Autumn sun, Midnight Monday, and Site Improvements

Well, I am back home at CatSynth HQ in California. That means back home with Luna, of course:

Although she is calm and poised in this photo, it's been all purrs and cuddling today, even while I try to work. Not that anyone is complaining.

Today we enjoyed what I traditionally called the “August sun”, that really deep yellow sunlight that gives everything, but especially green leaves, a rich yellow coloring, that feels warm even as the air cools down. It is difficult to capture in a digital photo, but here is one attempt:

I think I should change “August sun” to “Autumn sun”, since the phenomenon extends well into September and even October. And not only here on the west coast. New York was exceptionally warm and getting plenty of “Autumn/August” sun this past week.

I have been working on several improvements for this site, including upgrading our software. As usual, a few things break in the process (e.g., comment displays were a little off, the “tag search” featured on the highways page and elsewhere was completely broken, our “cats synthesizers music art opinion” slogan was missing, etc.). Those are mostly fixed, and now we can proceed to making actual improvments.

Actually, the main change we need to make is in our hosting service. The good folks at A Plus net (the same people who messed up our domain name and left us stranded in the CatSynth FEMA trailer for a week) let us know that we have exceeded our CPU usage limits (not storage or bandwidth) and will need to switch to a more expensive hosting plan – all in a message from the friendly-sounding “abuse at aplus dot net.” So we could simply upgrade our plan, but since our lease is up on October 7 anyway, it might be a good time to shop around for an alternative. We welcome suggestions from our readers on good and bad experiences with hosts – please leave a comment or contact us. Of course, we have to act quickly on this matter…

CT 11, unfinished projects

Highway 11 in Connecticut is a north-south freeway connecting a major route from Hartford to, well, nowhere. So one moment, you're happily traveling south on a nice country highway, and then the next moment, you better exit before it turns into a large dirt track and ditch. Or at least that's the impression I get, having never been there.

It's quite dramatic, as can be seen in these aerial photos from Greg Amy (we saw a few of his photos before when visiting Yale and New Haven, CT).

It kinda looks like someone just stopped building the highway one day, and forgot to come back and finish. The story, as described on Kurumi's website and other sources, is that the project simply ran out of funding, and then ran into opposition, though it sounds like plans are now in the works to complete highway 11 to the New London area.

However, the details of CT 11 aren't really the focus of this article, but rather it serves as a metaphor for the many unfinished projects here at CatSynth. These include:

Finishing my album 2 1/2. There are a few tracks left from this project last Februrary that need to be replaced before releasing the album. I still think I'd doable by late November, but so far I haven't been able to work much on it during this period of “free time.” Technical problem with my “studio PC laptop” provide at least one excuse.

Although I have been doing work all along on Open Sound World, mostly to support my own music, it's been quite a while since I have done a full-blown release of the software. It's hard to feel motivated when most of the feedback reads like this. However, the core software (minus the old user interface) is really solid and musically useful, and I do plan to announce a new direction for the project “real soon.”

I need to do some revisions to my professional/artistic website. At the very least I need to get the performance schedule updated – fortunately, it is already up at MySpace. The goal is to bring it more in harmony with CatSynth and rest of my websites.

I purchased one of the last Kittenettik Fyrall kits from Ciat Lonbarde, but have yet to assemble it. I guess I've been waiting to find the right “space”, both literally and figuratively, to do this. If I get on it soon, I might have it done in time for Woodstockhausen.

And of course there are several large articles waiting to be completed and published here at CatSynth, particularly CD reviews, film discussions, and travelogues.

But then again, maybe it's not so bad that I'm spending time looking for employment.

Preparing for tonight's performance: Cats, Rehearsal and Software

First, I have to remind myself to ABC: Always Bring a Camera. I missed several photo opportunities before and during our rehearsal in San Francisco on Wednesday. There were some great shots on the new Central Freeway terminal ramp. And then the “kitty moments” during the rehearsal with Polly Moller and John Moreira. I did snap this cell-phone pic of John Moreira's cat Crescenda rolling around among our cue sheets and amps. She and her fellow cat Pearl joined us several times during the rehearsal, but Crescenda's little act stole the show.

