Fun with Highways: Pittsburgh

With Pittsburgh in the news, perhaps for all the wrong reasons, we thought we would have a little fun exploring what the city has to offer.

The city is located at the convergence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, which merge to form the mighty Ohio River. This was a fact we learned young with the frequent appearances of Three Rivers Stadium on TV and the subsequent challenges to name the three rivers. For whatever reason, Allegheny was the hardest to remember.

The downtown is wedged between the two upper rivers and enveloped by a network of highways including I-279, I-376, I-579 and PA 28. In this early-morning photo, we are looking across the Monongahela River, with I-376 along the shore and the skyscrapers of downtown behind it. As a city of rivers, it also becomes a city of bridges.


[By Dllu (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons[]

The Pittsburgh of 2017 (even the Pittsburgh of 1997) is far distant from its industrial past as a center of steel, coal and many other manufactured materials. This history does live on in many circa-1900 houses and buildings, and the ubiquitous presence of Andrew Carnegie. Perhaps the most significant of his legacies to the city is Carnegie Mellon University. It has one of the top Computer Science departments, and one of the first Robotics departments. But the university is also a leader in combining science and art. They recently became the one of the first universities to offer an integrated practice in robots and performing arts; and I have collaborated with professors and students in computer music, including Roger Dannenburg, whose work on managing time in computer-music systems influenced my own research on the topic. CMU is located far to the east of downtown.

Among the sons of Pittsburgh is Andy Warhol, love him or hate him, he was a major influence on American art in the late 20th century. The Andy Warhol Museum sits on the north shore of the Allegheny, not far from I-279 and PA 28.


[By Jared and Corin [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons[]

There is even an Andy Warhol Bridge!

Like my home cities of San Francisco and New York, many of the city streets in hilly Pittsburg are actually staircases, which sound like a lot of fun to explore. One can take official walking tours, or simply wander (as I often prefer myself).


[By PJ Rey (Pittsburgh Stairs) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

We would be remiss if we did not also give a shout-out to our friends at Pittsburgh Modular Synthesizers. We have several of their modules, which feature a classic mid-century design aesthetic. (They also include space-themed cards and tchotchkes in each box.) You can read our many posts featuring Pittsburgh Modular synths, sometimes with cats.

With these characteristics of a truly modern city, it’s not surprising the the mayor, Bill Peduto pushed back on the use of Pittsburgh as a prop for President’s disastrous decision. As he states in this quote [1]:

“Couldn’t have picked a worst city,” he said flatly. “I was in Paris with 500 mayors around the world. It wasn’t only heavy on fossil fuels but it went through a depression where our unemployment was greater than the Great Depression.’ It was only when we started to look to the future we started to have an economy going up. Today, we’re back on a global stage, not through our old economy, through robotics and artificial intelligence and if it weren’t for that position Pittsburgh would never have been able to get back up.”

We at CatSynth hope to visit the city sometime soon.

See more of Pittsburgh and many other fine cities in our Highway☆ app, available on the Apple App Store.

CatSynth Pic and Video: Cat Full of Ghosts tbar Module

From Cat Full of GHOSTS on YouTube, via matrixsynth. Watch for the cat in the video 😺

“The tbar is a unique unipolar/bipolar variable voltage source and attenuator made by Cat Full of Ghosts Electronics. It boasts beautiful white and gold pcb front panel, walnut stained bamboo ply and matte black bolts. The tbar also boasts a visual feedback led under the + sign so you can monitor the cv you are passing in attenuator mode.

This module will make you feel like you are flying a space ship. It has a smooth motion a firm throttle and solid construction.

The tbar allows for more nuanced control of cv parameters. Why twiddle a cramped knob when you can slide a tbar? It is great for performance and studio use.

The output can be configured to: 0-5v, -5-5v, 0-9v or -5-9v via jumpers on the underside.

This unit is 6hp wide and 51mm deep. It draws current relative to what it is driving but you can expect around 40-50ma on the +12 and -12 rails.

www.catfullofghosts.com”

Available at Patchcable and Turramurra Music.

CDP at the Make-Out Room, San Francisco

Today we look back at the May 1 performance by Census Designated Place (CDP) at the Make-Out Room in San Francisco, as part of the monthly Monday Make-Out series.

