Yom Kippur 2017, Meditations and Reflections

Star of David

Fast, reflect, and question. These are our personal mandates on Yom Kippur this 5778 (2017). Fasting is pretty self-explanatory – I don’t do it every year, but this year it feels important to do so. Sam Sam does not have to fast. The questioning centers around “what does it mean to be Jewish in this time and place”, an especially complicated and treacherous question for those of us who are secular Jews. Yom Kippur is described in Leviticus, the one book of the Torah that I have not been able to get through in its entirety (mostly because it’s extremely dense and about as riveting as the phone book). But I still celebrate independent of that, based on heritage and family tradition. You are a Jew if your mother is a Jew, end of story. I extend this rule to my cats.

Sam Sam enjoys a snack on Yom Kippur
[Sam Sam is exempt from fasting]

For an excellent read on the topic of secular Jews on Yom Kippur, especially secular Jews committed to activism and social justice, please read this article by Dania Rajendra [Full disclosure: Dania is my sister-in-law.]. For me, part of my plan for this holiday was to compose a track based on sounds from a short-wave-radio synth module an, idea I formulated during a reflective moment last night.


[Cover image taken during Yom Kippur 2016, see this article.]

The track was recorded as a meditation of sorts, getting into a heightened, focused state while turning the knobs of the Eowave short-wave module, tuning into stations that aren’t there. The other “master” of the track was the Wiard/Richter Noisering, which I let control the Rossum Electro-Music Morpheus module. Both focus on chance and working with elements very much outside my control. I also did not want to spend much time outside the meditation-recording process itself. There is no editing save for some tapering at the beginning and end of the track and the obligatory EQ and compression.

I am both doing too much, and too little at the same time. I can’t save all the shelter cats; I can help everyone suffering through one disaster after another in North America and Carribean. But I can try to make a little bit of a difference in each. When I focus on all things “CatSynth”, sometimes my music suffers – I’m overdue booking new gigs for my band CDP and I do feel a need to atone for that. In short, the challenge in 5778 and beyond is to find a way of doing all the things that matter most while minimizing time and resources on the things that don’t. No easy task for someone who tends to say “yes” to everything, hates to disappoint others, and has a difficult time letting go of things. But that last one is another aspect of this holiday, and so it is as good a time to begin as any…

Sam Sam, The Sunset, and San Francisco

I-280The geography of San Francisco is complicated, and the east and west sections of the city can sometimes seem quite divided. This is even more so when one is transporting a cat across the city, as I did on Thursday to bring Sam Sam from CatSynth HQ in the downtown area to our longtime vets at Especially Cats Veterinary Hospital in the western Sunset District. There are several tall hills in between, and the most efficient route is to hop on I-280 around the southern portion of the city and then up into the Sunset.

CA 35 The Sunset is an interesting and intriguing place, almost a separate city. From 19th Avenue (CA 1), the alphabetically arranged streets and numerically arranged avenues slope gently down towards the Great Highway and the ocean. The Great Highway should be CA 35 all the way up to its northern end, rather than ending in the southern corner of the city along Sloat, but it does. Especially Cats is on Taraval Street, one of the main east-west strips in the neighborhood.  It even boasts a streetcar line down to the sea.

Taraval Street

Sam Sam with sockThis photo was from 2015 when I brought Luna in for her biopsy. It was a normal overcast gray summer day in the Sunset. Sam Sam’s visit was on a hazy sunny and warm day at the start of the current heatwave. The return to Especially Cats was a warm experience as well, albeit a bit emotional as it was our first reunion since Luna passed away. Fortunately, Sam Sam received a clean bill of health and charmed the staff with her cuteness. And she was remarkably well behaved on the trip over, just complaining a little bit. We decided to take the more geometrically direct but hilly and windy route back, taking Taraval to its eastern end a swanky neighborhood around Laguna Honda, and then over Portola and Market back to our corner of the city. The spot where Market and Portola meet is among my favorite in the city, with commanding views of downtown and beyond. And in between, there are dips and valley with unexplored roads and walks that I need to come back to when I don’t have an impatient cat in a carrier.

Elizabeth Street, San Francisco

The whole of the city used to be mine, as I regularly moved from neighborhood to neighborhood for work, fun, or errands. Downtown San Francisco can be a bit of a gravity well when one both works and lives there. It’s a fine situation, in truth, but I can sometimes get a bit restless to move about rest of the city again. Especially some of the older sections, or the more industrial spaces that formed the backbone of my visual art (and “Wordless Wednesday”) but are rapidly disappearing. When will the last dilapidated warehouse give way to a banal medium-rise apartment building?

Finding this balance, doing all we want to do, and have to do, is perhaps this moment’s biggest challenge. But on this day I was happy to simply do right by a loved one while exercising a bit of the wanderlust.

Please check out our Highway☆ app, available in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store!

CatSynth 11th Blog Anniversary

Luna on iPad at 11:11

It’s been 11 years since we started CatSynth on a bit of a lark, and since then it has grown into something that we treasure, and quite seriously. But not too seriously. As always, we mark the annual milestone with a few stats.