Musically, I had a minimal setup – a subset of what brought to the Skonkathon two weeks ago – just the MacBook, the E-MU 0202 | USB and a MIDI keyboard. The Mac was running the new script-based Open Sound World to process live guitar input. The processing worked quite well, I think, with several wavetables, ring modulation, and a rather nasty little FM algorithm (it's a lot like those distortion-modulation “sound mangler” pedals). Both the guitar and processing needed to fit within pieces with voice, flute and existing electronic material.

UPDATE: You can read Polly's account of the rehearsal and Crescenda here.

The one concern was the frequent OSW crashes – it wasn't a huge problem during the rehearsal because the system can reset itself very quickly (far more quickly than the older UI-centric version), with only a few seconds of dead time. But still, that's not cool. I suspected something related to the MIDI input handling. Fortunately, last night I was able to track down the crashes last night. They were indeed in the MIDI handling, some issues exposed by the multi-processing with the Core2 Duo. Easily found and fixed by playing the patch with a lot of MIDI control, with the laptop and keyboard on the coffee table. Actually, I made some interesting lo-fi music with the built-in mic and speaker and feedback while testing and debugging. This will probably form the basis of my next piece.

CatSynth 1st Anniversary

Today we celebrate CatSynth's first anniversary.

It's been one year since we posted this photo on July 19, 2006:

The idea came from a friend who said something like “dude, you should do a website about cats and synths.” So I did. Really didn't have too much idea what I would write about. I quickly learned that there was quite an abundance of pictures of cats and synths, and sites like matrixsynth had been collecting such images for a while. Indeed, one of the first external “CatSynth pics” to be posted here was of matrix's own cat JD:

Sadly, we recently learned that JD passed away this month. We offer matrix our sympathies. It's always sad to hear about cat friends passing away (or human friends, for that matter), and we at CatSynth have seen our share this past year.

I expect to post more this evening reviewing the year with photos, not-so-useful stats and the other things we at CatSynth like to think we do well…

WWDC 2007: Keynote (aka "SteveFest"), Leopard and Safari

I got up bright and early this morning and headed up to San Francisco WDC 2007, the Apple Developers Conference. This is my first time going, and its pretty aprropriate given the increasing amount of time I am spending on Macs both at work and at home.

So how should I file this article? I could certainly describe my pleasant trip up Highway 1 this morning, enjoying the ocean and avoiding traffic, and file it under “highways.” But it would be far more appropriate to place it under Software, the newest category in the CatSynth portfolio (several previous articles will be tagged with this category as well).

Upon arriving at the Moscone Center, I was greeted by a panhandler who yelled “Bill Gates is a thieving bastard” or something to that effect. I guess somebody did his homework this weekend.

Inside the hall it was, well, crowded. Here we are all somewhere in the main queue to get into the keynote address. I was looking around at the crowd and thinking how could all of us possibly be making a living writing Mac software? Of course, lots of us write software for Windows (and Linux) as well, but the question remains. And the tickets to this event aren't exactly cheap. Though I have to admit the throw in some good schwag, compared to some of the more economy events I have attended. And they even threw in free drinks while we waited in line.

OK so here we are, at the main event, with Steve. He made the obligatory appearances with the CEO of Intel, along with more gratuitous appearances with the leaders of Electronic Arts and id Software to promote the Mac as a gaming platform. But the main attraction, of course, besides Steve himself, was the latest of the “big cats”, Mac OSX 10.5 aka “Leopard”.

