Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Battle of the iPad Docks NAMM 2014: Miselu C.24 vs Focusrite iTrack

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Once again, iPad docs were a popular offering at NAMM. Perhaps the most unusual and interesting was from Miselu, a small San Francisco-based company. The C.24 acts as a hard-shell case for a standard-size iPad, but opens up into a dock with a two-octave keyboard and other controls.

Miselu C.24

The keys, which feel quite different from standard keyboard/synth keys, are magnetic rather than mechanical, and include aftertouch. The connection to the iPad is via bluetooth, bypassing the issue of Apple’s changing the port shapes. And it includes a space for expansion controllers above the keyboard. This is an intriguing device, though it is not yet available.

The iTrack from Focusright is perhaps more conventional in the world of iPad docks. But what makes it different is that can support both iPad Minis and full-sized iPads.

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It also includes audio support based on Focusrite audio technology and with mic and line level I/O. MIDI is supported via USB.

Both of these are interesting devices, it depends on ones need for portability and MIDI keyboard versus audio support.

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NAMM 2014: Waldorf 2-pole

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Waldorf introduced a new analog filter, the 2-pole at this year’s NAMM show.

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Those of us who spend time with analog synthesis are quite used to all sorts of complex filter topologies, most of which have at least four poles. So a two-pole filter seems a bit simple by comparison. But Waldorf is known for taking simple concepts and turning them into complete instruments. The 2-pole includes low-pass, band-pass, and high-pass elements, and also includes drive and rectify settings. It also includes its own envelope and LFO, as well as live triggering capabilities.

You can see a full demo of the Waldorf 2-pole in this video:

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NAMM 2014: Moog Theremini

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The most notable new offering this year from Moog Music, Inc. was the Theremini, a very accessible incarnation of the classic theremin.

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The design of the instrument evokes classic science fiction of the 1950s and 1960s (in which the theremin was a mainstay), and it features modern enhancements including a variety of tones and effects, support to stabilize pitch, and CV and MIDI for external control. And it’s MSRP is $299.

I decided to try my hand at this fun and photogenic instrument.

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You can see a bit of my attempt to perform one-handed in this video.

I can see this being a great tool for live performance, both standalone and as a controller for analog synths. I look forward to learning more about it.

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NAMM 2014: Big City Music (Metasonix, Mellotron, Leon Dewan)

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One of our perennial stops at NAMM is to the Big City Music booth to see what’s new and play with old favorites. There is always an impressive display of analog modules, including the “wall of synth” from Analog Solutions.

analog solutions wall of synth

Of course, Big City Music also prominently displayed a full complement Metasonix modules. This included the new spring reverb (at the bottom) that does not conform to the usual yellow color.

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I spent a little time with the Mellotron, including a demonstration of the original instrument and its extensions. You can see a bit in this video:

Towards the end, you can see the mechanical elements for the tapes at work.

We also visited again with Leon Dewan, who presented his Swarmatron instrument. Here he demonstrates, and I tentatively try to play as well (one handed as I am also holding the camera):

Although most of these instruments were familiar ones, it is great to see them in action again.

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NAMM 2014: Sensaphonics Ear Protection

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We at CatSynth take ear protection very seriously, so our first visit and first article of NAMM 2014 was Sensaphonics for custom ear protection, now in a variety of colors. These devices better preserve overall frequency response while attenuating volume. They are also good for those of us whose ears don’t fit the “average”. These will come in handy when I play out with my bands.

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CatSynth at NAMM 2014

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Once again, we at CatSynth are going to be attending the big NAMM show in southern California, starting on Thursday. I will be focusing on synths and other music technology, but I also enjoy finding fun and esoteric musical instruments of all sorts.

Stay tuned to these pages for full coverage during the show, along with live updates via Twitter @catsynth and Instagram. And if you’re attending, maybe I will see you there :)

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Reconnaissance Fly Album Release!

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Well, it’s taken quite a while, but it’s finally here. Reconnaissance Fly’s debut album will be coming out a week from today on January 17, and is available for pre-order now!

To celebrate, we will be having our album-release show on Saturday, February 1 at Berkeley Arts.

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If you’re in the Bay Area, come join us for this event. But wherever you are, please give our album a listen…and then buy it.

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Performance at Harvestworks with Rachel Mason and The Use

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Today we look at the second of my two performances in New York this past November. This one took place at Harvestworks, a non-profit organization in lower Manhattan that supports musicians and helps them work with technology. It was also a bit of a homecoming for me, as I had interned at Harvestworks in the summer of 1993 – yes, 20 years ago!

The concert was actually part of artist-in-residence Rachel Mason’s ongoing work, and featured a collaborative performance with Michael Durek of The Use that exploited Harvestworks’ surround-sound system. The piece included a mixture of videos, both found online and created specifically by Mason, and live music that featured electronics from Durek and voice by Mason. You can see their full performance in this video.

Rachel Mason and Michael Durek, Harvestworks, November 30, 2013 from CatSynth; on Vimeo.

