Homebrew Electronics is a new series on the Rhizome blog. For these posts, I will be conducting studio visits with artists and inventors who create unique electronic instruments.
Last week, I met with cousins Brian and Leon Dewan of Dewanatron at Leon’s apartment/workshop in New Rochelle, NY. I first encountered their whimsical, one-of-a-kind instruments at a solo exhibition at Pierogi Gallery in Brooklyn a few years ago. Not only do they produce and exhibit their own instruments, they use them in performances and in recordings as well. They split the labor evenly - Leon builds the circuits for each instrument, and Brian crafts the consoles that contain them at his home in Catskill, NY. Despite their jetlag from a recent trip to Los Angeles (Brian had screened his film strips at the Museum of Jurassic Technology’s theater), the Dewans gave me a thorough walkthrough of their work, patiently explaining how each of their creations functioned.
The Dewans use the Dual Primate Console quite a bit in their performances; it also made a starring appearance on their album Semi-Automatic. Built for two operators (or “primates”), each side provides four rhythmically independent voices, which can be programmed using a rotary telephone dial.
They got the idea to use a rotary telephone dial in this fashion from antique Language Lab Machines, which also integrate telephone dials into their interface. The rows of switches control the voices, and Nixie bulbs lining the top of the instrument indicate the different voices selected by the telephone dial. These bulbs were produced from the 1950s through the 1970s and were a precursor to LED displays.
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