3210 Posts
14358 Comments
4.47 Comments Per Post
1202 Cat-and-synth pics
474 Reviews and related posts

Comments and interaction on the blog has continued to decline (from an average of 4.7 to 4.47 comments per post). This is not surprising as interaction has largely moved to social media platforms.

Our most visited post this last year was our Sad Farewell to Luna, both on the blog itself and on social media. This, too, is not surprising, and we continue to be very grateful for the outpouring of emotional support we have received.

Other individual posts that were widely read and shared including our explainer on Lake Oroville, our review of James Chance and the Contortions in San Francisco, and of course our annual NAMM coverage.

Every year we share the photo that started it all on July 19, 2006. It featured Luna in the beanbag chair along with a Novation keyboard. We feel its still appropriate for this day.

Luna with Novation Keyboard

We continue to grieve for Luna, but we also welcome Sam Sam who we hope with be with us and featured on these pages for years to come.

Emphatic Sam Sam

Luna’s 12th Gotcha Day (in memoriam)

Today would have been Luna’s 12th Gotcha Day, 12 years since I first brought her home. And a little over 7 months since she left us.

As with any deep loss, one starts to dwell less upon it over time. Sam Sam’s presence has played a strong role in that. But I did catch myself saying “Luna” to try and get her attention the other day. It doesn’t happen often, but I notice when it does.

I want to celebrate her life and the many years we had together. She was a constant presence, a soulmate, and of course a fine feline model full of grace and elegance. So please indulge me in this series of photos.





But emotions work in strange ways. Sitting down to write this, opening up the editor and typing, has caused my heart to sink and my eyes to water up. I would say this is healthy, given the deepness of our relationship and the magnitude of the loss. There is a very specific sadness associated with grief. It builds slowly and lingers for quite a while, and then can suddenly burst forth, usually in response to another’s emotions or sympathy. I expect that process will play out again today. I am grateful for the many good things that have unfolded in life since she passed, but I still miss her so much.

Matzoh Man Returns for Passover 2017!

As dusk approaches and we at CatSynth prepare for the start of Passover, we present the Matzoh Man, now in full HD video!

For those who are not familiar with the tune, it is a version of Dayenu, which is song at many seders, including ours growing up. You can find out more here.

Chag Sameach! / !חג פסח שמח

The Disintegration of Thought

There is a particular and peculiar state of mind that for a long time I have named the disintegration of thought. It occurs in periods of mental drowsiness, but not when falling asleep, and is characterized by thoughts becoming less coherent. One can start out with a coherent statement like “I need to clean the studio” but it will manifest only halfway before turning to nonsense, such as “I need to clean the…there goes a fish on the road next to the green eight” – not a real example, it is really hard to mimic the specific type of partial nonsense that occurs, or to remember it. Usually there is not much in the way of visualization involved. It is almost entirely thoughts consisting of words, and maybe a little bit of abstract imagery such as slowly changing colors or patterns. It does, however, involve detachment from sensory input and the external environment.

While this state can occur when sleep deprived or extremely bored, it is more interesting as a tool to manage stress or anxiety. It is particularly useful for the kind of low-level but constant anxiety associated with being trapped in a place or situation or being overstimulated – for example, spending large amount of time in the large open-floor-plan offices of tech companies over the past seven years or so. Even completely fun and positive things like NAMM can leave me very drained by the late afternoon, not so much anxious but socially exhausted. In such states, I find the best thing to do is find a quiet, safe, and solitary space, lie down or recline, and just let go of any control over thoughts. More often than not, the “disintegration of thoughts” will follow naturally, as the words become more jumbled and nonsensical, and the outside world fades. But I do not for asleep, nor do I try to. Sometimes gentle external stimuli, like the patterned noise of the freeway near CatSynth HQ, or a cat purring contentedly on my chest, can facilitate entry.

This state of being internal and having non-cohesive thoughts turns out to be incredibly pleasurable and relaxing. Perhaps even better than external drugs or alcohol for that purpose. In a sense, it is liberating, not unlike an empty stretch of desert road, even though I have retreated entirely inside my mind. It has become an almost daily practice, especially on days where there is much overstimulation. Interestingly, however, I can’t access it at night when trying to sleep.

driving through the desert

It also appears to be somewhat associated with meditation, but not the highly concentrated type where one focus on a specific word or thought or a strict pattern of breathing, and I can’t experience the state sitting upright (lest my back become the focus of my thoughts). But a deliberate act of “letting go” or deep relaxation does work, as long as one doesn’t fall asleep in the process.

So, this state of consciousness must have a name, right? Well, that is not entirely clear, the closest phenomenon I can find is hypnagogia.

Hypnagogia is the experience of the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep: the hypnagogic state of consciousness, during the onset of sleep. Mental phenomena that occur during this “threshold consciousness” phase include lucid thought, lucid dreaming, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis. [Wikipedia]

Or perhaps a specific subset of hypnagogic phenomena. As described above, there is very little in the way of visions or auditory input, mostly just words and thoughts. So the cognitive aspects without the sensations. And there is also in my experience no correlation with creative thinking as documented in numerous cases; except of course for the fact the diminishing stress leads to greater creativity for me (perhaps for others it is the opposite).

