NAMM 2017: Percussa AudioCubes and Synthtor System 8

I have long been fascinated by Percussa’s AudioCube controllers. In fact, I have a pair of them that I use in live performance. Now Percussa introduces the Synthtor System 8 wireless controller and modular synthesis system.

The Synthor System 8 consist of a wireless controller and hub for use with the cubes and a digital modular synthesizer. The synth engine contains many of the features one would expect including oscillators, filters, waveshapers, and samplers. It runs on a dedicated ARM chipset running Linux, though it only runs the synth and thus avoids the performance and stability issues we all know from general purpose computer systems. It also supports a variety of I/O for connecting to other gear and to a computer workstation for recording.

You can see and hear a bit of the AudioCubes and Synthtor System 8 in action in this video.

The REMOTE (the controller/hub) is quite an intriguing addition in itself, allowing one to use the cubes without a computer thus reducing setup complexity.

Percussa is a very small independent company consisting of two members: Bert Schiettecatte and Celine Van Damme. Both are very nice and have been supportive of CatSynth and of the musicians who use their instruments.

You can find out more about Percussa and their offerings at their website.

NAMM 2017: Mike Garson Plays Synthogy Ivory II

Mike Garson is a legendary keyboardist. He is perhaps best known for his collaborations with David Bowie – indeed that is how we primarily know him. But he is quite the performer in his own right, combining avant-garde and jazz together into a very rhythmic style of playing. He was performing today at NAMM on Ivory II, the flagship virtual piano from Synthogy. You can see a segment of his performance in this video.

The performance, which lasted over 30 minutes, featured a variety of styles and ranged from improvisations to familiar tunes. It is quite virtuosic, but not for its own sake as the fast runs and driving low-note chords serve the music well. Towards the end he played in a heavy style that I like to call “avant stride.”

I was quite happy to get such a good visual and sonic spot to see him; and aftwords had a chance to think him for his music and inspiration to my own playing.

NAMM 2017: Erica Synths, LZX, Sputnik, Roland, And More

There are multiple superbooths of modular synth makers this year. We visited the first (and smaller) of the two this afternoon.

The folks at Erica Synths have a new DIY kit inspired by the legendary Soviet synth Polyvoks.

It’s a raw but sonically rich instrument and we at CatSynth could see using it. They have also updated their flagship black series.

We would be remiss if we didn’t also show their adorable logo 😺.

One thing we have observed this year is that many module makers have upped their game when it comes to visual design. We saw that with the Erica Synths offerings, but with others as well. Consider this Euclidean Circles from vpme.de:

The Charcot Circles is a collaboration of Studio Electronics and eowave. It is a rather complex and enigmatic module providing sequencing and CV with non-linear processing.

The round designs are reminiscent of Buchla synthesizers, which of course brings us to Sputnik Modular which produces Buchla-inspired “west coast synthesis” modules.

LZX Modular is all about the visuals, as their modules process video rather than audio. They have several new offerings, including an LCD display module and an all-in-one starter. You can see a little bit in this video.

New video modules from LZX. #namm #namm2017

A video posted by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on

The both also featured Roland’s AIRA series, including the System-8. The setup featured remakes of some classic Roland modules that we reported about last year in addition to the “plug-out” system.

It is interesting that Roland has moved its display of these instruments from their main area at NAMM to the modular-synth booths. It would seem they know their audience.

Finally, we have new offerings from Industrial Music Electronics, formerly known as The Harvestman. They still have the same characteristic orange knob style.

Among there new modules are the Argos Bleak, a CV processer, the Bionic Lester mk II, a capacitor filter; and our favorite name-wise, the Contempt, a dyamics processor.

Modular manufacturers haven’t lost their edge even as the industry matures.

NAMM 2017: Lowry Electronic Organs

Walking away from the Elektron booth, I espied these gorgeous instruments.

The Lowry Electronic Organs are at a basic level electronic organs with a variety of pedals, organ stops, two manuals, and such. But they also combine a basic synth engine with other sounds, rhythm patterns and more. They have multiple models of increasing complexity. Did I mention that they are gorgeous?

They are easy to play once one knows what the vast array of buttons are for. According to the representative I talked with, these are mostly used as parlor instruments, a statement piece for a living room or music room. But it is nonetheless a real musical instrument to be played like any other.

NAMM 2017: Elektron Digitakt and Analog Heat

We begin our real NAMM 2017 coverage with offerings from Elektron. Many folks in our community have been anticipating the Digitakt.

The Digitalk is a compact unit combining a drum synth engine, multitrack sequencer with both MIDI and audio capabilities, and sampler. This will be very handy for those who work with those classes of instrument and want a quick and easy set up. While we weren’t able to hear it today, the demo case had a rather interesting video background.

Also on display was the Analog Heat, billed as both an “audio enhancer” and “audio destroyer”.

We were able to play this one. The different preset settings were quite diverse and would add to live performance, given a good sound system. The equalizer and filter sections were interesting to play with as well. They had a clean sound that didn’t muddy the source. Unless of course you want it to. Then it can become the audio destroyer that is is billed as. This is clearly intended as the last in a chain for live use, a final stage before the PA or amp.

CatSynth at NAMM 2017

It’s that wonderful time of year again! We at CatSynth are heading south for the annual NAMM Show. It should be another good one as were in a golden age of synths. We will also be looking at computer technology, esoteric instruments, and anything else that piques our interest.

We will post our more in depth reviews here. But you can also follow along with our adventures on catsynth and Instagram for frequent live updates throughout the show. And if you have anything you would like us to check out there, please let us know in the comments.

