Vacuum Tree Head Live at Berkeley Arts, January 10, 2016

Vacuum Tree Head
[Photo by Christina Stanley]

On January 10, 2016, Vacuum Tree Head performed at Berkeley Arts as part of the “Hardly Strictly Personal” benefit festival curated by Mika Pontecorvo. We played a short instrumental set that featured refinements of existing songs from our previous performance as well as new compositions. You can see and hear the highlights in this video.

As you can see from these highlights, it was short and energetic, and we certainly had a lot of fun playing.

Amanda Chaudhary and Jason Berry, Vacuum Tree Head.
[Photo by Christina Stanley]

The band was led as always by Jason Berry, who also played soprano saxophone and electronics. The rest of the best included Amanda Chaudhary on Nord Stage and Moog Sub Phatty keyboards, Michael de la Cuesta on guitar and synthesizers, Rich Lesnick on saxophone and bass clarinet, Thomas Scandura on drums, and Stephen Wright on bass. Mixing, editing, and interstitial music was done at CatSynth HQ; and the animations were by J.B.

Farewell to 2015: Annus Asper

Farewell to 2015
[Click to enlarge.]

2015 was a rough year. There is no other way to put it. We looked over the precipice at some of the worst possibilities becoming reality. But we came through. Luna stared down an extremely dire diagnosis and is once again thriving. For that I am truly grateful. I rebounded strongly from my own health issues as well. And there were many other beautiful moments this year, a few of which are included in our graphic.

This was a year of many endings as well, most notably in the personal and musical domains. But new doors are opening for 2016 as a result, and there are some new projects and opportunities for which I am excited. 2015 left a lot of questions unanswered, some of which are also depicted in the graphic and some of which are beyond the scope of this site.

So we are excited for 2016, but also extremely anxious and apprehensive. There are more big challenges coming up; and if I have learned anything, it is that I have no idea how things will ultimately turn out. It’s just a matter of doing things one at a time incrementally – but also continuing even more than ever to speak my truths and accept the risks and consequences that come with doing so.

Meanwhile, we at CatSynth will continue to do what we do here, bring music, art, culture and cats to the world. Thank you for all your support in 2015, and especially all your support for Luna and me. We are truly humbled and look forward to sharing this new year whatever it brings.

UBRADIO SALON 399: Alien Artifact

UBRadio Salon 399

Last weekend Polly Moller and I joined the hosts at UBRadio Salon for two hours of live experimental electronic improvisation. UBRadio Salon is a project by the folks who brought us Big City Orchestra UBIUBI and we excited to have the opportunity to play on their 399th consecutive weekly show.

Polly Moller and Amanda Chaudhary at UBRadio Salon

We began with a version of our improv piece Ode to Steengo, with Polly on voice, bass flute and guitar, and I performed on modular synth and Moog Theremini. It became a quartet with electronics, and DIY sonic objects. Overall it was one of the best versions of this piece we have done! We immediately sequed into an extended coda with abstract improvisation. The second set was open improvisation as well, with Polly providing vocals and narratives throughout. In between were clips from National Lampoon radio broadcasts as well as bits of the original Stainless Steel Rats series, on which the spam text of Ode to Steengo is based.

You can hear the show in its entirely via this archive.

Thanks to our hosts Ninah Pixie and DAs for having us on the show. I look forward to their upcoming 400th episode, and we certainly hope to come back and play again.

And Update on Luna…and me

Luna continues to improve after her surgery. She has had her stitches removed and she was clear to be cone-free. Her energy level, appetite, and affection have all returned to normal. And we have been enjoying quite a bit of time together.

Luna and Amanda at CatSynth HQ

This is all good news, though her overall prognosis remains challenging. We will be going forward with her first chemo treatment in a couple of weeks, the first of up to four, depending on its effectiveness and how she handles it. The most important step was the surgery, but this will hopefully reduce the cancer a bit more and give her a longer and better quality of life. It still remains difficult to reconcile the dire diagnosis with the lively and affectionate cat that I still see every day. We will just have to take things as they come.

