Sam Sam, The Sunset, and San Francisco

I-280The geography of San Francisco is complicated, and the east and west sections of the city can sometimes seem quite divided. This is even more so when one is transporting a cat across the city, as I did on Thursday to bring Sam Sam from CatSynth HQ in the downtown area to our longtime vets at Especially Cats Veterinary Hospital in the western Sunset District. There are several tall hills in between, and the most efficient route is to hop on I-280 around the southern portion of the city and then up into the Sunset.

CA 35 The Sunset is an interesting and intriguing place, almost a separate city. From 19th Avenue (CA 1), the alphabetically arranged streets and numerically arranged avenues slope gently down towards the Great Highway and the ocean. The Great Highway should be CA 35 all the way up to its northern end, rather than ending in the southern corner of the city along Sloat, but it does. Especially Cats is on Taraval Street, one of the main east-west strips in the neighborhood.  It even boasts a streetcar line down to the sea.

Taraval Street

Sam Sam with sockThis photo was from 2015 when I brought Luna in for her biopsy. It was a normal overcast gray summer day in the Sunset. Sam Sam’s visit was on a hazy sunny and warm day at the start of the current heatwave. The return to Especially Cats was a warm experience as well, albeit a bit emotional as it was our first reunion since Luna passed away. Fortunately, Sam Sam received a clean bill of health and charmed the staff with her cuteness. And she was remarkably well behaved on the trip over, just complaining a little bit. We decided to take the more geometrically direct but hilly and windy route back, taking Taraval to its eastern end a swanky neighborhood around Laguna Honda, and then over Portola and Market back to our corner of the city. The spot where Market and Portola meet is among my favorite in the city, with commanding views of downtown and beyond. And in between, there are dips and valley with unexplored roads and walks that I need to come back to when I don’t have an impatient cat in a carrier.

Elizabeth Street, San Francisco

The whole of the city used to be mine, as I regularly moved from neighborhood to neighborhood for work, fun, or errands. Downtown San Francisco can be a bit of a gravity well when one both works and lives there. It’s a fine situation, in truth, but I can sometimes get a bit restless to move about rest of the city again. Especially some of the older sections, or the more industrial spaces that formed the backbone of my visual art (and “Wordless Wednesday”) but are rapidly disappearing. When will the last dilapidated warehouse give way to a banal medium-rise apartment building?

Finding this balance, doing all we want to do, and have to do, is perhaps this moment’s biggest challenge. But on this day I was happy to simply do right by a loved one while exercising a bit of the wanderlust.

Please check out our Highway☆ app, available in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store!

Steely Dan: My Old School 1973 – RIP Walter Becker

On the news of Walter Becker’s passing, we post this classic live performance of Steely Dan.

Steely Dan seems to be one of those bands that elicit strong emotions, people seem to love them or love to hate them. While I had a soft spot for a long time that I had to occasionally defend, there had faded into the background until Aja became part of the rotation of albums I listened to during my recovery last summer. This was a deeper listening beneath the slick production to hear the chord progressions and the dark but clever lyrics. And as I write more lyrics in my music, I hear the influence of their words.

I do get the sense that the polarizing reaction to Steely Dan does tend to cleave along similar lines to other musical divisions of the 1970s, most notoriously the anti-disco crusaders from the hard rock world. But that is a story for another time…

Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam: ¡Que Calor!

It is hot here in San Francisco. In fact, yesterday was the hottest day on record in nearly 150 years. From The Examiner;

Hours after this post was originally written, a new downtown San Francisco temperature record was set at 106 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

I love heat. Indeed, my ideal temperature is higher than some friends and colleagues’ comfort zones. But this is too hot for even me. Which means it’s a bit unbearable for poor Sam Sam.

Sam Sam in the shade

She has been strategically lying in spots that are shaded, as in the photo above where she is lying underneath a small table and a mounted crash cymbal. She does love her sunshine, though, so keeps going back to the window to bask for a few minutes.

As the temperature continues to climb inside of CatSynth HQ, I have also set up space with a towel and cold pack for her.

Sam Sam resting with a cold pack

The heatwave is expected to diminish a bit tomorrow. In the meantime, I suspect we are going to be taking it easy for the remainder of the afternoon.

CatSynth Video: Live Jam #101 – Techno / Minimal – Eurorack, Volca Sample, tc electronic Skysurfer, The Prophet

From Monotrail on YouTube, via matrixsynth.

“And we go on!!! I bought two guitar pedals, mainly for live use. They are sturdy, look good, and are cheap. I thought I would do a Live Jam with some knob tweaking before I place them out sight.
PS: Sorry for the wobly[sic] camera, I don’t have a tripod, but use a bongo instead…

If you are still interested in obtaining one of the 50 tape’s, or a digital version of the 100th Live
Jam release, please visit my bandcamp: https://monotrail.bandcamp.com”

Nice integration of Korg Volca Sample and TC Electronics with the Eurorack modular. And we like the trick of running the Volca Sample through the Doepfer A-119. Spot the kitty 😺

Support for Animals affected by Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey flooding in Texas
[By Jill Carlson (jillcarlson.org) from Roman Forest, Texas, USA (Hurricane Harvey Flooding – 8/26/17 to ?) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

We at CatSynth are looking to help our feline and human friends in Houston and along the Texas gulf coast as the catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Harvey continues. Here are some resources for donating and supporting people and their pets.

