Pitta of the Mind, Obando/Pumpelly/Wallace Trio

As Pitta of the Mind prepares for our upcoming show next week, we look back at our last show in February at Outsound’s periodic Soundspeak series featuring experimental music and poetry groups.

For our set we performed several new pieces on the theme of film, with several poems evoking treatments and plots for possible (or impossible) films. The music featured a mixture of piano, Moog Theremini, modular synth and DSI Prophet 12, which made for quite an impressive setup.

Theremini, analog modular, Prophet 12, Nord Stage keyboard

As with most Pitta of the Mind shows, we had a color/pattern theme. On this evening the theme was white.

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Maw Shein Win and Amanda Chaudhary Amanda Chaudhary
[Photos by Annabelle Port. Click to enlarge.]

The performance overall went quite well. You can here some audio excerpts below.

We were proceeded that evening by a trio featuring Nick Obando with Rob Pumpelly and Eli Wallace. The group performed several extended-length jazz pieces layered with Obando’s hip-hop-infused poetry.

Nick Obando with Rob Pumpelly and Eli Wallace

I have to admit I do not recall much of the words/poetry, but the instrumental performance was quite memorable. I am a fan of Eli Wallace’s keyboard performance style, and Pumpelly and Obando brought their own strong technical skills to the mix. I particularly liked one piece that featured a funk rhythm with complex solos and patterns on top. The rhythm cut out in a few spots for freeform improvisation that was just long enough before returning to the funk pattern.

Overall, it was a good show, though a quiet night – possibly a combination of other performances happening that evening and the fact that the Luggage Store Gallery is at a temporary location while the main building is being renovated. But we certainly look forward to performing again, and hearing more music in the meantime.

Idris Ackamoor Quartet, Amanda Chaudhary, IMA, Voicehandler. Second Act SF

Today we look back at a memorable show I played in a couple of weeks ago at Second Act here in San Francisco. Four acts each brought a different style of performance, instrumentation and experimentation to the stage.

First up was IMA, an electro-acoustic duo featuring Nava Dunkelman and Jeanie-Aprille Tang.

Nava Dunkelman and Jeanie-Aprille Tang

Their sound blends the noisier edges of percussion with a range of electronic sources, including loops, samples, and percussive hits that complement the acoustic sources. It was a loud and intense affair, but with quiet sections. Dunkelman also used her voice during the performance as another instrument.

Then it was time to take the stage. This was another set featuring Moog Theremini and analog modular synthesizer. The color theme for this performance was blue.

Amanda Chaudhary with Moog Theremini
[Photo by Tom Djll]

As with many of these electronic improvisation sets, it starts off very structured and then moves in different directions based on the audience, room, instrument behavior and inspiration. You can see the full performance in this video.

Amanda Chaudhary at Second Act from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Overall I was quite pleased with the performance and the audience reaction.

Next up was Voicehandler, a duo of Danishta Rivero and Jacob Felix Heule.

Voicehandler

Their sound was a bit more subtle than the previous acts. It featured Rivero on extended vocal techniques with a water-based electro-acoustic instrument of her own invention, the Hydrophonium; and Heule on extended percussion techniques that were often subtle and precise before veering into more energetic territory.

The final act was a quartet led by Idris Ackamoor featuring Mark Heshima Williams on bass, Bob Marshall in drums, and David Molina on guitar and laptop with Ableton Live!

Idris Ackamoor Quartet

Several of the musicians and musical pieces were familiar from Ackamoor’s renowned “afro-futurist” group The Pyramids. Indeed, the performance followed a similar structure with both a rhythmic entry and recessional. The rhythm section of Williams and Marshall was solid and perfect for some of the funkier grooves; and Ackamoor managed to move effortlessly between roles as horn-player and solo tap-dancing. It was interesting to hear David Molina and his guitar+electronic work, which I have heard before as a solo project, blended into this context.

