Outsound New Music Summit: Touch the Gear

The 2017 Outsound New Music Summit kicked off this Sunday with the annual Touch the Gear event. As always, there were several musicians and instrument-makers were on hand to demonstrate their setups or inventions.

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Above we see Alphastare demonstrating his setup for processing of synthesized and recorded sounds that he uses in his live shows. Below, CDP bandmate Tom Djll shows his analog modular synthesizer setup with sundry external boxes for expressive control of sound.

Tom Djll

I opted to show my modular synth as well this year, along with the Moog Theremini.

CatSynth setup at Touch the Gear, with Modular and Moog Theremini

The theremin is always a popular item at this event.

Kim Nucci demonstrated some custom modules alongside a Korg MS-20 mini and a DIY metal instrument with sensors.

Kim Nucci

I have always found metal plus electronics a musically interesting combination.

Among the more unusual and surprising instruments this year was Dania Luck’s musical chessboard. It contained sensors for the magnetic chess pieces, with each square of the board triggering a different synthesizer in a SuperCollider patch.

Dania Luck.  Chess board and SuperCollider patch.

This wasn’t the only SuperCollider program being shown, as our friend Tim Walters demonstrated his patch and controller setup. It is the setup he will use as part of Usufruct in the opening concert for the Summit.

Tim Walters.  SuperCollider and controller.

Tim Thompson was on hand with the latest incarnation of his electronic-music instrument, the Space Palette Pro.

Tim Thompson.  Space Palette Pro
[Tim Thompson demonstrates the Space Palette Pro to Outsound director Rent Romus.]

It uses the same software as previous versions of the Space Palette, but with a new more compact interface based on new touch-sensitive pads from Sensel Morph. These pads are quite impressive in both response and feel, and we at CatSynth will definitely be looking into them.

Not all the demos included electronics. There were several acoustic instruments demonstrated by the Pet the Tiger collective (David Samas, Ian Saxton, Tom Nunn, Derek Drudge), including this beautiful kalimba tuned to 31edo.

Kalimba with 31edo tuning.  Pet the Tiger

I would love to write a piece for it one of these days. There was also a large metalophone with a deep resonant tone, interesting tuning, and some satellite “bass” notes.

Pet the Tiger.  Metalophone.

Back inside the hall, Motoko Honda demonstrated a network of electronic devices processing voice, along with a fun circuit-bent instrument.

Motoko Honda

Matt Davignon brought his setup for expressive manipulation and processing of samples and other pre-recorded sound materials.

Matt Davignon

We would also like to thank Matt for his efforts organizing this event every year! We would also like to thank the folks at VAMP for co-presenting and bringing a pop-up shop of records and sundry vintage and musical items.

It was a fun afternoon as always, and it was great to see families in attendance. And there were multiple things to inspire me musically and technologically. We will see where that goes. Next up, the concerts…

March for Science SF, April 22, 2017

Yesterday we at CatSynth attended our local March for Science, part of a nationwide – and indeed, international – network of marches protesting the continued devaluing of science and reason in our public discourse and policy-making. From the March for Science Mission Statement

The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest

People who value science have remained silent for far too long in the face of policies that ignore scientific evidence and endanger both human life and the future of our world. New policies threaten to further restrict scientists’ ability to research and communicate their findings. We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely. Staying silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford. We must stand together and support science.

And indeed, a great many people gathered here in San Francisco to stand up for science, as can be seen in this picture, courtesy of the March for Science Facebook page.

The overhead view shows the march heading southwest on Market Street. At ground level, the march was characterized less by the density and size of the crowd, but its clever signs. To be sure, there were appropriate denunciations of Trump that would lead many to question the “nonpartisan” nature of the event, but more were just fun, smart, perhaps a bit snarky. All of which is awesome.

I must also say this was probably among the quietest of marches I have attended. Polite, perhaps even a bit introverted if a march can be described that way. There is no doubt the passion of many of the folks participating, but we do tend to be a quieter, more cerebral bunch. It lacked the exuberance of the annual Pride Parade, or even the loud vocal indignation of the Occupy protests in 2011 and 2012. For me personally, the most important message was “I can’t believe we actually are out here marching for this.” For a long time, science was well respected in public discourse (even if scientists themselves were sometimes teased). There has long been an anti-intellectual streak in American politics and discourse, but it has come to a new and dangerous level with the outright scorn and erasure of science by the angry populist movement that sees in Trump, a man proud of his own scientific illiteracy, a champion. This long predated any one person, but it’s long past time to stand up. Even nerds in lab coats have to get political in this climate.

If there was one thing that particularly bothered me about the crowd, it the relatively low representation of people of color. The lack of diversity in science, engineering and related fields is a topic of ongoing discussion. But it did make me feel a bit alienated politically and socially from the older, whiter, somewhat hippie-ish elements of crowd.

The march ended with a “science fair” in front of City Hall. It was pretty much a normal street fair, but the booths had a scientific theme to them. I was happy to see Mission Science Workshop, an organization dedicate to bringing both understanding and joy of science to one of our diverse local neighborhoods. I also saw the both of Association of Women in Science. I have to admit I quite like their hashtag/motto.

