Vacuum Tree Head and More at All Tomorrow’s After Parties 2016

No sooner was I back from New York than I found myself preparing for another series of performances, this time in various groups for NextNow Present’s All Tomorrows After Parties 2016 at Berkeley Arts in the town of the same name. The three-day long festival was both a musical showcase for the community and a benefit for homeless action and support in the Bay Area. This article focuses on the first evening which featured a performance by Vacuum Tree Head.

Vacuum Tree Head
[Photo by Polly Moller]

The band is ever evolving, with a changing cast of musicians joining Jason Berry and Mike de la Cuesta. On this night the band included Amanda Chaudhary on keyboards, Justin Markovits on drums, Richard Corny on guitar, Galen Stagner on bass, and Jason Bellenkes and Joshua Marshall on horns. From just the images alone, one can tell this is a new incarnation of the band, with a well-dressed frontline coincidentally featuring “Nord red”; and a funkier, jazzier sound anchored by a tight rhythm section. You can hear our entire set in this video.

While the funky finale EMS Deluxe might be the most memorable of the set, each song was played well and had something unique to offer. This was my favorite rendition of Nubdug to date. The “Mystic Chord” and Gnostic Charms medley was our most abstract, featuring synth, a Waterphone and complex tones evolving into a driving rhythmic finish. And Hegemony Cricket opened things up with a bang. The set was well received by the audience; and I think everyone in the band that night was very happy with the performance. We hope to play together again as a unit in the not-too-distant future, so please look for updates here on CatSynth and elsewhere.

Vacuum Tree Head closed out an evening that was primary focused on music with words, although like us the first set was entirely instrumental. Joshua Allen and Rob Pumpelly combined forces in a frenetic duo.

Pumpelly / Allen Duo

Joshua Allen brought his virtuosic saxophone techniques to the performance; and between the two of them the energy never let up for the entire duration of the set. Their set reminded me a bit of the Coltrane album Interstellar Space.

Next up was Cartoon Justice, a noise-jazz project featuring Mika Pontecorvo on guitar, flute, and electronics, Kersti Abrams on winds, Mark Pino on Drums, and Elijah Pontecorvo on bass. They were joined by Meg Pontecorvo who read some of her science fiction writings.

Cartoon Justice

The music moved though a variety of sounds, but had a “space” vibe that complemented that texts. The concept brings to mind Sun Ra, though the sound was more reminiscent of Musica Elettronica Viva, a 1970s Italian improvising group that sometimes featured the likes of Steve Lacy and Frederic Rzewski. Of course, their sound is their own, particularly with Mark Pino’s unique drum style, Eli Pontecorvo’s bass bringing a bit of a rock/metal sound to the mix, Mika Pontecorvo’s electronic manipulations, and Meg Pontecorvo’s words.

Cartoon Justice was followed by Poetics of Narrative, a trio with guitar, electronics, and voice. I spied experimental writer Andrew Joron on theremin.

Poetics of Narrative

This group was fun and I liked there sound. It ranged from more noisy moments to playful songs with complex lyrics and melancholy melodies. In addition to the theremin, the performance featured accordion and other instruments among the ever-present small electronics. The combination of elements was reminiscent of the Tone Dogs and other avant-prog groups of that era. And the costuming and theatrics were a welcome addition.

Poetics of Narrative

I regret not being able to see the set by Oa, the duo of my friends Matt Davignon and Hugh Behm-Steinberg. But I know that their unique mix of electronic processing and poetry fit into the evening’s theme while taking the concept of music and words in a very different direction from the previous sets.

Overall, it was a wonderful evening of music, and in some ways I am still glowing from our Vacuum Tree Head set. We had a good and appreciative audience, and raised some good funds for the causes. We are grateful to have participated, and in particular would like to thank Mika Pontecorvo, Eli Pontecorvo and Mark Pino for all their help with both our set and the entire event.

NAMM: Big City Music (Swarmatron, Jomox, Metasonix, and more)

Once again, one of my main destinations at NAMM was the booth of Big City Music, where I can always find analog synthesizers and exotic electronic musical instruments that defy categorization. There certainly was no shortage of modular systems, including this scary looking yellow box full of Metasonix modules.

Because Metasonix modules, especially the R55 VCO, take a huge amount of current, this case can handle a ridiculous 7500mA. That is half of a standard home electrical line. Other manufacturers besides Metasonix were represented as well. Just to the left of the case one can see the new vactrol filter from Koma Electronic, a module I recently acquired.

On the more exotic end, Leon Dewan of Dewanatron was on hand again this year to demonstrate the Swarmatron (watch as our feline mascot nearly gets carted away on the nearby Mellotron):

I tried my hand at it as well. The ribbon controllers feel different from anything else I have tried playing, but once I got used to the feel I was able to start using the instrument expressively.

