I have been quite lucky to catch up with Milan Gustar at his retrospective exhibition in DOX, Center for Contemporary Art in Prague. We met in a former industrial building turned into a large gallery of modern art. Mesmerising afternoon light chased by random autumn showers offered great atmosphere for an interview inside the big renovated gallery space. Milan Gustar, an experienced hardware wizard, who is mostly known for his electronic hardware design collaboration with many Czech artists (probably the most worldwide known one is David Cerny, who built controversial Entropa sculpture in Brussels or double decker bus doing push-ups for London Olympics in 2012) is currently here presenting his own sound art objects and compositions. We have talked about the way he works with sound hardware in his audio installations and dived into surround sound and synthesiser construction as well.
First of all, how did you come across this exciting mix of art and hi-tech?
I have always been searching for unusual sounds, with a great desire to develop new music devices. Electronics happened to be the platform for me, as it allows me to creatively work with sounds. It was also about helping my friends in visual arts to make things happen.
I can imagine that the synthesiser scene was quite limited some years ago when you started. How has it changed?
In the second half of seventies I started building my own analogue synthesisers, electronic organs, effect processors and other sound devices. It was very hard to get such instruments at the time and even the documentation and necessary electronic parts were almost inaccessible. Thinking about sounds and possible ways to create them and then building the electronics from the scratch was a good training for me.
Talking about synthesizers and new technologies, there was quite big interest in neural networks some time ago – did they make it into realm of sound?
I do not know much about the neural network applications in the sound synthesis but I think the excitement was a bit premature. From my own experience, there could always be found more efficient algorithms. But as research and experimental tools the neural networks definitely have some potential. The idea of mutually interconnected and communicating individual blocks can be useful for a complex sound and rhythmical structures creation. There’s one synth coming to my mind now – Resonator Neuronium. But I’m not really sure what it has inside and whether it is a neural network at all – we would have to hack into that one.
There is a great portable application available at modulargrid.net, where you can design your dream synth while riding on a bus – have you heard about this one?
I just came across something quite similar – I’m reading a book by Neil Young called Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream. He mentioned that he was designing his imaginary guitar gears with paper and pencil when he was young kid.
Can you please tell us about your multichannel installations in early 90’s?
Yes, that was a project for Federico Diaz from 1993. It was called Dehibernation and I created a 92 channel audio system. It was pretty unusual setup at the time.
That sounds quite extraordinary, what approach did you take to design such an installation?
The sound distribution was a hardware-based, digitally-controlled, analogue system. I used a simple triangulation technique in polar coordinates which positioned the specific sound to any given place around the listener in the room. The sound coordinates were sent from an early PC machine through the serial port into the hardware section. Very simple, but effective.
This project sounds really exciting, can you compare it with similar projects in Europe at the time?
Maybe no one else was building such an extensive spatial sound systems back then. I’m afraid that this project got unfortunately largely unnoticed. My sound distributing device was only one part of a larger art piece and was rather hidden in it.
End of part I. Read part two here.