There was also a group of artists who do scientific illustrations. Among them was this pamphlet on circuit bending. I’m glad to see circuit bending making its way into the world of science education 😺

I did not stay long at the fair. It is not really my thing, especially on a cold and blustery day, and I had things to prepare for that evening. I am glad to have participated in the march, but the real questions will be what comes next.

Outsound Music Summit: Touch the Gear

The 2014 Outsound Music Summit in underway. And as usual, we began with our popular community event Touch the Gear. We had a large crowd of all ages, and delightful cacophony of unusual musical sounds.

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This year, I brought the analog modular (specifically, about two-thirds of the current module collection) and the new Moog Theremini:

Amanda Chaudhary with analog modular and Moog Theremini
[Photo by Frank Lin]

There were several first-time participants this year, including Elise Gargalikis and Dmitri SFC of coa-modular.comwith their “wall of Serge”. It was fun to get to try this out myself.

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[Photo by Elise Gargalikis‎]

There was more Serge modular to be found, courtesy of Lx Rudis.

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Aaron Oppenheim brought classic circuit-bent toys, including a Speak&Math and the Talking Computron.

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It was a bit of inspiration to get of my tuchus and circuit-bend the Speak&Spell sitting in my studio!

There was a Minimoog sighting, of course.

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Long-time participants Matt Davignon and CJ Borosque demonstrated their recent work with effects pedals. Davignon processed drum machines and samplers while Borosque’s pedals were in a closed loop circuit generating their own sound.

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There were acoustic instruments as well. David Samas brought his very impressive contrabass ehru. This beast was huge. And it had bells in addition to the strings and resonant chamber (made out of a trunk).

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Bryan Day presented his mechanical/electrical/acoustic inventions.

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Jaroba shared a variety of wind and percussion instruments with a bit of electronics.

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[Photo by Frank Lin]

There were several more presenters, and as usual I don’t have room for everyone in this post. But it was a great event as always, and we at Outsound appreciated everyone’s contributions. Now it is on to the concerts including tomorrow night’s Poetry Freqs show. Please click here for the full schedule!

CatSynth video: Circuit Bent Cyber Cat by freeform delusion

Cyber Cat – rehoused McDonalds toy – it doesn’t say a lot but I just had to circuit bend it!

switched mono 1/4inch jack output
Momentary button to trigger each sound
Pitch Up/Down Control
Warp switch

.fd. online
Facebook – freeform delusion
Twitter – https://twitter.com/freeformd
eBay – Search for – Circuit Bent
My older Circuit Bending channel – http://youtube.com/eecouk

Also on matrixsynth.

Note: if you want to bid on this, you might find yourself going up against me 🙂

Report from BPOW!!! Part 1: The Workshops

It’s been a little over a week since the Battery Powered Orchestra Workshop (BPOW!!!) occurred in Portland. Today we look back at the workshops, which were in many ways the central components of weekend.

During the Saturday morning session, I attended a workshop on electronic textiles hosted by Cat Poole of Cacophonous Creations. The skill was to learn how to use conductive thread to embed both light and controls into clothing for future performances. But for the workshop, the task was to simply sew an LED and its associated circuit onto a dinosaur patch:

BPOW electronic textiles

Of course, we at CatSynth approve of Cacophonous Creations’ chat noir logo! As for the task itself, the biggest challenges related to general sewing and laying out elements to properly fit (at least for someone with little sewing experience beyond repairing buttons). But I got through the threading of the circuit. It would be great to incorporate something like this into costuming for future performances.

In the afternoon, I attended a session presented by Steve Harmon of Synthrotek. It centered around DIY electronics and the ubiquitous 555 integrated circuit. But that then merely building an Atari Punk Console with a 555, we stepped it up with Synthrotek’s 4093 NAND Synthesizer.

4093 NAND Synth kit

The 4093 includes three square waves, based on a dual 556 integrated circuit. I was quite intent to complete it and be able to use it for my performance that evening. The soldering of the components went quite smoothly – it helps to both see other people soldering and to have access to a good iron. It was a quite a rewarding moment when the synth was complete and making sound.

Completed 4093 NAND Synth

My only disappointment was the pots not quite fitting and ending up a bit lopsided. But it worked great in the performance and will certainly be used again in the future. The additional confidence on soldering will also be valuable for future projects.

Additional workshops in the afternoon included an introduction and demonstration of modular synthesizers by Jeph Nor. He demystified modular for a general audience by presenting the fundaments (oscillators, filters, amplifiers) and adding additional elements.

Jeph Nor analog modular demo
[Image from the BPOW Facebook page.]

Attending all the workshops on Saturday would have been impossible, especially if one wanted to complete the associated tasks. In particular, I was also interested in the Raspberry Pi which was presented by Edward Sharp.


Sunday’s workshop sessions opened with a demonstration of “squishy circuits”. It turns out that homemade play-doh is quite a good conductor of electricity, and can be used to quickly prototype circuit ideas. It also serves as a very accessible medium for introducing principles of electronics to children.