RIP Alphonse Mouzon, Vera Rubin, Carrie Fisher

2016 continues to be a year of losses. Below we visit three people whose work has influenced our diverse interests here at CatSynth and who passed away since this holiday weekend.


[By Dontworry (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Alphonse Mouzon was one of the important early artists in jazz fusion, and performed with many of our musical heroes, including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Gil Evans. In 1971, he joined Wayne Shorter and the rest of Weather Report for their debut album Weather Report. The band has a mixed history – something we should write about on another occasion – but those first albums in the early 1970s have a sound that were quite influential and resonate with those of us who love jazz fusion of that era. You can hear some Mouzon’s 1971 work with Weather Report in this video:


Vera Rubin is a name that should be better known that it is in popular culture, as her contributions to cosmology and astronomy are central to our current understanding of the universe. Her work made the case for dark matter and its prevalence in the universe. It was another step in the process of understanding our place in the universe. The earth, then the sun, then the galaxy, all became just small and non-centrals parts in a much larger universe; and the discovery of dark matter showed that the “stuff we are made of”, the ordinary baryonic matter (all the chemical elements and such that we learn about in school) is only a small portion of the mass-energy of the universe. Dark matter has since been eclipsed by dark energy in terms of cosmological composition.

In addition to the grand perspective, Rubin’s work helped us understand why galaxies like our own Milky Way are shaped the way they are and move the way that they do. She was also a strong advocate for women in science, not just in her own career and field but overall in terms of advocacy in inspiration.



[By Riccardo Ghilardi photographer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

From great science facts we move to great science fiction. Star Wars is one of the important mythologies in contemporary world, and many of us who saw the original movie in 1977 remember it vividly. While Carrie Fisher was not one of the comedic droids or Darth Vader, her character Princess Leia was important to the story in ways a kindergarten-age kid couldn’t quite fathom at the time. What also makes Fisher particularly interesting is how she presented herself, flaws and all, completely outside of the mythology of Star Wars. She was brutally honest and with a dark, dry sense of humor that came out in real life and in Princess Leia. Indeed, after she reprised the role for Episode VII, she was very up front taking on the trolls who mocked for simply doing what we all do: age. Her semi-autobiographical Postcards from the Edge was an accidental discovery in a video store – I liked seeing women leading a dark story, and only afterwords realized that Fisher wrote the screenplay and the original book.


We at CatSynth send our regards to the families of Alphonse Mouzon, Vera Rubon, and Carrie Fisher; and to all those taken by 2016.

Thoughts on the Oakland Ghost Ship fire

Long time readers may know that fire is among my biggest fears. I fear fire in every rickety wooden space where I go to play or hear music. Most are fairly safe, with alarms, sprinklers and clear corridors. And even in those few cases where there weren’t, my attention shifted to the music, fellowship and always had a wonderful time. That’s why we go. It’s what we do, it’s what we love. We, artists, have no choice but to create and participate. It could have been any of us.

Oakland warehouse fire
[By Janna487 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

By last count, the fire at the Ghost Ship in Oakland on December 2 claimed 36 lives. We at CatSynth send our thoughts and condolences to their families and close friends. I was worried for many dear friends who might have been there. They fortunately have all checked in safe in the week since, but they are grieving deeply in the aftermath for their friends who were lost. I feel for them, and try my best to remember those who perished with whom I crossed paths like Cherushii (aka Chelsea Dolan), Cash Askew, and others. But this is not my story. It is the story of my friends who knew them best. The personal remembrances they have posted are not mine to share. I did find this article helpful in understanding the victims better. Their stories are another reminder that it could have been any of us.

As we grieve, we in the arts community brace for a round of crackdowns on spaces, from both authorities and landlords. Ghost Ship was an outlier – most spaces while operating in the margins do more often than not operate with a concern for safety and cleanliness and civility. These are the spaces that are now under attack – it’s starting to happen beyond Oakland, with reports from New York, Denver, and here in SF. My own neighborhood in San Francisco was a warren of old factory buildings and warehouses that contained a thriving underground scene in the 1980s at a time when I just a kid in New York buying a first synth. I saw the waning days of that scene, with some of the last large artist-studio buildings being displaced in the past couple of years to make way for offices and condos. Fire is not necessary for authorities to displace artists, but it can certainly make it easier. But even the most safety-minded among us can’t compete easily in places when both the powerful and the populists do not value artists. New York has done better. The grim artists’ spaces of the lower east side may have long given way to boutiques, restaurants, and other upscale spaces but artists are still colonizing spaces and they have “paths to legality.” If authorities here want to help safety in a way that doesn’t show contempt for artists, a similar system of support for bringing things up to code and then operating would be useful as well.

Although I maybe starting to “age out” of some of the underground spaces of the Bay Area – even if my spirit wants to be there, my body and mind are not as enthusiastic – I still cherish many of my past experiences both as a performer and an attendee. My first time out and about in the world as Amanda was at a large warehouse space in West Oakland in 2011, and shortly afterwards I performed at a very nice space in an old factory in East Oakland as her. Some of my early shows in the mid 2000s at underground spaces in San Francisco were very informative for my solo practice today – a few of them even written up here on CatSynth, but I hesitate to link directly to them as authorities may use them in their crackdowns.

This is already a perilous time for those of us in marginalized communities, such as people of color and LGBTQ individuals. Coming together to create and enjoy, even in the edges of society, is one way we cope and thrive; and now we have to fear that may become more challenging as well. So some will forced further out to the edges. And another tragedy will happen.

It could have been any of us.