We at CatSynth of course have long approved of Apple's “big cat” theme for OSX – though Panther is of course our favorite in that regard. Nonetheless, I happily accepted my beta copy, complete with all the new features including the new “cover view” to browse through your files as 3D objects in a shelf (similar to the already established “cover view” for CD covers in iTunes, etc.), and a the related preview, that pops up a completely usable image of your file (e.g., paging through a PDF or Keynote presentation) without having to actually open your applications in the clunky old way. Like a lot of the showcase features in Mac OSX, these are about aesthetics and being a pleasure to use. One certainly can't argue with that…though I can say from experience that the interior of OSX isn't always that pretty, especially if you're a developer. We'll see how they handle that in the kernel and CoreAudio sessions later this week.

There were also a lot of comparisons, implicit and explicit, to Windows during the presentation, and I found my already low regard for Vista sink even lower. Apple managed to get a single version of the OS to support both 32-bit and 64-bit targets…why did Microsoft have to have separate versions? Just to make my life difficult, having to test everything on four different Microsoft OS's? In general, I get a sense that Apple is gaining ground in the personal computer space (in addition to art, music, video, etc, where it already had a strong position), while Microsoft will remain dominent in the big business space where nobody really cares.

One thing that appears to still be a shortcoming from Apple's technology is Quicktime deployment? Do the really still need Quicktime Pro? And why is it still hard to embed a Quicktime video across all web browsers – YouTube seems to have figured out how to do that. Anyhow, we'll see if this attempt to embed the full Keynote address actually works:

UPDATE: the Quicktime object is causing problems for some people, so instead follow the link below

If it doesn't work, you can always view it here (Quicktime required). Hehe, marscapone center…

In addition to Leopard, there was also the public beta release of Safari 3.0, including Safari for Windows. The draw for Safari is supposedly how incredible fast it runs, even on Windows, comparied to either IE or Firefox (everyone knows Opera is slower). Although Safari may indeed by fast for a wide variety of web pages, I have found that it often gets “stuck”, stopping to ponder the universe in the middle of a page load. Safari 3 seemed to have the same disease when I first loaded it under OSX 10.4, and Windows as well. Nonetheless, here is CatSynth running in Safari under Windows:


Now that I look back on today, I don't think they once mentioned the whole “movie rental” thing…

And we have a winner (or two, or three)

Well, the visitor counter passed 15000 sometime after 9PM tonight.

And the winner is…well, it looks like it might be a tie (possibly a three-way tie). I'll announce names once I've successfully contacted and verified everyone.

How could there possibly be a tie for the 15000th visitor, you ask? Well, it looks like the counter might have a bit of an issue, especially for sites with a fair amount of traffic. I run a version of sphpblog, slightly tuned and modified for my own needs/interests. Indeed, that's how I was able to program in the “contest” to declare a winner when the counter hit 15000. However, the counter seems to have stayed at 15000 over three visits from three unique IP addresses, which resulted in a “tie.”

I have gone through the site logs to verify this; and I will honor the prize for each of the people who can legitimately claim to have “won.”

As for the counter, I will either have to write my own to replace the current one, or use one of those outside services. It looks like the total visits for CatSynth may have been severely undercounted because of this, and I might try some simple statistics to get a better estimate. Note that this only affects the internal site counter, not any of the outside services, like “Top 100s”, or ads.

Certainly a reminder to question the reliability of some other electronic counters out there:


I needed some intellectual diversions over the last couple of days, and last night I took another look at concept of software art that has intruiged me recently.

Fluxus is a system for live software art that combines programming with audio, visual and interactive elements. It comes to us from the same people who made Quagmire, in which programs ran inside of monochrome images.

Some interesting statements from the Fluxus website:

act of a flowing; a continuous moving on or passing by, as of a flowing stream; a continuous succession of changes

On a more technical level:

Fluxus reads live audio or OSC network messages which can be used as a source of animation data for realtime performances or installations. Keyboard or mouse input can also be read for simple games development, and a physics engine is included for realtime simulations of rigid body dynamics.

The use of OSC is of particular interest, as such a system becomes an interesting companion to Open Sound World. It also rekindles my idea of providing an OSC-based livecoding environment for OSW.