Perhaps the most visually intriguing but confounding instrument at the booth was this little geometric puzzle with lighted transparent tubes sticking out in all directions:

It turned out to be a prototype for the Akasha synthsizer from Jomox. Today, Jürgen Michaelis from Jomox demonstrated his new device:

In the corner behind the Jomox devices was an increasingly rare analog TV monotor, which was displaying audio from Critter and Guitari instruments rendered using an audio-to-video converter (also by Critter and Guitari).

The simple video converter caught my interest, especially if I decide to do more with video synthesis in the near future.

Thanks as always to the folks at Big City Music for being very hospitable and supportive of CatSynth!

Building the new CatSynth

Rather than simply attempt to restore things as they were, we at CatSynth are using this disaster as an opportunity to build an even better site. I am created a new version of CatSynth based on WordPress, and I have already imported all 737 posts. There is quite a bit of clean-up to do, and I have to locate some missing images from more recent posts. I have also had to convert formatting form our old system to WordPress.

Actually, this is turning out to be fun, writing Perl scripts and SQL commands to do all the text and data munging. It is a return to my what I did in my old job circa 2000 at an Internet start-up, and a rather stark contrast to what I do for a living now. With scripting and web hacking, one can realize changes within minutes, rather than the hours or days for a small change in commercial software development.

The next challenges will be getting all the comments into the new site and linking up the old URLs to the new system, so that all the old CatSynth links on the web will still work.

Thanks to everyone who commented this weekend, wishing us well, and (more importantly) wishing ill upon whoever destroyed our site. 😉

Meanwhile, the construction at CatSynth HQ continues, and Luna remains at her temporary abode. We’ll post some pics soon.

CatSynth.com attacked!

On the afternoon of November 7, our site CatSynth.com suffered a major cyber-attack!
Everything was erased, all of CatSynth, my professional music website, the popular Mondrian Machine. Everything.

It is possible I can coax my service provider to restore things from a backup. Meanwhile, I have an older full-site backup, and I have recovered all the text and comments through Friday. So hopefully I will be able to restore the site with a few days to a week.

I have also been going over the logs (which were intact after the attack), and I have pieced together exactly when they got in, and to a certain degree, what they did. I would rather not go into technical details, but I can see a script being run, and after that all webpage access starting to fail with “404 not found.” I also found a piece of assembly code left behind. It looks like that was only for clean-up purposes after the deed was done.

As far as I can tell, the only thing done was getting in and erasing the site. There was no evidence that they used their access to send emails or attack other sites, or steal information. They just wanted to destroy the site. I can’t say whether it was a random act of senseless violence – there are people who just attack random sites for fun or bravado. But the timing and fact that all they did was destroy the site suggests it could have been deliberate. Possibly even political. We at CatSynth were outspoken in our support for certain people and issues, but in a mild low-key sort of way. But if an angry person was going through hundreds of sites looking for a vulnerability, we could have just been an easy target.

Five (or more) Blogs That Make Me Think (The Thinking Blogger Award)

We were tagged a week or so ago with the “Thinking Blogger Award” by our friend (and fellow mathematics enthusiast) meeyauw. We appreciate meeyauw's endorsement and complete, and encourage readers to check out her other recommendations.

Since the rules are for five recommendations, I decided to break it down using CatSynth's motto:

Cats. We are tagging Megan and the Bad Kitty Cats, for their mix of thoughtful writing and love of cats, and helping to bring our own “Cat Blogging” at CatSynth to another level. Megan also tagged us with a meme recently and I will get on that one soon…

Synthesizers. A slight deviation of the rules, we're spitting this one. Matrixsynth is our starting off point for all explorations synth-related, we've found several interesting instruments and other synth blogs by reading – plus it features Cats and Synths. While Matrixsynth remains focused on its core, Muff Wiggler provides a more eclectic mix of personal commentary often revolving around synthesizers and electronic music.

Music. We recently found a few interesting new-music blogs, including New Music reBlog. The authors add their own writing around music and performances, and follow a lot of the same live improvisation that I do.

Art. I have to give a shout out to Placebokatz for presenting modern art via a black cat. While a lot of the performance or human art is not usually my taste, I expect no more and no less from any real-life art exhibition. Also, pawful, the creator of the visual livecoding Fluxus has at least one page that counts as a blog – I have reported in his projects including Fluxus and Quagmire in the past.

Opinion. Our friend jellypizza combined cat blogging with progressive/liberal political commentary and eclectic references from bygone pop culture and our home in Westchester, New York. We miss Taboo; but we're also grateful for setting this example for the rest of us.

Should any of abovementioned sites choose to participate: please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging. The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
3. Optional: Proudly display the ?Thinking Blogger Award? with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative gold version if silver doesn?t fit your blog).