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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once again, the San Francisco SPCA has partnered with Macy’s flagship store in Union Square to feature adoptable pets. I have visited a few times during my walks around downtown SF this holiday season, and on Saturday say these playful kittens and many others.
Besides providing an adorable respite from the usual holiday commercial overload, these windows serve to highlight the plight of adoptable pets in our communities that need homes. Indeed, all these pets are available for adoption and many do fine loving homes from people who see them in the windows. I am confident this vivacious youngster will find a home soon.
There are also adult cats in the windows for adoption, and I hope the find homes as well. Adult cats from previous homes can make great companions, especially for quieter households. (Luna was a previously homed adolescent when I adopted her.)
I did love seeing these two intertwined, especially because one looked like a very young Luna. Perhaps they will be adopted together?
It’s always fun to come see the cats in the windows and help support the cause of caring for homeless pets. If you do visit before it closes on January 4, please make a small onsite donation. You call find out more about the holiday windows program and how to support all the SF SPCA does for animals in our community via their website.
I participated in quite a few performances in 2014, with a lot of challenges and memorable experiences along the way. But there was perhaps none quite as unique or purely fun as my solo set in the window gallery of Artists’ Television Access (ATA). It was part of a month-long program called Almost Public/Semi-Exposed, a “series of installed performances ranging from movement to musical, ritual to reenactment, interactive to endurance.”
[Photo by David Samas]
My performance, entitled “CatSynth in the Window”, was a solo with Moog theremini, analog modular, full cat-print costume and body movement. The theremin was a controller for various sound-generated modules, including the Metasonix R54 and Benjolin by Rob Hordjik. And at three hours with just one break, it was among the longest continuous performances I have done.
[Photo by David Samas]
Immediately I know this was going to be a great experience. The window was my stage, and the city bustling by on Valencia Street was my audience. Many walked by with just a curious glance. Some stopped to listen for a few minutes. Others stayed a while, contacting friends to come check it out. One little girl called me a witch.
Sonically, the performance was relatively sparse, with usually no more than two sound sources at once. Motion and gesture were an central part of the performance, as was interacting with the people on the street. Here is a video excerpt.
[Video by Claire Bain]
Although I was inside the window, the sound was being broadcast through a speaker in the entryway of ATA to the outside so that people could clearly hear as they walked by. One unexpected challenge was the jazz band practicing inside the main ATA space. But I made the most of it using my skills as a jazz pianist and riffing off the standards they were playing. The audience interaction was among the most rewarding parts of the event, matching the gestures and motions suggested by people outside. For an extended period of time, one of the neighborhood’s icons Diamond Dave was completely enthralled by the performance and interacting with me.
In this next video, you can see a bit of our impromptu “duo”, as well as some of my attempts to play against the jazz ensemble.
[Video by David Samas]
The performance was an endurance test, physically and mentally, but it was an incredibly rewarding experience and I hope to be able to do it again, perhaps bringing to different venues and cities. It was interesting to see how a diverse flow of people choose to observe or interact. Indeed it was a mutual coming together at times, quite democratic and independent compared to a traditional concert setting. I would also like to think it was a positive contribution to the ATA site itself and to life along Valencia Street. I like how vibrant the street and neighborhood is, but providing a little weirdness and unusual performance brings back a bit of San Francisco’s long history of unique culture back.
A big thank you to Ariel Zaccheo and Tessa Siddle for curating this event, and to the folks at Artists’ Television Access for providing us the time, space and support.