Unforunately, I have had some difficulty getting it installed (or compiled) for Mac OSX, so I haven't been able to do much myself. Hopefully I will be able to get that working soon…


No, not that quagmire!

Rather, I am talking about an interesting software art project in which programs exist within a bitmap. From the author:

Quagmire is an emulation of an impossible 8bit processor, where all memory is addressed in 2 dimensions, and is represented by pixel value. Program execution threads can run up, down, left or right. Sections of code are visible in memory, as are the processes as they run. Unlike a normal computer the internal process of the machine is visible. Programs are drawings.

The programs are executed by scanning pixels in the bitmap/drawing and interpreting them as instructions that can change the original bitmap, including the parts that are being “run.”

The best way to illustrate this concept is will an illustration, or rather, a series of illustrations:

In the above example, the “program” in the lower-left corner switches various pixels on and off, and spawns more copies of itself in the process. After running for a while, one ends up with four animated “stripes” of execution.

The program changes dramatically if the “non-executed” area of the image is different. For example, we can paste my “digital fish” logo onto the image and then run the program again:

The very orderly execution over the empty image becomes much more complex in the presence of the fish logo.

Although the complex changes in the image can seem random, they are completely deterministic. Running the same program/image in Quagmire yields the same result every time. Indeed, this can be seen as an example of chaos in which simple processes can produce incredibly complex results that may seem random but are completely deterministic.

Some images produce less complexity. Applying the same program to a picture of Space Ghost (who has appeared in several posts on this forum recently) causes a small number of changes after which the program comes to a halt:

By contrast, applying the program code to an image of Luna appears to grow ever more noisy and complex:

The Quagmire site has more detailed technical information about the programming language (more of a machine language) and an implementation in which you can run your own programs. You can also find links to more examples of “software art.”

It would be interesting to explore software art that uses audio in addition to (or instead of) visual images…

Fun with Emulator X: Bohlen 833 cents scale and harmonics

I have been experimenting lately with alternate tunings and scales. A couple that have particularly piqued my interest are the Bohlen-Pierce scale and the much-less-used Bohlen 833 cents scale. The latter is intriguing in that it is based on properties of the fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio (although Bohlen admits he did not have those concepts in mind when he stumbled upon this scale).

Based on the golden ratio (1.618034…), one can construct a harmonic series as multiples of 833 cents that has a very distinct timbre. This can be easily implemented in Emulator X as a series of sinewave voices (or voices of any other harmonic single-wave sample) tuned multiples of 833 cents above the fundamental:

The series above consists of a fundamental, three golden-ratio harmonics, followed by the octave above the fundamental (traditional first harmonic 2:1 ratio), and the three-golden-ratio sub-harmonics of the octave.

Using these and other harmonics, Bohlen was able to construct the following seven-step scale between the tonic and the tone 833 above.

Ratio (dec.)
Ratio (cents)

Diff. to previous step (cents)

Emulator X does not have editable tuning tables, although it does have a 36ET tuning (36 divisions of the octave). Bohlen suggests that playing specific steps out of the 36ET scale yields a good appoximation of the 833 scale:

Step (just)
Cents (just)
Step (36/octave)
Cents (36/octave)

Combining the Bohlen 833 scale and harmonic series, which are both based on the golden ratio yields a new tonality. Although it is quite different from the traditional Western tonality based on integer ratios, it is nonetheless “harmonic” with respect to its own overtone series. This is perhaps a simple counter-example to to the Monk's Musical Musings from an earlier article.

But how does it sound? To that end, I provide the following audio example consisting of the scale played on the 833-timbre in Emulator X, along with some additional intervals. Because this is only an approximation using 36ET, things aren't perfectly “harmonic,” but I think one can get a feel for the tonality. I particularly like the “tri-tone” (600 cents above fundamental) here.

The next steps are to come up with a more musical timbre based on the harmonic series, as well as short composition using the scale…