© Karina Ekizler-Kirillova
Created in 2014 to broaden a fresh path for musical education and to invent instruments from everyday life, Playtronica’s goal is to remodel the synergy between the physical and digital worlds thanks to the power of sound and touch. Playtronica explores and arouses curiosity by using music, play and creative opportunities. With a simple human touch, objects then turn into sounds.
We talked with Sasha Pas, founder of Playtronica.
Who and what is Playtronica?
Playtronica connects human curiosity and musical opportunity through simple touch. Utilising adaptable technology, everyday and unexpected objects can become vessels for creative exploration, using conductive materials and smart textiles to create unusual instruments.
Based in Berlin but informed by a passionate collective of creatives around the world, Playtronica was founded by Sasha Pas, a Russian-born producer with a background in sociology and musical theatre. It’s community benefits from the input of a broad spectrum of musicians, developers and educators, each ambitious to forge new paths for sensory art and culture.
What kind of commercial products did you release so far?
We have released two devices: Playtron and TouchMe. Both work with the same idea: to connect humans and objects in one electric chain and measure the intensity of touch, which is technically a change in electric field. Usually, we don’t think about it, but our bodies are batteries, they use electricity to help our brains to communicate with other body parts. So we thought, why not use the same idea to interact with other organic materials, outside our body, the world as an interface?
Playtron is focused on physical objects, and uses them as interfaces for musical experience. TouchMe is all about human interaction. It connects two (or more) persons and converts their touch into sound. TouchMe was an absolute bestseller last year, we also received an International Sound Award for Best Product 2020.
In the coming months (we have huge delays because of chip shortage) we plan to release a new device. Orbita is a playful music controller which looks like a tiny turntable but functions as a powerful Midi sequencer. By arranging color magnets on a plate, Orbita lets you produce music with colors instead of notes. Orbits has already won a prize at Creative Business Cup 2021, so fingers crossed.
How did you come up with the idea of founding a company that invents such unusual and innovative instruments like the TouchMe device?
The idea was born in 2012 in Barcelona. I was blown away by the Sónar festival and the idea of a kids-friendly edition of it. I talked to Sónar organizers – Astrid Rousse and Sergio Caballero –, interviewed kids and parents, and decided to create a project aimed to educate kids how to make new electronic music. The focus was on a holistic, 360-degrees approach. That means, combining music theory with other disciplines: visual art, animation, dance and storytelling, accompanied by cheap technology and affordable tools. Technology is the core element of Playtronica’s universe. A few years later, the educational startup did not succeed but the technology development opened up possibilities to a variety of different projects.
Do you have a music recommendation (listening tip) or a favorite podcast about music-tech (Song, Video, great podcast) for our community?
If I may, I would recommend several projects run by my Berlin colleagues, with whom I had a chance to work with.
First one is Music X, a regular newsletter with insights in music tech innovations run by Bas Grasmayer and his partner.
Second is Lost and Sound podcast, created by broadcaster Paul Hanford, presenting stories of people who make exciting music from across the world, Liars, Peaches, Thorston Moore, Michael Rother to name a few.
When I feel in a mood of a musical inspiration I go straight to Reviewed in The Wire magazine playlist on Spotify, presented to Eule Chris, an unknown hero who collects all tunes mentioned in each magazine.
You recently released a podcast series called “Seeing Sound” which features appearances of Ninja Tune’s Matt Black, producer and Ableton co-founder Robert Henke, beat-prodcer Daedalus, multi-sensory artist PortraitXO and a lot of other great people. Can you please explain what the podcast is about and what listeners can expect from it?
Each episode of ‘Seeing Sound’ podcast is a compelling blend of music, narrative and field recording. Over the course of five episodes, ‘Seeing Sound’ seeks to explore the relationships between leading musicians, filmmakers and thinkers to the ever-changing world around us, breaking down their processes with a brief dive into their innovative approaches.
How did you come up with the concept for this podcast and are you planning to release more episodes?
The podcast idea originated from our research of last century multimedia art pioneers. Painters, composers and early film makers who explored boundaries of what we see and what we hear. From abstract paintings by Wassily Kandinsky, Musicalism painters movement in France, animators and video artists like Mary Ellen Bute and John Whitney from the US.
That’s why we wanted to invite artists whose contribution is meaningful to the evolution of cinema and music, but also everyone who resonated with the idea.
Jim O’Rourke’s soundtracks for Werner Herzog’s movies, studio Canada music videos inspired by La Nouvelle Vague, Peter Strickland and his homage to Italian horrors. By the way, if you are interested in Italian soundtracks (and library music in general) please check my recent podcast with Maurizio Fani owner of italian library music labet Dagored records .
We created first episode of Seeing Sound in collaboration with Paul Hanford from Lost and Sound and with general support of Jagermeister’s #SavetheNight initiative. The original idea was that the podcast will also promote the release of Playtronica’s Orbita. Podcasts can be great ways to build an audience, but in reality they are like planting a tree – it takes a long time and a lot of nurturing to build an audience. But as long as we feel inspired we will continue exploration and produce new episodes.
What 3 tools, resources, other apps etc. do you use daily?
We use Miro a lot, its a tool to brainstorm with your colleagues using virtual sticky notes. We also did some design and interface iteration with my partners outside of Berlin. Highly recommended.
My phone Timer. I use it for morning meditation, for monitoring my calls and to cook my dinner of course. Time management should be as simple as this.
Lines blog. I really like this place. Recommended a few years ago by Johannes from Dada machines, a place for inspiration and insights. For example Emulation of Laurie Spiegel’s Music Mouse application by Tero Parviainen or amazing Tube Chopper
As a startup founder with a proven track record, what’s your tip for our community to motivate them to found their own venture? And which advice would you share with young company founders?
I don’t know about the nature of your startup but there are some tips that helped Playtronica to stay alive for many years. If you come up with a cool idea, try to fit it into different audiences, different customer groups, and different businesses. Working with sound doesn’t necessarily mean working in the music industry, try to look wider. Playtronica started from education, then moved into events, then to theatre and arts, later to therapy and research and now into product and a bit of sound design.
What are your next plans? Do you plan to expand with more products? How can people stay up to date about Playtronica?
We have plans. Next year we are about to release a series of devices as a homage to our favourite engineer and inventor of one of the first electronic music instruments, Leon Theremin. He is a unique person and I can speak here for hours. Russian with French roots living between the USA and USSR working for the military defense and at the same time creating unique tools for musicians. That would be a collaboration between Playtronica and several artists and engineers from Russia, France, UK and Japan.
Please stay tuned for more news and support our Orbita release by subscribing to the newsletter and following Kickstarted campaign.
If you are in Berlin in September, let’s meet and talk at Superbooth21, where we will present the Orbita device.