Idris Ackamoor

All together it was a good show from all four groups, a diverse range of music. The large audience seem drawn to all the acts even if they initially came following one. And it’s great to see spaces like Second Act continuing to host shows like this in San Francisco. I hope to play there again sometime soon.

Getting Ready for “Play Ball!”, Arc Gallery

“Play Ball!” at Arc Gallery and Studios is a multimedia show about women’s passion for baseball bringing together artists Amanda Chaudhary, Mido Lee and Priscilla Otani. The installation was a true collaboration brought together our respective talents in physical object making, electronics, software, sound, and photography.

One of the more challenging aspects was the interactive sound installation, which was to be installed a series of columns representing the bases on a standard baseball diamond. Four sound sets were composed based on field recordings made at Bay Area games and installed on an Arduino-based system for playback. The electronics included the Arduino itself, a Wave Shield from Adafruit for sound playback, and several motion sensors.

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The sensors and main electronics package were installed in spheres made from baseball scorecards.

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Programming the devices, installing them into the physical space, and then testing and debugging was an incremental, iterative, and at times grueling process. But through repeated efforts and understanding the interaction of sensors, wiring, and our software code we ultimately made it work.

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[Photos by Priscilla Otani]

Within the final installation, viewers can explore the bases and the surrounding life-size images representing the diversity of women at baseball games. As viewers pass by individual bases, different sounds will be triggered, creating an immersive sound, space, and visual experience.

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“Play Ball!” opens at Arc Gallery and Studios on Friday, April 3. In keeping with the theme, traditional stadium fare (including hot dogs and peanuts) will be served.

Church of the Superserge: March 2015

Yesterday, I attended the Church of the Superserge at Robotspeak here in San Francisco. It is a monthly gathering for electronic music and synth geekery hosted by the same folks who produced the big Serge Modular 40-year Reunion Concert.

There is always an impressive array of gear on hand. Here we see Robotspeak’s Steve Taormina warming things up before the show with a tower of modules. Also note the Prophet 2, Moog pedals and more in front.

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This is a casual, BYOB affair, so I stopped at a bodega across the street to grab a beverage. I encountered this rather stoic cat sitting next to the door.

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The music began with an ambient set by Clarke Robinson. There was an ever changing cloud of sound, sometimes quite tonal. There was also a bit of textural detail added by that small box in front of his modular.

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Next up was Elise Gargalikis, performing on a very compact suitcase rig featuring Serge modules and a looper. Her performance was more abstract and detailed than the previous, and featured her captivating voice as an integral sound source for the electronics.

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JD Northrup rouded out the afternoon with a decided techno set featuring strong patterns and arpeggios atop a four-on-the-floor beat. The rhythm remained fairly constant throughout the set (which was longer than the others), but the timbres from his setup featuring Make Noise modules along with a few others was continuously changing.

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A few of us were compelled to dance in place at points; and eventually Robotspeak’s own disco lighting came up.

All in all, it was a fun afternoon. I look forward to more of these events in the coming months.

Serge Modular 40 Year Reunion Concert

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Today we look back a unique event that took place a few weeks ago. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the modular synthesizer system created by Serge Tcherepnin, fans, inventors, early adopters and virtuosi of these instruments got together at The Lab in San Francisco for an evening of music, gear spotting, and fellowship.

I arrived just in time to see Slope114, the duo of Elise Gargalikis and Dmitri SFC. Elise’s voice beautifully floated over the beats coming from the massive modular. There were quite a few groovy patterns and refrains in the mix.

Slope 114

I should also point out that they were key in organizing the event (and in helping introduce me to this community), so extra kudos for them.

Next up was LX Rudis, another frequent performer of Serge modulars. His was a much noisier, abstract performance compared to Slope114, but with lots of interesting sounds.

One of the earliest users of the Serge synthesizer was Will Jackson, who brought it on an anti-whaling voyage with Greenpeace in the 1970s. He related the story of the trip, including their encounter with a Soviet whaling ship, and shared with us some of the music he composed for and with the whales.

