John Butcher, Bill Hsu and Gino Robair at Artist Television Access

live visuals by Bill Hsu

Two Sundays ago, I attended a performance at Artist Television Access featuring electro-acoustic audio-visual improvisations with John Butcher, Bill Hsu and Gino Robair. Bill Hsu provided the visual elements of the performance using the visualization environment Processing. (I have been interested in Processing for a while, and used it in the abstract graphics in my video piece featuring Luna.) Gino Robair had an array of electronic devices, including a Blippo Box and an Alesis effects unit, and acoustic percussion for a variety of sounds. John Butcher provided the low-tech counterpoint on saxophone.

I arrived late to an already pitch-black room as the first piece was concluding. (I was late because I was looking for a parking spot, which in the Mission is usually an ordeal. and I rarely drive there, but I had to on this night because of other obligations.) The next piece began in darkness, with small colored dots and a very sparse musical texture. The sound primarily consisted of electronic drones and long saxophone tones. As the the dots began to expand, so did the music. It became more active and featured more percussive sounds from Robair. As the graphics grew more complex, with swells and streaks, the music veered from discrete sounds to outright skronking with long runs of fast notes from both performers.

The next piece featured graphics that reminded me a bit of finite-element simulations with large numbers of particles forming in and out of patters. At first the particles seemed to form glyphs or characters of a written language, but then dissolved into smoke. This was set against sparse music, featuring bowed metal. (It was too dark to see, but I am pretty sure this was Gino Robair’s signature cracked cymbal.) The graphics shifted gradually over time, sometimes it seemed more like water, sometimes more like sand. Towards the end, the music (both saxophones and percussion) moved towards rather piercing high tones.

After a brief intermission, the performance resumed with the now familiar sound of the Blippo Box. It is interesting how despite having chaotic processes, this instrument has a very distinctive set of timbres and contours that are quickly recognizable. I did find out after the performance that the Blippo Box was being used in conjunction with an Alesis effects unit, which added more dimensions to the sound without changing its inherent character. Butcher attempted to match the sound on his saxophone, coming into unisons on the steady-state pitches, but then moving in chaotic runs of fast notes are growling timbres during the more turbulent output from synthesizer. The graphics during this piece focused on two closed elements, one yellow and one purple. They were mostly round shapes that curved in on themselves, but they occasionally coalesced into representational objects, such as a complex cross shape with sub-bars on the end (a bit like an Eastern Orthodox crucifix), and vague outlines of human figures.

The next piece was a sharp contrast musically, with drum samples and live percussion set against percussive saxophone effects, such as key clicks and tonguing. The graphics featured a red star with a roiling plasma surface that expanded over time.

The graphics in the final piece connected most strongly with my own visual aesthetics. It featured patterns of vertical bars overlaid periodically with large dots. The patterns started out simple, focusing on just a few elements on colors, but got more complex and richly colored over time. The music set against these visuals again featured the Blippo Box and its constantly changing but distinctive sound palette. But rather than attempting to match it, Butcher’s saxophone provided a counterpoint. He wove together active lines and melodies that on occasion were distinctively jazz-like, and then moving back and forth between long runs and series of loud inharmonic tones.

Preparing for March 4 Concert, Part 2

On Tuesday, I went to the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT) in order to continue preparing for the Regent’s Lecture concert on March 4.  I brought most of the setup with me, at least the electronic gear:

Several pieces are going to feature the iPad (yes, the old pre-March 2 version) running TouchOSC controlling Open Sound World on the Macbook.  I worked on several new control configurations after trying out some of the sound elements I will be working with.  Of course, I have the monome as well, mostly to control sample-looping sections of various pieces.

One of the main reasons for spending time on site is to work directly with the sound system, which features an 8-channel surround speaker configuration.  Below are five of the eight speakers.


One of the new pieces is designed specifically for this space – and to also utilize a 12-channel dodecahedron speaker developed at CNMAT.  I will also be adapting older pieces and performance elements for the space, including a multichannel version of  Charmer:Firmament.  In addition to the multichannel, I made changes to the iPad control based on the experience from last Saturday’s performance at Rooz Cafe in Oakland.  It now is far more expressive and closer to the original.

I also broke out the newly acquired Wicks Looper on the sound system.  It sounded great!

The performance information (yet again) is below.


Friday, March 4, 8PM
Center For New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT)
1750 Arch St., Berkeley, CA

CNMAT and the UC Berkeley Regents’ Lecturer program present and evening of music by Amar Chaudhary.

The concert will feature a variety of new and existing pieces based on Amar’s deep experience and dual identity in technology and the arts. He draws upon diverse sources as jazz standards, Indian music, film scores and his past research work, notably the Open Sound World environment for real-time music applications. The program includes performances with instruments on laptop, iPhone and iPad, acoustic grand piano, do-it-yourself analog electronics and Indian and Chinese folk instruments. He will also premier a new piece that utilizes CNMAT’s unique sound spatialization resources.

The concert will include a guest appearance by my friend and frequent collaborator Polly Moller. We will be doing a duo with Polly on flutes and myself on Smule Ocarina and other wind-inspired software instruments – I call it “Real Flutes Versus Fake Flutes.”

The Regents’ Lecturer series features several research and technical talks in addition to this concert. Visit http://www.cnmat.berkeley.edu for more information.

