose. By playing around with the wiring, "bending" circuits and "using malfunctions to make rhythms," he creates what he calls unintended functionalities.
Edwards is the first to admit that some of the custom projects are a little corny, like the pieces using old doll heads, which he says tend to be pretty popular with rock musicians who want their instruments to be like stage props. Other pieces include voice-changing toy megaphones , modified Casio keyboards and numerous instruments made from old Speak and Spell toys, including this one made for composer and one-time Oingo Boingo member Danny Elfman.
Meanwhile, Sweater who is starting a masters program at RPI in the fall, has big ambitions for their space. She wants to use it for Troy Night Out events and imagines doing a mini-lecture series, diorama displays, and hosting all sorts of people working in the innovative electronic arts sector. She likes to think of the bigger plan as "a variety show for people who think too much."
This month, as part of TNO, Casperland will be hosting a duo of cousins who perform using instruments they've created themselves. Dewanatron will kick their show off around 7 p.m. on Friday, July 31.
photos courtesy of Kate Sweater and Pete Edwards
469 Fulton St
Troy, NY 12180
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