One description of hypnogogia that particularly stuck with me is “REM intrusions into waking state”, as described in this paper. It also describes interaction with the Default Mode Network (DMN). The DMN is discussed in much contemporary psychology, but one particular aspect makes is seen relevant to this discussion.

The default mode network is most commonly shown to be active when a person is not focused on the outside world and the brain is at wakeful rest, such as during daydreaming and mind-wandering. [reference via Wikipedia]

The biological and psychological details, although quite interesting, are beyond my current skills to fully understand and discuss. But I am certainly intrigued to understand it more, even as I continue to explore and practice this “disintegration of thought.” I also invite those with their own knowledge an experience to share in the comments below.

Vacuum Tree Head and Census Designated Place at HSP2017

It’s been a busy musical time for us at CatSynth. Last week I performed a solo set and collaborative pieces with Amy X Neuburg at the Jewish Community Center in Berkeley. This weekend, I have two more performances, again in Berkeley, as part of Hardly Strictly Personal 2017. It’s a three-day event featuring a wide range of experimental and adventurous music, and benefits EarthJustice and the Homeless Action Center. You can see the full updated schedule, as well as ticket and location info here.

Vacuum Tree Head will be playing tonight, and my fusion/experimental project Census Designated Place (CDP) will be playing on Sunday. I have been busily preparing to make my debut on the Roland VP-03 Vocoder in both bands. Needless to say, between that and the various everyday tasks of an adult in San Francisco, we haven’t had as much opportunity to post here. Regular (?) CatSynth pics and more resume next week.

NAMM 2017 Apocrypha and Final Thoughts

In this article, we go over a few remaining items from NAMM, and share some final thoughts as well.

The DATA module from Mordax takes the trend of built-in displays to another level. The large color screen displays a variety of functions, including oscilloscope, tuner , waveform generator and clock. It also has quite a few utility signal functions. It seems like quite the useful item for a medium or large modular system. Plus it looks great!

It’s a common problem with modular synthesizer systems to end up with 2hp empty and nothing to fill it with, except maybe a branded plate. 2hp quite literally fills this niche with a large selection of functional modules exactly 2hp wide.

We could all use extra multiples, or another envelope generator, or VCA. But their 2hp offerings include oscillators and filters. We could see these in various cases to get some handy functionality when needed.

Delptronics has made quite a few modules for percussion synthesis as well as for complex triggering of other modules. Their product line has grown; and we were particularly curious about the new spring module an its electro-acoustic possibilities.

We are always curious to see what 4ms has to offer, as the Spectral Multiband Filter has become one of our favorite modules for a variety of musical purposes. Their new offerings this year included a sampler module and tappable delay, which are shown in the upper right of the following photo.

There was of course more at the modular super booth and in the neighboring booths beyond what we have been able to cover this year. It will be inevitable that some products and manufactures don’t get mentioned in the blog, though we do have more on our Instagram feed during the show. We will have to figure out if there are any logistical changes we might want to try next year in order to see more while still remaining authentic and having the fun time at NAMM that we always do.


The trip home, despite the pouring rain and flooding in the LA Basin, ultimately turned out to be a pleasant one. I suppose I had a bit of a glow from the show, and full of ideas on how to move forward musically and personally in the challenging times ahead.

Even with the literal rainstorms outside and the dark pall cast by the political situation, inside the convention center we were all able to be ourselves and follow our passions for music and music technology. That doesn’t mean that outside reality didn’t intrude. It was impossible not to despair a bit on inauguration day; and by contrast Saturday with the Women’s Marches gave a bit of optimism. Mostly, I just kept doing what I came to NAMM to do. We hope you have enjoyed following our coverage, and we’ll be back doing it again next year barring some world-changing catastrophe (which unfortunately could happen).

NAMM 2017: Moog Music Tribute to Synthesizer Pioneers

This year our friends at Moog Music, Inc. had a very different sort of booth. Instead of the usual array of gear for demonstration, the space was bare and stark, with a simple kiosk and a wall dedicated to the many synthesizer players and innovators we lost in 2016.

It was a rough year for the synthesizer community. Among those we lost were Pauline Oliveros and Don Buchla, both of whom were memorialized here on CatSynth and whom I had known in person. There were also images and statements for Keith Emerson, Bernie Worrell, Isao Tomita, and Jean-Jaques Perrey.

Visitors were invited to wander the space in contemplation or with a mix of music from the artists on classic Walkmans. Visitors could also leave social media tributes to one or more artists and have an opportunity to win one of several current Moog instruments, including a Werkstatt, Mother-32 and even a new Model D.

We didn’t win, but were very touched by the way Moog used their space to pay tribute to the many heroes we lost in 2016. It was a unique and moving experience at this year’s NAMM show.