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We also got to see other non-traditional conductive media including ink and paint that can be used to integrate electronics into artwork without the use of wires.

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Then everyone scattered for an electronics scavenger hunt to find electronic toys and various media to use in projects during the afternoon. The participants reconvened later in the day and got to work.

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Our host Travis Feldman of Molecule Synth hacked the interior of an Atari console with both audio and video modifications, attaching it to a Moog pedal.

Hacked Atari console

Other creations included a circuit-bent toy keytar and a tactile surface used to control audio and video on a laptop.

Overall, the workshops at BPOW were a rewarding experience. In addition to new inspiration and a few new skills, I liked seeing the wide variety of interests and disciplines that others brought to creative DIY electronics for music, video and performance art. If the event does recur next year, it will be interesting to see how technologies and the skills of participants have further evolved.

In addition to the workshops, BPOW also featured performances in the evening. We will look at those in a subsequent article.

December 1 Electronic Music at the Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco

The December 1 show at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco marked my official curatorial debut for the long-running Outsound Presents’ series. The show featured three solo performances with electronics, all very different in terms of musical style and technologies. But while all featured and celebrated different facets of electronic-music technology, there were strong connections to the acoustic and natural environment.

The evening opened with a set by Headboggle (aka Derek Gedalecia) with an array of analog electronics, including a Blippo Box. The sounds and possibilities of analog electronics were paired sounds of nature as recorded in the Yosemite Valley. The music began with a rhythmic pattern of high-pitched sounds against longer machine noises and clear presentation of the nature recordings. Gradually, the two sonic strains collided and mixed together.

As with previous Headboggle performances (such as the set at the 2010 Outsound Music Summit), this one was full of energy and stage theater, with head banging, dropping of the stage furniture, and even a moment where he tossed shakers down the Luggage Store Gallery’s stairwell. The music also became more dramatic and percussive, with more glitches, percussive hits and bursts of noise, but all set against the continuing presence of the nature sounds. The harsher electronic sounds gave way to a more rarefied tone over time, with longer periods of harmonic oscillator sounds fading into a quieter single tone. After another percussive period that included lifting and dropping the table holding the care, the environmental sounds took center stage. Between the stereo speakers and the acoustics of the gallery, the leaves and other sounds were strongly spatialized and felt present.

Thea Farhadian followed with a set for violin and computer running Max/MSP. In some sections of her performance, the violin was more of a traditional chamber-music instrument, with its familiar timbres augmented by electronic samples and processing. In others, it was more of a controller, with pizzicato notes triggering long runs of notes from the computer or other purely electronic events. The set started out with solo violin, with the electronics emerging slowly like the orchestra in a concerto. The music continued to unfold as interplay between the violin and electronics. As the texture changed to more pizzicato notes with electronic responses of backward tones, the music grew more anxious, channeling the anxious moments of countless films. I also was reminded of works by Penderecki and Xenakis. A large barrage of electronic pizzicato sounds started to take on a drone-like quality with its density. In both the melodic and percussive sections, the music was harmonically a very strong, a brought in electronic orchestration that suggestion the presence of a cello or bass off stage. Other effects included fast glissandi and electronic pitch changes such as one might achieve by changing the speed of a tape.

Farhadian’s performance was divided into a series of short movements, and some had very different character. In one, short pizzicato notes on the violin acted as triggered for long runs of electronic notes and processing, with various speed, pitch and timbral changes applied. In another, a very lyrical string melody was set against fluttering sounds and dramatic low tones. In yet another, she used “prepared violin”, with bits of foil and other items placed against the strings for percussive effects. The electronic accompaniment was equally scratchy and inharmonic. And in one of the final sections, repeated rhythmic phrases and echoes perfectly aligned.

The final set featured Later Days (aka Wayne Jackson) with a variety of circuit-bent instruments, acoustic and electronic noisemakers, and a laptop running his custom Cambrian Suite audio softsynth with both hand-designed and algorithmically evolved patches. If Farhadian’s performance was all about software-based manipulation and Headboggle was focused on analog hardware, Later Days combined both.

The space was quickly filled with an ocean of electronic sounds, glitches, bleeps, rumbles, short loops and echoes. At one point, everything became extremely quiet, with a few lo-fi distortion sounds and high squeaky analog sounds. The new sampling and looping capabilities of the software were showcased with repeated loops of circuit-bent sounds, a solo on a photo-sensitive oscillator, a car horn and recordings from a microphone dangled out the window onto busy Market Street. The loops built up to a frenzy and the slowed down to almost nothing. The sounds picked up again in pitch and energy, with feedback loops providing an edgy and unpredictable quality. A metallic rhythm emerged, and the faded a single feedback loop. A flurry of “little loud bits” formed an odd harmony of their own. After a series of machine-like noises and a more elemental wind-like sound, the music slowed down once again and came to a watery end.

Over all it was a great concert with a rich variety of music. Indeed, the three artists fit together sequentially even better than I had anticipated. And fortunately, the logistics and technical requirements (e.g., soundchecking) were not that challenging, so I was able to enjoy the show along with the audience.