Her influence over the decades in experimental electronic composition and rethinking our relationship with sound cannot be underestimated. She was one of the founders of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 1960s. The following video features her composition Bye bye butterfly, a title that seems very apt with her passing. It was composed during her time with the center and features two HP oscillators among other elements.
Although an electronic composition, one can hear and sense the sounds that would become important in Deep Listening, looking for and finding joy in small details and the sounds in between other sounds. The beating patterns and other elements in this electronic piece were certainly present in performances of Heart Chant that I participated in with the Cardew Choir. She coined the term “Deep Listening” in the late 1980s, and went on to found the Deep Listening Institute. I should let her describe the meaning and origins of the term in this video.
Oliveros and I intersected on multiple occasions, both in person and through her music. However, it is clear that she even more profoundly touched many of my friends and colleagues who are mourning her passing with a multitude of personal memories. We at CatSynth extend our condolences do them, as well as to Pauline Oliveros’ family.
When I discovered the album 100 Days 100 Nights in 2009, it was a breath of fresh air. It was a time when my life was very oriented towards Asia and my own Asian heritage, but musically I was returning to the funk and soul music that I have long adored and wished to play myself. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings fit perfectly into that milieu. The songs, especially the title track and “Tell Me” quickly became part of my regular rotation. The strength of music is of course mostly due to Ms Jones and the band, but the production also intrigued me, as they went back to some of the technologies that made those earlier records. Both the physical artifact and the music references James Brown, one of our musical heroes, and the band intersects other more recent favorites such as Amy Winehouse and The Budos Band.
Sharon Jones’ battle with cancer, which ultimately took her life this past week, also hits home for us at the moment. She had a long fight that included remission and optimism only to watch it come roaring back. It’s a painfully familiar story for us at CatSynth.
2016 has not been a good year for our musical heroes. And we have just lost one more, Don Buchla.
[Photo by Michael Zelner]
Don Buchla was producing his first synthesizers about the same time that Robert Moog released his earliest models. But he took a very different approach, eschewing keyboards and other traditional interfaces to make a truly radical instrument. This led to some describing “East Coast” and “West Coast” schools of synthesizers – something that we at CatSynth largely reject. But there are nonetheless characteristics that set apart Bucvla’s instruments, such as the use of metal plates as controls; the ubiquitous use of low pass gates (LPGs) as sound units; the crispier/crunchier sound compared to Moog-inspired synths; and the visual beauty and oddness of the instruments. Indeed, they have appeared on CatSynth many times – follow this link to see a few.
In addition to his synthesizers, Buchla also created numerous controllers, such as the Thunder, Lightning, and Marimba Lumina. Indeed, I was introduced to Buchla’s instruments and the man himself through David Wessel at CNMAT, who used the Thunder extensively in his performances. My personal memories of the two of them together mostly revolve around the wine-and-beer-fueled gatherings after formal events at CNMAT, ICMC conferences or elsewhere. They would talk endlessly but anyone else could chime in, and occasionally Don and I would have a sidebar, less often of a technical nature than lamenting strictures in one institution or another, or non-musical scientific concepts. Overall, however, he was often a laconic presence, off in a corner or just off frame, but then fully engaged when the moment arrived.
[Buchla sighting at Roger Linn’s NAMM booth in 2015]
It was rare to see him perform. I did get a chance to do so at the
He is still going strong, composing and performing regularly. I had the chance to see him perform last year at SFJAZZ with his quartet. This was only his most recent musical incarnation, quite different from what he had done before with the Miles Davis Quintet in the 1960s and then with his own band Weather Report in the 1970s. Weather Report is sometimes under appreciated, but their early work is great and something that deserves its own article. Most recently, I have been listening to the album Algeria which includes members of the quartet I heard last year.
Although I’ve known and appreciated his work for years, it is only the past couple of years that it has become a stronger influence and part of the regular rotation of music at CatSynth HQ. And we hope there is still more to come.
It is pride weekend in San Francisco, and it is a particularly poignant one after the shootings in Orlando only two weeks ago. It is an extra mission for many of us to show up this year and be present, and be defiant. Before the main parade and event today, I wanted to share a report from the annual Trans March that opened up pride on Friday evening.
I met up with the march on Market Street in downtown San Francisco, not far from CatSynth HQ.
Here are some scenes moving forward with the march.
I particularly liked this moment with both the transgender pride flag and the kitty cat.
The march turned from Market onto Taylor Street and stopped at the corner of Turk and Taylor in the Tenderloin.
I have written about walking the entire length of Taylor in a previous article, including passing through this stretch. But it turns out to also be a very important spot in LGBTQ history, in particular for the history of transgender identity and rights. The corner of Turk and Taylor is the site of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots in 1966 – three years before Stonewall. Compton’s Cafeteria at 101 Taylor Street was one of the few “safe” gathering places for transgender people in the city in the 1960s. You can read a brief account of the riot here. The history is not as well known as Stonewall, but this 50th anniversary commemoration was a step towards correcting that. The ceremony included veterans of the riots, and the unveiling of a new street name.
Immersing myself in this history is a relatively new things for me, as I have been mostly involved in my own process and in the larger LGBTQ community. But I am happy to be getting deeper into it, and to participate in events like this.
More than any of the mass shootings in the last few years (and they seem to happen more and more often), this one has especially rattled me and affected me. There is the realization that this wasn’t random, but targeting a specific group. Targeting the LGBTQ community. Targeting us. I see more of myself in the 49 names and faces than I do in the victims after most shootings, not because their lives weren’t as precious, but because these victims could have been me. And then there is the frustration that this will get lost in the prevailing rhetoric that predictably goes to gun control and fears of Islamic terrorism. Sure, there have been a lot of statements of sympathy towards the LGBTQ community, and articles documenting the sad history of attacks over the decades, but nothing that puts the violent hatred towards us at the center of the conversation or looks at the causes of why this persists despite so much advancement legally and politically.
It is connected to things that do not involve guns but involve similar hate, such as the series of killings of trans women of color here in San Francisco, or the “bathroom laws” targeting the trans community that “other” and demonize trans women making them such likely targets. It’s the long history of arsons of gay clubs and even churches. Of beatings, particularly of gay men. Of the much mythologized Stonewall Riots themselves.
This occurs not in a vacuum but in the context of issues in the U.S. that don’t get enough scrutiny. We need to talk about how toxic masculinity fuels hatred towards sexual minorities. Young men already disaffected by whatever repulsed by two men kissing or a woman who may have been born a man. And we need to talk about the problem of religious fundamentalism. Even when it’s not in the forefront such as discrimination based on “religious freedom” it’s lurking in the background, with some connection to Christian or Islamic fundamentalism in particular used as justification. One must wonder why these religions would put so much focus on sexual identity and behavior that they would justify hurting or killing someone, but they do. And statements simply saying “we believe in peace” is not enough – we need people of faith to question why tenets against sexual minorities are even important to their religions at all, let alone something of such dire importance to discriminate or incite violence (or call special legislative sessions). They should to start to move away from these doctrines even if it is a break with “tradition”, and make it a priority to speak out against fear, hatred and violence of LGBTQ individuals. And those on the progressive left of U.S. politics, whom I see as comrades in most circumstances, need to also make this a priority. It’s hard to care about who is getting campaign money from whom when misguided laws and violence put ones own existence in question.
I certainly hope this moment doesn’t turn into an excuse for counter violence against anyone, much less a call to war. That would be the wrong outcome. The important thing is for those from communities most responsible for the hate and violence, angry disaffected men and religious communities, to question and show that they are ready to change and to say “no more of this. Not from us.” That’s a lot to ask, but we can at least start.