In the midst of Luna’s health crisis, I suddenly find myself facing one as well. Two Wednesdays ago, I suddenly started having distorted vision in my left eye and localized headaches in the vicinity of the same eye. I quickly went for an eye exam, and it deemed serious enough to warrant a visit to a retina specialist as soon as possible. That visit happened, and while I will spare the details in this article, it was pretty serious. (Those who are really interested can Google “central vein occlusion” and “retinal hemorrhaging”.) It’s not as dire as Luna’s diagnosis, but it remains physically problematic and has been quite disruptive – I have already canceled a few music gigs – and it reverberates though other aspects of my health. I’ll probably have a better sense of things in the next few days. Meanwhile, I have a few upcoming shows in the next two weeks that I plan to still play, but beyond that I am keeping things pretty low-key for September and October, focused on solitary creative projects (e.g., resuming work on the solo album), and on healing. Indeed, Luna and I are now healing each other together.

Outsound New Music Summit: Vacuum Tree Head, avantNoir and Cabbages, Captain and King

While the first night of the 2015 Outsound New Music Summit was billed as “Quiet Noise”, the second night was something altogether different. The concert features three exuberant but very different bands spanning a wide variety of musical techniques and styles.

First up was Cabbages, Captain and King, a trio featuring Eli Wallace on piano, Karl Evangelista on guitar, and Jon Arkin on drums.

Cabbages, Captain and King
[Cabbages, Captain and King. Photo: peterbkaars.com.]

I have become quite a fan of Eli Wallace’s piano playing, which is virtuosic and energetic. Combined with Evangelista’s intense and varied guitar performance and Arkin’s drums, the trio packed quite a punch. The speed and energy rarely let up throughout the 45-minute set. The music had an unsettled quality, always moving forward and never quite reaching a groove or tonal center. There were occasional quiet moments when the overall intensity of the performance let up, and the final notes with prepared piano were a nice touch.

Eli Wallace
[Eli Wallace. Photo: peterbkaars.com.]

Next up was Liza Mezzacapa’s Bait & Switch performing her project avantNoir. The pieces in this project were all inspired by noir fiction. The first half was based on “hard-boiled” stories by Dashiell Hammett set in 1920s San Francisco – with many familiar places and streets references – and the second half was based on “soft boiled” stories by Paul Auster set in 1980s New York (also a familiar setting).

Lisa Mezzacapa's avantNOIR with Bait&Switch
[Lisa Mezzacappa’s avantNOIR with Bait & Switch. Photo: peterbkaars.com.]

The music fit into the punctuated jazz style I have heard many times from Mezzacapa and her bands. But there was a distinctly 1970s crime show vibe to many of the pieces that contrasted with the times and places of the original stories’ settings. The interplay of bass, guitar with wah wah and drums, along with some of the electronic sounds from guest performer Tim Perkis led to this 1970s feel. The project itself suggests film scores for the stories, and I liked the idea of changing listeners’ expectations, especially if they have seen Hollywood versions of these stories. In addition to Mezzacapa and Perkis, the set featured Aaron Bennett on tenor saxophone, Jordon Glenn on drums, John Finkbeiner on guitar and special guest William Winant on vibraphone and sound-effects percussion. I found Winant’s seltzer bottle and tiny door particularly amusing.

Aaron Bennet and William Winant
[Aaron Bennett and William Winant. Photo: peterbkaars.com.]

Then it was time for Vacuum Tree Head to take the stage.

Vacuum Tree Head
[Vacuum Tree Head. Photo: peterbkaars.com.]

Led by Jason Berry who was conducting this evening, led us through fast-paced set of short pieces that ranged from classic jazz to deep funk to something approaching metal rock. Above the fray were vocals by Amy X Neuburg, who brought her theatrical and operatic voicings to the rather challenging music along with her very distinctive performance personality.