Next up was the virtuoso himself Doug Lynner. He did not disappoint, with a complex solo performance with subtle elements and precisely tuned patches.

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The music is defies simple description, it is slow, evolving, beautiful, ethereal. it is best to just listen to his sit in this video:

Jill Fraser was on hand to perform with her large Serge synthesizer setup along with some more contemporary electronics. Well known for her work in film and commercial music, her performance came across as more abstract in this instance.

The final act of the evening featured a trio, bringing together Paul Young with Gino Robair on drums and Richard Marriott on trombone.

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I jokingly referred to them as the “Serge house band” for the evening, but they killed it with an energetic jazzy set, especially one disco-infused jam of which I was particularly fond.

I regret not being able to list every act in this report, there were quite a few and they all brought something different to the event. And there was quite a large audience in attendance, overflowing the seats. We certainly except to hear more from many of these artists soon.

NAMM: Synthrotek and Synthesis Technology

We finally come to the end of our exhaustive visit to the huge analog modular booth at NAMM. We of course had to pay our friends at Synthrotek a visit. They make DIY synthesis kits as well as full modules, often with a delightfully noisy quality. For example there is the aptly named DIRT Filter and the Chaos NAND of which we at CatSynth are quite fond. They had some new offerings for this year’s show.

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Among the new modules were a series that came from a collaboration with George Mattson. The MST and Synthrotek modules together form a complete analog synthesizer voice, with MIDI-to-CV, oscillator, filter, mixer, and modulations. There is even a classic Mattson-designed buffered multiple. Another interesting offering was the DS-M, a complete drum synth module with multiple “colors” of noise, built in oscillator, VCO and a voltage-based “velocity sensitivity.” It can create standard analog drum sounds, but can also do some rather unusual sounds as well. Like most products from Synthrotek, these can be ordered as raw kits, module-assembly kits (with panels, etc.), or as completed versions.

Nearby was Synthesis Technology, makers of the E-350 Morphing Terrarium that was among the first modules I bought back in 2012.

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Next to the e350 in the photo is an expander module from Manhattan Analog that opens up some additional functionality of the original module. Also pictured above the the E-102 Quad Temporal Shifter, basically a digital implementation of the Serge analog shift register. The E-560 thru-zero frequency shifter and ring modulator is quite interesting as well.

This concludes our reports from this year’s NAMM show. There was so much to see on the synthesizer front we were not able to get to it all, much less write about it. It was definitely one to remember, but we are looking forward to more next year!

meow meow bye namm 2015

NAMM: KOMA Eletronik, QuBit, 4ms

Today we continue with the panoply of synth module manufactures that we say at this year’s NAMM show.

One instrument that garnered quite a bit of attention (and deservedly) so was the new Komplex Sequencer from our friends at KOMA Eletronik.

KOMA Komplex Sequencer

First of all, it is sleek and beautiful. But it is also quite powerful. It features four independent 16-step sequencers supporting both MIDI and CV/Gate. The sequencers can each be set to play in one of five modes (forward, backward, ping-pong, ping-pong reversed, random); and CV can be quantized to various Western scales (for those who need such things in their music). The size of control and combined support for MIDI and CV would be a lot in itself. I am definitely looking forward to seeing this ship in the near future.

QuBit

Qu-bit Electronix presented some modules that are also going to be our “want” list. The Nubulae may not be new for 2015, but it seems extremely useful compositionally. It reads and renders audio files from a flash drive, but with CV-based control for speed, pitch, and granular synthesis. The NanoRand is a tiny module that packs four different randomization functions along with a bright multi-color LED (it’s that big purple light in the photo above). Switching among the four functions via a sequencer creates some very intriguing musical patterns.

Finally, we at CatSynth were quite interested in the new Spectral Filter from 4ms. It is a spectral multi band resonant filter that can sculpt and amplify sections of a signal to create harmonic (or inharmonic) structures.

