Potokar Art First, Silliness Second

Amy Sussman for The Wall Street Journal
Musicians Rick DePofi, Scott Williams, Gerry Leonard and Chris Butler perform on Ed Potokar’s instrument.


“You just have to be brave and make silly noises,” said songwriter Chris Butler at a gallery opening in SoHo last week.

He was just one of the musicians on hand, and was coaxing eerie sounds from the “Pedestal Synth.” Others tried the “Thunder Panels,” “Dancing Machine” and “Touch Wall,” all part of a collection of modern instruments designed and built by Ed Potokar.

“One of my pleasures is watching each instrument come along,” Mr. Butler said.

Mr. Potokar’s collection was on view for the first time at JohnHoushmand Projects, a showroom for New York designer John Houshmand’s high-end wooden furniture. The opening brought out musicians like Susanne Vega and other artists to look at the newly fabricated instruments, which are meant both to viewed as well as to be played.

“I wanted the instruments to be art first,” Mr. Potokar, an industrial designer, musician and long-time New York resident, said. He told Heard & Scene that the design for “Cattails,” an instrument consisting of tuned metal rods, was “a combination of music, architecture and sculpture.” And when describing the creation of “Pedestal Synth,” he noted that he wanted to “find the instrument in the wood.” With its ethereal beeps and boops, it sounded like a synthesizer as imagined by an underwater alien race. “Cattails,” on the other hand, was reminiscent of chimes.

Musician Gerry Leonard, who has worked with David Bowie, was on hand to jam on the instruments with other New York musicians. What’s it like playing on futuristic contraptions made of polished wood, river stones and electronic components?

“It’s like murder and torture,” Mr. Leonard said “They’re very, very interesting. They behave in ways that are unexpected.”

Messrs Potokar and Houshmand are looking beyond the gallery walls, as well. The two recently created a new company—also called Soundwall—which will create sonic installations for public spaces around the world.

Mr. Houshmand explained the intended clients—lobbies, boutique hotels and other public spaces—were already primed for sonic installations.

“These sound sculptures will create, in a sense, a musical score for the space,” he said.

About Gerry Leonard

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