Amy X Neuburg, Vacuum Tree Head

Jason Berry, Vacuum Tree Head
[Amy X Neuburg and Jason Berry. Photos: peterbkaars.com.]

Many of the pieces, which were composed primarily by Berry and Michael de La Cuesta who together formed the band in 1989(!), were premiers. The band made the most of the variety of music, with an extended fusion keyboard solo by Amanda Chaudhary in DL DS, deep funk from the whole band behind Rich Corney’s guitar in EMS, a blindingly short jazz tune inspired by the Akhnaton dynasty of ancient Egypt, and a loud metal tune that may have been a first for an Outsound New Music Summit.

Amanda Chaudhary et al, Vacuum Tree Head
[Amanda Chaudhary et al. Photo: peterbkaars.com.]

Rich Lesnick (also a band-mate of mine in Reconnaissance Fly) brought solid saxophone and bass clarinet, including an extended moody bass-clarinet solo in Cushion Fortress; and Michael de la Cuesta featured in many songs on analog synthesizer, guitar and glockenspiel. Justin Markovits held things together with his drumming, assisted in the rhythm section by Tom Ferguson on bass. There was even a bit of abstract electronics from Amy X Neuburg on Blippo Box and Amanda Chaudhary on modular synth.

Michael de la Cuesta, Vacuum Tree Head Justin Markovits, Vacuum Tree Head
[Michael de la Cuesta and Justin Markovits. Photo: peterbkaars.com.]

The set was very well received by audience, some of whom were longtime fans of the band and some hearing us for the first time. And personally, it was quite a privilege to be part of the band for this event.

Overall, it was a strong evening for the summit, one that stood out as quite contrasting among the sets as well as with the other concerts.

Vacuum Tree Head at Outsound New Music Summit

Vacuum Tree Head at Outsound New Music Summit, July 30

The band Vacuum Tree Head returns for a performance at this year’s Outsound New Music Summit. The event will be on July 30, 8PM at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street in San Francisco.

Vacuum Tree Head is led by Jason Berry – that’s “J.B.” who draws the Mensa Cat Monday cartoons. The poster that appears above is his artwork as well. The new lineup for the band features Amanda Chaudhary on keyboards, Rich Corney on guitar, Michael de la Cuesta on guitar, orchestral chimes and synthesizers; Tom Ferguson on bass; Richard Lesnik on saxophones and bass clarinet, Justin Markovits on drums, and Amy X Neuburg on vocals and custom electronics. From the Summit website:

VTH has created music ranging from ambient electronics pieces scored for feedback, bass clarinets, singing bowls and bowed gongs (Tar’Hai Wizard, a piece dedicated to the great Jean “Moebius” Giraud), to tightly composed, guitar-based punk/prog songs (the album “THIRTEEN”), to abstract electronics and audio collage (the album “Aum Carve Etude H”), and all stops in between. The band is currently moving into areas involving the intersection of tightly composed compositions and free improvisation

The even also includes two other great bands. Cabbages, Captain, & King is a trio of Jon Arkin (drums), Karl Evangelista (guitar), and Eli Wallace. I have heard Wallace’s virtuosic piano a few times already this and looking forward to more. Finally, we will be treated to a performance of a new project avantNOIR by Lisa Mezzacappa with her Bait & Switch.

Please visit the Outsound New Music Summit for a full rundown of all the evenings. (We at CatSynth will be the to cover all four concerts.)

Analog Ladies at Robotspeak

Today we look back at the recent Analog Ladies edition of the Church of the Superserge that took place in late June at Robotspeak in San Francisco.

The Analog Ladies show featured solo performances by five women on analog synthesizers (along with some additional items). It was a diverse cross-section of musical and performance styles, with each artist being different focus to her set. First up was series regular Elise Gargalikis performing on a Serge Modular synthesizer with along with vocal samples and loops.