We were all very excited to play this show. And then things started going awry. First, our synth player Tom Djll was ill an unable to make the gig. And when we were about to go on, I found myself with cable faults and other technical issues. I had actually anticipated many things and had several redundancies, but also a few blind spots, particularly around 1/4” cables. That will not happen again. And after the anxiety of those mishaps in front of a packed room, we played on, and it turned out to be a great show. We played very well, indeed the heads of the various tunes came out as well as I have heard them, and the energy throughout was great. We even had folks dancing in the audience.

You can see a bit of our set in this clip, featuring our newest tune Marlon Brando.

CDP Marlon Brando May 1 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

We were preceded by two other bands. First was a project from our friend Lucio Menegon from New York, together with Janie Cowan on upright bass and John Hanes on drums.

Lucio Menagon Trio

Lucio’s guitar performance had a very narrative, almost storytelling quality. This was set against a mixture of idiomatic rhythms and percussive stops from Cowan and Hanes.

They were followed by a quartet featuring Anton Hatwich from Chicago together with Ben Goldberg on clarinet, Josh Smith on saxophone and Hamir Atwal on drums.

Anton Hatwich Quartet

During this time, the crowd at the Make-Out room continued to grow, and by the time we were setting up it was as crowded as I have seen there since I played there with Surplus 1980 some four years earlier. Which made the technical difficulties all the more stressful. But as stated earlier, the show ultimately went well as a trio with myself, Mark Pino on drums and Joshua Marshall on saxophones. The music was very well received by the audience and the other musicians.

Thanks to Karl Evangelista for organizing the series, Rent Romus for helping with logistics on that night, and all the folks at the Make-Out Room. Overall, it was a good show, and some important lessons learned on technical blind spots. We will get back to composing, rehearsing and preparing for next ones.

CatSynth video: Alesis Photon and iPhone

Synth jam with Alesis Photon, iPhone, and cat 😻. From victimasdelspleen on Instagram.

Jean-Michel Jarre at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley

This past Friday, we at CatSynth had the chance to see electronic-music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre perform live at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, California. It was part of his ambitious “Electronic World Tour”, which includes his first North American tour in…well, a long time.

jean-Michel Jarre on stage

Jarre is perhaps best known for his innovative albums in the 1970s and 1980s, blending electronics and idiomatic music without veering too much into the dreaded New Age world; and for putting on live concerts that are truly spectacles. He did not disappoint in that regard, with a massive sound and light setup that included three sheets of LEDs, banks of lasers, and a three-piece ensemble that would make any synth nerd very envious. The lights were mesmerizing and captivating at times.

LED light patterns

Jean-Michel Jarre in lights

Robots

When the lasers were operative, it was sometimes most interesting to turn away from the stage and look into the crowd; and towards the back of the theatre and the trees behind it, where undulating patters of warm-colored lights danced among the leaves that were barely visible in the night sky.

Lasers across the Greek Theatre

Jarre’s music has long included rhythmic elements (often shunned by contemporaries in the academic electronic-music world), which made him a major influence for techno, electronica, and EDM genres. But his current performance fully embraces the contemporary EDM aesthetic, with intense pulsing beats, as well as a performance style with stomping and pointing as one sees with younger electronic performers and many DJs. Perhaps even a little macho. However, not only does he do it better, it is on a much grander scale. Even assuming much of the sound and visuals are sequenced, the complexity to pull this off cannot be underestimated. And Jarre’s performance was quite physical, often jumping and sometimes coming out in front to perform on keytar.

Jarre on keytar, musicians on vocoder

It was nonetheless an ensemble performance, with his fellow musicians providing live electronic drums as well as vocoder-based harmonies.

The concert, which lasted about 90 minutes, included some of his classic works such as selections from Oxygene, but with the newer EDM sound as described above. He also presented newer pieces, including a collaboration with Edward Snowden that mixed Jarre’s music with clips of Snowden’s statements. The piece was very well received by the Berkeley audience.

One of my favorite moments and one of the most technically challenging – even Jarre himself joked that it may not work – was when he stepped forward to play a giant light harp consisting of towering green lasers.

Jean-Michel Jarre Light Harp

It went off flawlessly – or at least it looked and sounded that way from the audience perspective.

I am glad I was able to be there for this event, as it doesn’t happen often. Having seen this performance, it is leading to go back and review some of his classic recordings as well; and draw inspiration for my next electronic-music adventures.

Highway☆ Released on the App Store!

