Interview: Olga Maximova & Vincent de Malherbe — PLAYTRONICA

Playtronica, a Moscow based electronic music / DIY hacker collective, helping us rediscover the joy of playing by using everyday objects to create music. By effectively changing any conductive object into buttons of a MIDI controller, with preprogrammed scenes and instruments set up, so with minimal instructions, technical knowledge or musical ability one can get quickly lost in a childlike wonder making music. Their first prototypes used Makey Makey boards, they now make their own array of kits adults and kids can use.
We welcomed 2 members the Paris chapter of Playtronica, Olga Maximova (OMMA) & Vincent de Malherbe (HUS from Utopie Tangible), who hosted a presentation and interactive workshop using fruits as musical instruments at Jam on 6 May 2017. The evening concluded with a DJ set by OMMA & HUS. This event was part of The Creative District Gallery Hopping Night.
We also had a chance to pick Olga Maximova’s brain on the future of interactivity and the importance of play, and Vincent de Malherbe on giving a workshop in a refugee centre in Berlin. Photography by Graham Meyer.


How would you describe Playtronica to your grandmother?

A digital playground that uses technology to uncover the true possibilities of the material world.

Ah… wait. It was really difficult to explain to my grandma!

Grandmummy, Playtronica is a future. We are creating something that people didn’t see before: new musical instruments, new types of concerts, new visions on objects, new games for children.


What could be the future of human interactivity with machines?

I want more human interactivity with each other in the future. Machines can help to interact, but not only human with a machine, more human with a human through a machine like our instrument Touch Me, for example, helps you to play music with each other by touching the hands or making hugs.

I don’t want ‘Black Mirror’ scenarios to come true!

So the future you envision where technology could be more invisible and actually connect people as opposed to the more dystopian reality we could be slipping into?

In the future, we will be dependent on technologies and this is in a way, the dystopian moment. Again, Of course it depends on what kind of technologies, not the ones that make us lazier. But now the scariest thing is how technology is above us, the speed of developing new things! I remember 20 years ago the craziest technologies were …Dendy, CD discs, and the game Snakes. Now, smart houses, that economise electricity, smart roads with interactive sensors for generating the electricity, new applications, new gadgets — it’s impossible to follow everything!

And if the children will be on the same wavelengths from an early age, they can control and develop useful technologies and not the opposite that robots and sensors will control people! That’s why, for example, last year BBC gave to every child from 7th class in England DIY circuit boards ‘micro:bit’, saying that it can help children to learn the basic coding and programming in an amusing way. So it should bring to the world more engineer brains than managers. I hope that teenagers will develop more useful, utopian technologies rather than dystopian robots that accomplish all our desires instead of humans.

What is the importance of play?

Through play, you are thinking less about mistakes, you are in ‘here and now’ having results.

As Andrew Manirko (one of the founders of Playtronica) mentioned in one interview: “Our experience shows that true insight comes through play. By uniting arts and technology we hope to give engineers of the future a superpower of inventing through play.”


With Playtronica workshops the audience often also becomes the creators, what are the barriers that need to be removed for this to happen?

For example in our workshop ‘Fruits Jam’, we are teaching children to listen to each other when you are in a group of 4 playing improvisation, where pineapples are your kick/snare/high-hat, melons are the bass and cucumbers are the melody. Children can create their composition not just smashing the fruits, more by listening to the rhythm, listening what each other is doing.

Sometimes it’s quite difficult to explain to the children what is the groove, you feel it or not… but if they are imagining the improvisation as conversation, it’s working well.

What is the most rewarding workshop you have done?

The most rewarding was in a refugee centre in Berlin. We were there to participate in CTM Festival. One friend asked us if we want to organise something in Berlin’s refugees centre. It was a period of time, February 2016, when the wave of immigration were the highest and it was a big topic in France and Germany. So we went to this centre, it actually was a gym where men were sleeping on one side and children/women on another side of a thin curtain. We put a table in the middle of that, connected to a small portable speaker. We really hadn’t a lot to show or to set up since it was improvised but the result was really rewarding. Happy kids and parents in some kind of strange atmosphere where all these people were stuck in the gym, in transit, without status. No authorisation to move forward (to the UK), no authorisation to move back to their country.


I saw a video where Playtronica used a Yak-42 plane as a controller, Playtronica used Mogees board for that event, you guys are happy to used other people’s products and also give props to them. Is there a lot of collaborations that goes on in your projects?

Each year we are participating in Polytech Science Festival in Moscow and it’s a good chance for us to collaborate with different interesting projects and to show a different scene to Russia.

Three years ago we brought ototo guys from England, two years ago Mogees that you are already mentioned and this year, just 2 days ago we showed new interactive installation (Telephone booth portal for traveling in time with sounds), our new collaboration with Ivan Poupyrev from Google that created Soli.

Also, we are using the Bareconductive production. For example, this January we made a collab with one Swedish artist Rebecka Tollens, we put her voice in her paintings. People got really excited by the new possibilities embodied in these interactive paintings. The audience was more immersed to feel this effect of synesthesia (to hear the drawings). Thanks to their Touch Board production we are doing these installations (Kandinsky).


What’s the next crazy project Playtronica will be working on?

Now we are preparing for Geek Picnic festivals in Moscow/Saint-Petersburg the huge conductive sculpture from the soap to play Mozart compositions on it.

Dhyan Ho