Elise Gargalikis

Gargalikis, who often performs as part of the duo, Slope114, has a mellifluous voice that rises above some of the noise sounds from the modular synth, while blending as a high note in longer drones.

Next up was Miss Moist, an Oakland-based electronic musician who describes her music as “electro candy pop // tropical kitsch”. She combined analog electronics with a Korg Electribe and Mini-Kaoss Pad.

Miss Moist
[Photo by Tom Djll.]

The result was a blend of rhythms and sweet tones that did indeed match the description, but also moments of harsh glitching and moderate noise hits before returning back to the main patterns.

The next set featured Jill Fraser performing on her vintage Serge modular synthesizer.

Jill Fraser

Jill Fraser’s set featured fully formed compositions ranging over different parts of her career all the way to very recent. Some were very abstract, but with intricately detailed sound design on the Serge. I’ve always been impressed with the woodwind-like sounds that some musicians have been able to get from this instrument. There were also some melodic and rhythmic pieces as well, reflective of her career in film and TV.

Next up was Mint Park, who performed with an analog modular synthesizer made composed primarily of TipTop Audio modules along with a laptop running Ableton Live!

Mint Park

Her performance was intense. A strong set of beats with punctuated breaks was feed through the modular with hard grating noise that worked well in context. She kept up the energy for the entire duration of the set.

Then it was time to take the stage as the final act of show.

11111613_10153410839340960_5046096304532454830_o
[Photo by Dmitri SFC]

For this set, I brought the full analog modular system, including some recent acquisitions such as the Hexinverter.net Mutant-Hijats – I opened the set with the Hihats controlled by the Make Noise Rene and the Moog Theremini. The Theremini, used exclusively as a CV controller for the modular synth, was the centerpiece of the set as it enabled full embodied performance. I also brought along the Garrahand drum, which works well fed into the Make Noise Echophon.

Amanda Chaudhary synthesizer setup

You can here my full performance in this video.

Amanda Chaudhary at Analog Ladies, Robotspeak, San Francisco from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I always try to make sure there is a variety of textures and energy-levels and weave together a narrative structure even within improvisation. Overall, I was very pleased with this set and the response from the large crowd.

ac platforms
[Photo by Tom Djll.]

Indeed, all the artists were well received by the overflowing crowd at Robotspeak – it’s not a large place, but it was filled with synth enthusiasts and those who enjoy more adventurous music. This was the first Analog Ladies edition of the Church of the Super Serge, but I certainly hope it won’t be the last.

analog ladies robot patch cords
[Photo courtesy of Robotspeak.]

Analog Ladies at Robotspeak, Saturday 3PM

Analog Ladies

We have covered several of the Church of the Superserge shows at Robotspeak over the past year or so. And now I will be performing in one as part of a special Analog Ladies edition. It will be an afternoon of analog synthesizer madness featuring several of instrument’s most talented women: Jill Fraser, Mint Park, Amanda Chaudhary, Miss Moist, and 7H1NG2. It’s a casual BYOB event, so if you’re in San Francisco (or anywhere on the Bay Area transit grid) and free tomorrow afternoon, please drop by Robotspeak (589 1/2 Haight Street in SF) to hear us.

I will performing on my analog modular plus Moog Theremini, and probably wearing something with a feline theme. Here is a photo of the modular as I start to set up the initial patch for tomorrow’s set.

Analog modular synth preparation for Analog Ladies show

Things will be a little less chaotic visually by show time tomorrow. Sonically, there might be some chaos, but that is completely intentional 🙂

Pitta of the Mind, Obando/Pumpelly/Wallace Trio

As Pitta of the Mind prepares for our upcoming show next week, we look back at our last show in February at Outsound’s periodic Soundspeak series featuring experimental music and poetry groups.