It opens with a found video of an odd fellow talking about using electro-magnetism to detect ghosts. He explains basic electronics to the video (at one point getting his units wrong), with Durek slowly entering with discrete tones on the theremin. Soon the texture becomes thicker and moves into more beat-based music that I have heard in The Use’s more recent work. Rachel Mason’s vocals were quite expressive and melodic. The videos changed to show Mason in interesting costumes walking around both Brooklyn and Joshua Tree, two particular favorite environments of mine.

Then it was time for me to take the stage. I also used video, a very simple live-processing patch in Jitter that combined generated images with live input. For this piece, I had a set of cat-themed playing cards, which I would draw, show via the video processing, and then interpret for the next section of music, either as a literal specification for a patch on the Dave Smith Evolver, or more abstractly with the analog modular synth and Garrahand drum. You can see the full performance in the following video.

Amar Chaudhary at Harvestworks, November 30, 2013 from CatSynth; on Vimeo.

Overall, it was a great show, and we managed to have a full house, which is always a nice experience as a performer. I certainly hope to be able to work with these artists and with Harvestworks again in the future.

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Ambient Chaos at Spectrum: Schuyler Tsuda, Amar Chaudhary, John Dunlop, RMA Trio

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Today we look back at the November 26 Ambient-Chaos night at Spectrum in New York. I was happy to once again perform there, and hear some of what the local experimental-music scene has to offer.

The performance itself, the New York debut of my feminine persona, went quite well as was very well received. It was anchored by rhythmic elements on the Dave Smith Evolver, overlaid with iPad synths, the garrahand drum, sketch box, and a miniature subset of my analog modular system.

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[Photo by Painter Jung Nam Lee at Spectrum Manhattan, New York Nov 26, 2013]

Performing at Spectrum is always a great experience, sonically as well as visually. Lighting and shading was part of the design of my set and worked perfectly with the ever changing light patterns in the space. I was also happy with the narrative structure within the music. You can see and hear the full set in the following video:


Performance at Spectrum, November 26, 2013 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I was preceded on the program by Schuyler Tsuda, who performed a set featuring his sonic sculptures. In a space lit only by candles on stage, he struck, bowed and scraped a variety of sonic objects. There were long ambient metallic sounds punctuated by shorter percussive events. The overall effect was eerie and sometimes a bit anxious, but also immersive and inviting. It is difficult to capture in a still photograph, so here is a video clip:


Schuyler Tsuda from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The third set featured John Dunlap on guitar and vocals as part of a duo that also included saxophone and electronics.


John Dunlap from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Their playing was loud and frenetic, and quite a contrast to both my set and Tsuda’s. Dunlap also incorporated throat singing into his performance.

RMA Trio
[Photo by Painter Jung Nam Lee at Spectrum Manhattan, New York Nov 26, 2013]

The final set brought together the RMA Trio along with a guest vocalist/actor to read excerpts from an upcoming play.

The text was in German, and if I understood correctly (which is doubtful) it was based on Hamlet. There was a variety in the instrumental pieces, including both percussive and harmonic piano, drums and guitar effects.

Overall, it was a great show, and a decent turnout considering that it took place in the middle of a nasty rainstorm. Thanks as always to Robert L. Pepper (PAS) for hosting this series, and to Glenn Cornett for making Spectrum a destination for musicians and sound artists in New York.

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Surplus 1980 and Fred Frith Trio, Brick and Mortar

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A couple of weeks ago, Surplus 1980 joined the Fred Frith Trio at the Brick and Mortar in San Francisco from a night of energetic avant-rock and jazz. It was a show we have all been looking forward to for quite a while.

Surplus 1980 went on first, with a set that combined songs from our recent album Arterial Ends Here with older selections. In addition to Moe! Staiano and myself, the band includes Bill Wolter and Melne Murphy on guitar, Thomas Scandura on drums, and Steve Lew on bass.

Surplus 1980
[Photo by Michael Zelner.]

For this set, we expanded our Fred Frith cover “Cap the Knife” into a full medley featuring excerpts for some of his other songs. In a brief exchange back stage, it sounded like he appreciated the gesture, and even suggested that his group perform a “Moe! Staiano medley”, which would have been fun. But overall, it was our strongest performance as a band to date, with rhythms and phrasing much tighter as well as more sophisticated use of all parts.

After Surplus 1980 was done, Fred Frith took the stage with his trio that included Jordan Glenn on drums and Jason Hoopes on bass.

Fred Frith Trio
[Photo by Michael Zelner.]

It was quite a contrast, going from post-punk to avant-jazz. The trio played through longer pieces that moved between fast intricate sections and more familiar idioms with ease. The polyphonic sections were certainly impressive, but I do find when technically strong musicians play in unison or at least synchronous rhythms, it leaves a more memorable impression. Frith deftly filled up the otherwise sparse texture of the music, but not so much that one would get lost or overwhelmed.

Overall, it was a successful show, with a good turnout. Surplus 1980 is now looking forward to our next show in December, but I hope we get to play with the Fred Frith trio again.

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