4ms

A unique feature was the circular control that allows one to “rotate” around the spectrum. I found myself comparing this to the newly released additive synthesis module from Make Noise (you can read about it here. They are both spectral manipulators and can some similar in particular moments, though they approach and instrument architecture is quite different.

NAMM: Tiptop Audio, Delptronics, Hexinverter.net

In this article we focus on some of the rhythm and percussion modules that were shown at this year’s NAMM show.

tiptop audio

Tiptop Audio presented the Circadian Rhythm along with its well-known line of percussion synth modules. It is branded as a “rhythm composer” and a central element to a rhythmic modular system to work alongside the existing Trigger Riot module. They also had several Serge Eurorack modules. You can hear them all together in this video.

Nearby was Delptronics, makers of the popular TriggerMan module for sequencing and patterns. It pairs well with their drum modules, including the ThunderBell available in both Eurorack and cowbell form. The ThunderBell is now part of the system at CatSynth HQ.

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Hexinverter.net makes a wide variety of modules, including popular kits for synth percussion such as “Mutant HiHats” and “Mutant Clap.” This year they introduced the Mutant Machine, which is a more generalized percussion synthesizer compared the earlier ones that each do a specialized instrument model. They also introduced Mutant Glue, an all-in-one mixer with compression, distortion, etc.

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I have traditionally shied away from drum synths in my analog modular systems until now, as the offerings and demos did show me that there are more esoteric possibilities than traditional electronic beats. Although as that first video suggests, those can be fun, too.

NAMM: Doepfer, Jomox, Black Market Modular, WMD, SSF

We pick up our post-NAMM coverage where we left off after the show. As stated in earlier articles, this was a great year for synthesizers, including analog modular synthesizers. For the first time, several manufacturers formed a super booth in Hall A in the main show floor.

Do you like synths?

Holding court in the center was Deiter Doepfer himself with a giant Doepfer modular system.

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The new modules from Doepfer this year included an opto FET filter (an alternative to the popular vactrol filters), a quadrature thru-zero VCO, and a large trigger sequencer. The trigger sequencer has a nice appearance and provides a lot of outputs. It plays well with a new clock divider that Doepfer introduced as well. The FET filter has some interesting properties for doing FM filter effects as it can modulate much faster, though it apparently distorts at higher volumes.

JoMoX has been long known for its small tabletop instruments. This year, like several other manufacturers, they introduced Eurorack modular versions, including the T-rackonizer filter matrix along with some of their drum synths.

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Black Market Modular collaborated with Foxtone Music to bring the Colour Pallete to the Eurorack modular format. It’s really a “modular inside a modular”, where one can mix and match up to three “colour palettes” (expansion cards) that operate as standalone modules, each with its own VCA. They hope to release more expansion cards over time, which will be compatible with their outboard system.

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Another interesting collaboration featured WMD and Steady-State Fate (SSF). There are some basic modulesl, but also some specialized sound and control elements such as the Spectrum and Mini Slew modules. And all of them can put together in this neat little case complete with keyboard that supports MIDI and CV.

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This is only the beginning of what was on display in the analog modular superbooth 6990. More will be presented in subsequent articles.

NAMM: Tom Oberheim SEM Eurorack Module

This year, Tom Oberheim joined his fellow giants in the synthesizer world Dave Smith, Don Buchla, and Roger Linn at NAMM. He has rereleased the classic SEM synthesizer and introduced a new Eurorack module based on the SEM.

Oberheim SEM Eurorack module

The EuroModule SEM is a single voice of the standalone synthesizer. It has two VCOs, a VCF, two envelopes, LFO, and VCA. It’s pretty much an entire instrument in one, and it takes up quite a bit of space in a modular system. Where I could see it being of particular use in this environment route external CV into it.

The Tom Oberheim booth (under the name of his company Marion Systems) was a family affair, and indeed the entire Oberheim family was extremely welcoming and friendly.

The SEM module as well as a separate Phaser module are expected to be released later this year.