For our set we performed several new pieces on the theme of film, with several poems evoking treatments and plots for possible (or impossible) films. The music featured a mixture of piano, Moog Theremini, modular synth and DSI Prophet 12, which made for quite an impressive setup.

Theremini, analog modular, Prophet 12, Nord Stage keyboard

As with most Pitta of the Mind shows, we had a color/pattern theme. On this evening the theme was white.

11010618_1633998410154415_3277870502222074142_n (1)
Maw Shein Win and Amanda Chaudhary Amanda Chaudhary
[Photos by Annabelle Port. Click to enlarge.]

The performance overall went quite well. You can here some audio excerpts below.

We were proceeded that evening by a trio featuring Nick Obando with Rob Pumpelly and Eli Wallace. The group performed several extended-length jazz pieces layered with Obando’s hip-hop-infused poetry.

Nick Obando with Rob Pumpelly and Eli Wallace

I have to admit I do not recall much of the words/poetry, but the instrumental performance was quite memorable. I am a fan of Eli Wallace’s keyboard performance style, and Pumpelly and Obando brought their own strong technical skills to the mix. I particularly liked one piece that featured a funk rhythm with complex solos and patterns on top. The rhythm cut out in a few spots for freeform improvisation that was just long enough before returning to the funk pattern.

Overall, it was a good show, though a quiet night – possibly a combination of other performances happening that evening and the fact that the Luggage Store Gallery is at a temporary location while the main building is being renovated. But we certainly look forward to performing again, and hearing more music in the meantime.

Idris Ackamoor Quartet, Amanda Chaudhary, IMA, Voicehandler. Second Act SF

Today we look back at a memorable show I played in a couple of weeks ago at Second Act here in San Francisco. Four acts each brought a different style of performance, instrumentation and experimentation to the stage.

First up was IMA, an electro-acoustic duo featuring Nava Dunkelman and Jeanie-Aprille Tang.

Nava Dunkelman and Jeanie-Aprille Tang

Their sound blends the noisier edges of percussion with a range of electronic sources, including loops, samples, and percussive hits that complement the acoustic sources. It was a loud and intense affair, but with quiet sections. Dunkelman also used her voice during the performance as another instrument.

Then it was time to take the stage. This was another set featuring Moog Theremini and analog modular synthesizer. The color theme for this performance was blue.

Amanda Chaudhary with Moog Theremini
[Photo by Tom Djll]

As with many of these electronic improvisation sets, it starts off very structured and then moves in different directions based on the audience, room, instrument behavior and inspiration. You can see the full performance in this video.

Amanda Chaudhary at Second Act from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Overall I was quite pleased with the performance and the audience reaction.

Next up was Voicehandler, a duo of Danishta Rivero and Jacob Felix Heule.

Voicehandler

Their sound was a bit more subtle than the previous acts. It featured Rivero on extended vocal techniques with a water-based electro-acoustic instrument of her own invention, the Hydrophonium; and Heule on extended percussion techniques that were often subtle and precise before veering into more energetic territory.

The final act was a quartet led by Idris Ackamoor featuring Mark Heshima Williams on bass, Bob Marshall in drums, and David Molina on guitar and laptop with Ableton Live!

Idris Ackamoor Quartet

Several of the musicians and musical pieces were familiar from Ackamoor’s renowned “afro-futurist” group The Pyramids. Indeed, the performance followed a similar structure with both a rhythmic entry and recessional. The rhythm section of Williams and Marshall was solid and perfect for some of the funkier grooves; and Ackamoor managed to move effortlessly between roles as horn-player and solo tap-dancing. It was interesting to hear David Molina and his guitar+electronic work, which I have heard before as a solo project, blended into this context.

Idris Ackamoor

All together it was a good show from all four groups, a diverse range of music. The large audience seem drawn to all the acts even if they initially came following one. And it’s great to see spaces like Second Act continuing to host shows like this in San Francisco. I hope to play there again sometime soon.