Preparing for Regents’ Lecturer presentation, Part 1

I have been busily preparing this weekend for the first of my UC Berkeley Regents’ Lecturer presentations:

Open Sound World (OSW) is a scalable, extensible programming environment that allows musicians, sound designers and researchers to process sound in response to expressive real-time control. This talk will provide an overview of OSW, past development and future directions, and then focus on the parallel processing architecture. Early in the development of OSW in late 1999 and early 2000, we made a conscious decision to support parallel processing as affordable multiprocessor systems were coming on the market. We implemented a simple scalable dynamic system in which workers take on tasks called “activation expressions” on a first-come first serve basis, which facilities for ordering and prioritization to deal with real-time constraints and synchronicity of audio streams. In this presentation, we will review a simple musical example and demonstrate performance benefits and limitations of scaling to small multi-core systems. The talk will conclude with a discussion of how current research directions in parallel computing can be applied to this system to solve past challenges and scale to much larger systems.

You can find out more details, including location for those in the Bay Area who may be interested in attending, at the official announcement site.


Much of the time for a presentation is spent making PowerPoint slides:

With slides out of the way, I can now turn to the more fun part, the short demos. This gives me an opportunity to work with TouchOSC for the iPad as a method for controlling OSW patches. We will see how that turns out later.

CatSynth video: Kitty vs. iPad

From mohamed espinoza on TwitVid, via Vince Noog on facebook:

UPDATE: the app is SoundyThingie, and I have just downloaded it…

More Upcoming Shows: Instagon at the Luggage Store Gallery, and Mini-Woodstockhausen at Camp Happy

No sooner had concluded my recent performance with Reconnaissance Fly at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento than I find myself with two more shows before next Monday.

Tomorrow, I will be performing with Instagon at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco. Instagon is an interesting group whose membership changes for every performance. In addition to founder and core member Lob Instagon, I will be joined by Mark Wilson (Conure), Lena Strayhorn, Martin from Vernian Process, and Alan Herrick (Nux Vomica). I think this description from the group’s bio sums things up well:

INSTAGON is a term coined to describe the SPONTANEOUS FACTOR, the essence of Chaos Theory… everything that happens in this universe changes instantaneously upon its creation… nothing stays the same… everything changes, and is gone in an instant… hence INSTAGON.

And then on Sunday afternoon (1PM-4PM), it’s off to Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz mountains for a miniature revival of the Woodstockhausen. Woodstockhausen was the “tiny festival of esoteric music” that took place every year in the Santa Cruz mountains and then at the University of California Santa Cruz until its last year in 2003. We did plan a revival in 2007, which ended up getting rained out. This time we are having a more modest performance as part of the annual Camp Happy Boulder Creek, which will be going all weekend before and after the couple of hours where we take over with our “weird music.”

And then on Sunday afternoon (1PM-4PM), it’s off to Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz mountains for a miniature revival of the Woodstockhausen. Woodstockhausen was the “tiny festival of esoteric music” that took place every year in the Santa Cruz mountains and then at the University of California Santa Cruz until its last year in 2003. We did plan a revival in 2007, which ended up getting rained out. This time we are having a more modest performance as part of the annual Camp Happy Boulder Creek, which will be going all weekend before and after the couple of hours where we take over with our “weird music.”

CatSynth videos: Cats react to iPhone Cat Piano

Today I specifically wanted to post some cat-and-iphone-music videos. While these don’t quite rise to the level of iggy investigating the iPad, they do make use of the popular “cat piano” app for iPhone.

From luke255 on YouTube:


“My cat Dennis has an interesting conversation with my iPhone!”

And another, from amb0 on YouTube:

The black cat in this video looks a bit like Luna.

I do of course have this particular iPhone app, and have even used it in some shows. Luna has shown very little interest in it, however. She is clearly jaded from gadgets making strange sounds (even cat-like sounds)

Preparing for Thursday’s performance: Luna’s video

Over the last few days, I have largely been absorbed by preparations for my next performance. This one includes a more ambitious element, a 10-minute video entitled 月神1 featuring clips of Luna as well as abstract elements reminiscent of experimental filmmakers such as Stanley Brakhage or Gerhard Richter. The video will serve as a backdrop for live electronic improvisation – it is mostly silent, though I did include some sound at various points so the audience could hear Luna’s voice.

Here are a few example frames from the video:



Some of the video clips of Luna were featured here on CatSynth in the past, including her chattering video, or playing with her blue fish toy. The abstract elements were done is a software package called Processing, a programming language for images, animation and interactions.

Musically, I will plan to focus on a mixture of the Evolver and the Octave CAT synthesizers, along with software on the iPhone and laptop. Indeed, this is the first time I will be using the CAT live, mostly because I am reluctant to move it too often.

Of course, this will only cover about one third of the full performance, so I will be drawing from my repertoire of electroacoustic improvisation to round out the remainder of the time. Although I reuse elements, there is always something new to discover in them.

For those in the Bay Area who may be interested in checking it out, the full information is below:

Full Moon Concert Series: Quickening Moon
Thursday, February 25, 8PM
Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street @ 6th Street, San Francisco.

The Full Moon Concert Series is an experimental music series offered by Outsound Presents, in partnership with the Luggage Store Gallery. Each concert explores the traditional lore of the Full Moon, and in January, the second annual “Quickening Moon” will feature new music springing to life. First up will be Amar Chaudhary in a solo electronica set (collaborating with his wonder-cat, Luna), followed by the world premiere of a new work for twelve improvisers by Polly Moller, entitled Genesis.

Max/MSP for Live! and Monome

Check out more info at Cycling ’74 and Ableton. Also monome.

NAMM iPhone App

I am expecting to see several iPhone applications at NAMM, but this one is particularly handy as I start my tour:

It can be used to map the convention halls, search vendors by name, category and location, and “bookmark” them so you can see on the map where you might actually want to go (and thus avoid getting lost in the endless sea of guitars in the middle of the convention center). I was able to quickly put in some of my own priorities as well as those I have followed on matrixsynth and elsewhere.

Wordless Wednesday: Circuit