Highway☆

We at CatSynth are excited to announce the release of our newest app Highway☆ for iPhone and iPad, available on the App Store!

This app comes out of long-term interest in highways and road travel, something we explore periodically on this site. It’s a sort of “Pokemon Go” for travelers and road geeks, where you can discovery and collect highways as you travel.

Highway☆ iPhone screenshot

It also has features for exploring new places on your device, and finding more information about the roads. You can also connect with other users and compete for the top scores.

It is completely free, so please download and have fun, especially if you are planning to hit the road this summer. And please let us know what you think or if you have ideas for new features 😺

And we are currently busy at work on an Android version, which we hope to share soon.

KSW Presents Means of Exchange: Program Launch

We at CatSynth have a special place in our hearts for art about our home neighborhood in San Francisco, South of Market (SOMA). Means of Exchange is a new project presented by Kearny Street Workshop that teams up artists Weston Teruya and Kimberley Arteche with local businesses in the neighborhood to create storefront artworks that highlight the history and culture of the neighborhood.

SOMA has a rich and diverse history. Long a sprawling district of warehouses and working-class houses with large streets and small alleys, it became a mecca for artists, bars, and clubs. It was a thriving center of gay culture in the city and still includes the “Leather District.” It is a center for the Filipino diaspora in San Francisco, and includes the SoMa Pilipinas historic district. In the 1980s and 1990s some of its most run-down areas were turned into the Moscone Convention Center and a hub for several museums and cultural centers. And more recently, the neighborhood has become home to many large technology companies, as well as a proliferation of luxury high-rises and not-so-luxury-but-still-expensive apartment complexes. With so many different forces at work, the neighborhood means different things to different people, and tensions and conflicts inevitably have arisen between many of the longtime residents and institutions and newcomers.

The publicly viewable artworks will celebrate many of these aspects of the neighborhood. But the history, contradictions, and conflict were also highlighted by the readers and performances and the launch event this past Friday. The evening opened with a reading by Mary Claire Amable, a Filipino-American writer who was raised in SOMA and the adjacent Tenderloin neighborhood.

Mary Claire Amable

Amable reflected on her upbringing, including the struggles and challenges faced by her immigrant parents, the small apartments where she lived that are now threatened by redevelopment, and the increasing unaffordability of the neighborhood for many longtime residences, particularly immigrants and people of color. Her story provides a different perspective on places and streets I have come to know well.

Next was a reading by Tony Robles, a longtime poet and activist in San Francisco who was a short-list nominee for poet laureate of SF 2017.

Tony Robles

Like Amable, Robles was born and raised in San Francisco, and his writing reflects on the changes in his hometown and the effect it has on his communities, on artists, and on those facing displacement. He spoke both nostalgically and somewhat cynically of San Francisco’s mythic past and of the struggles of people to survive here in the present; but he also shared writings from his visits to the Philippines, including a humorous piece about “The Province.” You can get a feel for his writing Maryam Farnaz Rostami, a San Francisco-based performance artist who has staged several solo and ensemble shows, including her latest Late Stage San Francisco.

Maryam Farnaz Rostam

Rostami also works as a designer in the architectural world, and her performance cleverly weaves that experience into laments about gentrification and displacement in the city. She decries the traditional “enforced cuteness” of San Francisco architecture, but also questions contemporary minimalism, as it applies both to design and life. She took us on a tour of The Battery, an exclusive club that popped up a few years ago and most of us loved to hate from the moment we heard about it. The descriptions of glass and metal contrast with the ugliness of the institution’s sensibilities and target clientele. But Rostami also offered notes of optimism and hope, such as ways we could organize the city more equitably and sustainability (e.g., more high-rises, but also a lot more natural space). And she did this with a heightened exaggerated style from her drag performances.

We had a large and appreciative audience for the event, full of familiar faces from the KSW community as well as newcomers. I look forward to seeing the full art project as it unfolds on the streets of my neighborhood.

CatSynth pic: Feline Modular (Ceramic knobs for modular synths)

Eevolute modular synth setup with cat figurine

Another from our friends at Eevo Lute Music & Technology. This one features a cat figurine atop a modular synth setup 😺

UPDATE: It’s more than a simple figurine. It is a knob cover that fits many modulars. You can find out more at https://www.amarowebshop.nl/a-48425107/extravaganza/katten-knoppen-voor-modulaire-synthesizers/. We will definitely be checking this out!