From Vox:

Houston Humane Society: The group is helping marshal care and shelter for pets in the area. You can give here. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Texas is undertaking similar efforts. You can give here. The San Antonio Humane Society is doing the same. More here.

UPDATE! Many shelters in the flood and storm areas have been affected and need help. You can find a list here (couresy of bestfriends.org).

Some friends have also donated to Austin Pets Alive.  They are further inland and on higher ground, and are helping with pet evacuations and shelter.

We are happy to report that our friends and family in the greater Houston have all checked in safe and dry, along with their pets.  We certainly hope that they and others weather the storm.

Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam: Swat!

Sam Sam loves being brushed. She also enjoys boxing. Sometimes the two activities come together when she plays “Swat!” with her hairbrush.

Sam Sam swat

Sam Sam is a more rough-and-tumble cat than Luna and the swat game is part of her unique style of play. You can see a bit of her in action in these “Live Photos” from our iPhone and iPad.

For those who may be wondering about the “Motion Stills” stamp on those videos, it is an iOS app made by Google to export Live Photos from your iPhone or iPad to video platforms like YouTube, Instagram, etc.

Mulatu Astatke w/ Meklit at The UC Theatre

We at CatSynth have long admired the music of Ethiopia from the 1960s and 1970s, with its blending of traditional rhythms and scales with funk, soul, and jazz. And there are few names as synonymous with Ethiopian jazz, or “Ethio-jazz” as Mulatu Astatke. Astatke developed his Ethio-jazz sound while studying in the U.K. and the United States, playing alongside with jazz and Latin artists, including many from Cuba, Venezuela and elsewhere. He combined the melodies and harmonies of Ethiopia with rhythms and instrumentations from his Western training and collaborations, along with his own unique complex system of poly-rhythms. There is also a strong element of funk is some of his work. The bulk of his groundbreaking recordings were made in the late 1960s and early 1970s during the “golden age” of Ethiopian music. After the fall of the Ethiopian Empire and the coup that brought a brutal new regime to power, the thriving music scene in Addis Ababa faded and these recordings fell into obscurity. But they were later prized by record collectors and eventually found a wider audience through reissues and inclusion in the French Éthiopiques series of records in the 1990s. Indeed, that was how he first came to my attention. Since then, Astatke and his music have had a renaissance, with frequent collaborations with musicians around the world, such as his 2008 recording with London based jazz/funk band The Heliocentrics and others. When we learned that he was coming to the U.C. Theater in Berkeley this summer, we know we had to be there.

The evening began with a set by Meklit, an Ethiopian-American musician, songwriter, and bandleader based in San Francisco.

Meklit

Like Astatke, Meklit combined jazz and Ethiopian influences in her soulful and energetic performance. Indeed, she was open about the influence of “Dr. Mulatu” on her own music and waxed poetic on being able to open for him in the concert. Meklit’s voice and movement were backed by a band that featured both a drum set and frame drum tupan, along with horns and bass. The result was continuous energy and rhythm that flowed from one composition to another, even when the tempo was slower. The group performed compositions from Meklit’s latest album The People Move and the Music Moves To as well as her earlier compositions and some more traditional tunes.

Meklit and band

And then it was time for the maestro himself to take the stage.

Mulatu Astatke

Mulatu Astatke

Mulatu began on his signature instrument, the vibraphone, with fast runs in his unique tonality that were picked up by the horn players. But he also played electric piano and drums during the set. The rhythms were intricate and often poly-rhythmic or contrapuntal, with lilting triple time and odd times that propelled the music forward. The harmonies had a dark color but still delivered with energy and exuberance. This was music to dance to, and many members of the audience did (including Meklit who was dancing in the aisle not far from our seat). There was a mixture of newer compositions (I thought I heard at least one familiar tune from his work with the Heliocentrics) as well as classic 1970s compositions. The band was solid and deft at Astatke’s complex rhythms and fit with his more recent work that includes musicians from host countries.

Mulatu Astatke, Jason Lindner, and other band members

We did espy Jason Lindner on keyboards, including synthesizers and electric piano. We had previously seen him with Donny McCaslin a couple of months ago. He brought a similar sense of harmony and tight playing across instruments to this performance. He had a command of the complex rhythms and also provided the lush electric-piano sounds that I quite enjoyed in Astatke’s classic recordings.

It was a wonderful and unique night of music, and the audience at the sold-out concert showed their appreciation for it. And having now seen Mulatu Astatke perform live, I will be hearing his recordings in a new light.