I like to make stuff,” says Ed Potokar of Accord. No kidding. Potokar builds custom houses (including the “Japanese Adirondack” modern one, with a tree smack-dab in the middle, that he and his wife Amy call home); has designed stores and restaurants in Manhattan, crafted furniture (“It takes forever, but it’s very satisfying”); and even made his own telescope. His most recent endeavor is a line of unique musical instruments. “I wanted to produce a record and I wanted to make all the instruments I used on it; it’s kind of the opposite of what most people normally do. Then I started making these really beautiful ribbon microphones that I’m selling now; then I made the pre-amps for the microphones; then I was going to make a mixing board, and my wife said, ‘Okay, you are mentally ill — you have to stop.’ ”
Of course, Potokar hasn’t really stopped creating, building, or playing music since graduating with a B.F.A. in industrial design from the Cleveland Institute of Art. Regarding the new instruments — many of which double as sculpture or furniture — he says: “It was kind of a culmination of all these different disciplines I had been doing through the years. It was shockingly logical.”
Potokar has actually been making instruments since 1980. “I have an aluminum upright bass you can play with a stick. It gets broken and fixed, but I still love playing it,” he says. “I’m amazed there is stuff I made 30 years ago that still works.” But it wasn’t until two years ago, when he played one of his instruments at a friend’s art opening in Manhattan, that someone approached him and said, “Oh my God — you have to have a show!” He spent a year crafting about 25 new pieces, which he debuted in January in an exhibit at the John Houshmand Gallery in SoHo. “Some had various architectural elements in them — there was steel in one — others were purely instruments, some were sonic sculptures. They’re all one-of-a-kind,” Potokar says, admitting that he was tickled when Guitar Aficionado magazine wrote that one of his pieces rightfully belongs in the Museum of Modern Art. “We got a great reception,” he says, adding that he brought in some “heavy hitter musicians” to play the instruments at the show’s opening, including Chris Butler and drummer Shawn Pelton. “It was fantastic,” he says. “I liked the idea of making these instruments and then passing them off. They’re such good musicians; they can just pick them up and make music; it’s fascinating.”
While Potokar is occasionally asked to create an instrument for commission, he says he is now turning most of his attention toward his new company, Soundwall, which will produce architectural installations. “It’s the whole idea of sonic architecture; it’s been kind of neglected. High-end restaurants and lobbies want something that is signature and unique,” he says. His first installation went up in April: a sonic tree house with 20 joysticks to play at the CB2 SOHO store in Manhattan.
But Potokar’s beloved instruments — “they’re like your friends,” he says — will be on display for almost two months at the Orphic Gallery in Roxbury (Sullivan County) starting July 5. “We’ll have some sort of crazy happening,” Potokar says about the opening night. “It will be fairly improv. It always takes on a life of its own.”
Watch Potokar create and play the instruments at hvmag.com/edpotokar.