This interview is from issue 15 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular from December 2016.
Hey Václav, good to be speaking you and asking some questions for the magazine. First can you tell us about about your own background?
We started the company together with Ondřej and we played in a band together but also went to art school together. So basically the background is art and music. The good thing about art school was that I had a lot of time to learn how to do electronics and programing and from doing video-synthesizers and mechanical installations I shifted to making synthesizer, because I really needed to focus my energy towards music.
What made you start designing modules and launch the company BASTL?
At first we started a project called Standuino (est. 2011) which was focused on the local history of DIY movement in contrast with the global trends that came with the maker movement. The name itself connected the Arduino (prototyping platform) and a name of our hero Standa Filip – a local guy that was making synths, drum machines, theremins and electric guitars since late 70s. With the Standuino project we have been doing workshops, art exhibitions and concerts all around Europe, but at the workshops we were building synths anyway. So at first the idea was to make workshops and art but then we came to the point: “Hey! we are actually making synths and people want to buy them?!” we decided to start from scratch and make a real company – Bastl Instruments.
Eurorack was actually the format of choice for my diploma project in which i wanted to translate physical events into simple language (control voltage obviously) with sensors, and than i wanted to influence the physical environment with the same language – motor controllers. I build a rack with bunch of modules to demonstrate that you can use modular environment to reconfigure physical ecosystems. And of course some of the modules were making sound as well.
Your line of modules has grown quickly. Was building full systems a goal at the start?
Well I always wanted to create complete musical instrument/environment for myself. It took a long time between I started to turn circuits into modules and the time when we were ready with the panels, knobs, graphics, manuals and everything else. So it piled up and then we released 10 modules at once and it appeared to work as a complete system already. Also the motivation behind making the modules in the first place was that I had a lot of friends here in Czech republic that wanted to build that stuff also, but couldn’t afford to buy it. And we all needed all the basic modules, like mixers etc.
We can’t have an interview without me asking about the wooden panels, what made you choose wooden panels?
So the story is that we have a CNC machine in the house that we use for several other projects and when we were prototyping the panels we used it just to check that all the holes are in the right place so we could order some metal panels. But the moment we saw how it looked and how it behaved it was decided! But than it also took some time to figure out the right printing method and the type of varnish we need to use so it stabilizes the color and makes it really durable.
You have even made custom knobs for the modules, are the aesthetics of your systems something you make a priority?
Well I guess our art background makes that aesthetic stuff automatically 🙂 so we focus more on the instruments themselves and that seems to be the priority. Luckily we have awesome friends that do all our graphics – the Anymade Studio and they really push the look of our stuff and make our brand something special. They also enjoy working with us because we are not normal clients and they can afford to make more extreme jokes in more progressive designs.
I think BASTL deserve an award for the most creative and fun stands at shows. Where did the idea to do something so different come from?
Haha thanks ! Well if you look at my diploma project it must become obvious https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUeHUuyPa84
Basically it is art installation that I finished my art school with. From this point to our show stands there is very direct link. We tried it the first time and it simply worked. I also really enjoy making these installations. At Superbooth for instance we showed the Hendrikson module that interfaces with the guitar and guitar pedals, but we didn’t want people play guitar at our booth so I made the robotic self playing guitar that you could sequence with a modular. That was fun!
As well as providing modules to interface with external devices (instruments, motors etc) you’ve released the bitRanger and Kastle. Which are both stand alone devices. Will we see more stand alone devices in the future?
I need to mention Peter Edwards a.k.a. Casper Electronics at this point. He is a circuit bending legend and really innovative thinking instruments designer that happened to move to Brno to work with us on synths and instruments. The bitRanger is his design that we released and the Kastle is my design that is obviously inspired by the bitRanger. We have always been doing standalone instruments and to be honest it is much easier from the design perspective to make a module than to make a tabletop thing (that is why it takes so long sometimes). Now especially with the bitRanger and the Kastle we wanted to address the situation of starting modular user (so you don’t need so many modules and expenses when starting to have something fun to play), but also somebody who doesn’t have more space in the rack (so you get an external device to enhance it).
Personally I like the wooden panels, they look and feel great but it’s hard to escape people asking for aluminium panels. Will you offer those in the future?
Yes we will ! It took us really long time because all our production is local or in house (pcbs,assembly, panels) so we were trying to find somebody local, too. That turned out to be impossible so we started to look further and found a company in Germany.
With them we managed to develop a technique how to do the printing and post processing so it becomes very durable and also looks amazing so we are really happy with the result. So hopefully we have the panels very soon.
Finally anything else you would like to tell us or promote? Any new module teasers?
Well we always talk about the community around Bastl Instruments. We are mostly musicians and all the guys working with us have build a modular for very little money. And we all play these instruments, we organize monthly concerts and also we try to make internal weekly workshops on synthesis, music, electronics and related topics. There is a real music scene forming around Bastl now which is really exciting.
With products – there is very anticipated effects processor called Thyme getting finished so we can hopefully soon start the production. It also took much longer than anticipated but is really worth it. Sounds and feels truly great! When it comes to modules… yes there will be some new modules next year. There is still a lot of modules that I desire that don’t exist so i need to make them exist!
Thanks to Václav for chatting to us and checking BASTL here – http://www.bastl-instruments.com/