Getting Ready for “Play Ball!”, Arc Gallery

“Play Ball!” at Arc Gallery and Studios is a multimedia show about women’s passion for baseball bringing together artists Amanda Chaudhary, Mido Lee and Priscilla Otani. The installation was a true collaboration brought together our respective talents in physical object making, electronics, software, sound, and photography.

One of the more challenging aspects was the interactive sound installation, which was to be installed a series of columns representing the bases on a standard baseball diamond. Four sound sets were composed based on field recordings made at Bay Area games and installed on an Arduino-based system for playback. The electronics included the Arduino itself, a Wave Shield from Adafruit for sound playback, and several motion sensors.

20150329-IMG_4710

The sensors and main electronics package were installed in spheres made from baseball scorecards.

20150329-IMG_4716

Programming the devices, installing them into the physical space, and then testing and debugging was an incremental, iterative, and at times grueling process. But through repeated efforts and understanding the interaction of sensors, wiring, and our software code we ultimately made it work.

11079052_10153043330934300_6458239909053809800_n 11079557_10153043331274300_1545789799659496447_n
[Photos by Priscilla Otani]

Within the final installation, viewers can explore the bases and the surrounding life-size images representing the diversity of women at baseball games. As viewers pass by individual bases, different sounds will be triggered, creating an immersive sound, space, and visual experience.

20150329-IMG_4718

“Play Ball!” opens at Arc Gallery and Studios on Friday, April 3. In keeping with the theme, traditional stadium fare (including hot dogs and peanuts) will be served.

CatSynth pic: Radio Music Synth Module

B8ocAJ8CAAIGOhD

Submitted by our friend ⓉⒺⒸⒽℕ⌽▃ⒾⒹ●⒞⒪⒨ via Twitter.

“@CasaMmia: Ordered a radio music kit, john cage modular @thonk_synth cannot wait “

We are thinking of getting one of these as well 🙂

NAMM: New Korg Synths and ARP Odyssey clone

One of the big announcements before the show was Korg’s new clone of the ARP Odyssey. It was up there with the Moog Modular and Sequential Prophet 6. So I had to see and play this one for myself.

20150124-IMG_3784

Like most of Korg’s recent reissues of classic analog instruments, this version of the ARP Odyssey is about 80% the size of the originally. I’m not sure what it is with Korg making things “just a little smaller” than the original. But it did have the sound of the original – I tried, somewhat poorly, to play some lines from Head Hunters. And I was happy to see that had the original industrial design, including the Helvetica-style red lettering on black background that remains very distinctive. It would be interesting to play this along side my vintage Octave CAT. At just under $1000, it’s even possible one day.

Another new offering from Korg this year was the MS20-M kit, a kit variation on the MS-20. It was paired with the new and very compact SQ-1 CV sequencer.

MS20-M kit and SQ-1 sequencer

The MS-20M has no keyboard, but that’s not much of an impediment as one can control it via external CV.

At the small end of the spectrum there was the LittleBits SynthKit, a collaboration between Korg and LittleBits. We actually have one of these kits at CatSynth HQ.

LittleBits Synth Kit

CatSynth pic and audio: USB Accelerometer Cat Music!

From Chrissie Caulfield via Twitter:

I attached a Hot Hand USB accelerometer to a cat collar and let Sophie run around and chase a fish-on-a-stick toy for a little while. I captured the MIDI output from this and fed it into a synth on Ableton Live. This is the result!

CatSynth pic: Adventures in Electronic Music with Little Cat

Little cat with final synth

From Charles Petzold’s highly recommended article Adventures in Electronic Music. You can read it in its entirety here.

Turning 90° to the left, you can see the windows in my apartment overlooking Broadway, flanked by steel shelving containing my LP collection and a pair of Polk speakers. My bed is to the left. (Yes, this is a studio apartment.) The edge of my piano can be seen at the far left. Little Cat is on the floor.

The synthesizer in its final form was capable of generating 80 simultaneous sine waves, combined in pairs for simple FM synthesis of 40 tones at a sampling rate of 31,250 Hz. For the multiplication of the sine curve values by the amplitude, I used a massive 64-pin TRY MPY16HJ chip, which could perform a 16-bit by 16-bit multiplication in 50 nanoseconds. (How fast can the microprocessor in your desktop computer perform a 16-by-16-bit integer multiplication?) This dedicated multiplier chip cost $241.

Interesting to think about how computer and DSP technology has changed.

CatSynth video: Arnold+Sukroso – Role For Gold (official HD)

Via matrixsynth.

Spot these synths (every costume color plays a different track):
– Nord Modular G2
– Nord Rack 2
– Korg Kaoss Pad Mini
– AcPad Guitar Prototype (acoustic guitar with drum pads and MIDI controllers)
– an Electronic Drum Kit
– Bilbo The Cat 🙂

https://itunes.apple.com/de/album/synchrotron-ep/id838335884?uo=4

ROLE FOR GOLD is the first single of the upcoming SYNCHROTRON E.P. by the Berlin based one-man-band joint venture of drummer Sebastian Arnold and Robin Sukroso on guitar.

Slipping into the colourful roles of different electronic instruments, the two instrumentalists discover a golden place in the summer heat.

Concept: Arnold+Sukroso
DoP & Editor: Paul Alpha
Camera Assistant: Jonas Niemann
Set Manager, Costume Design & Make Up, Catering: Chrissi
Music written by Rainer Hirl
Music produced by Sebastian Arnold

Part of ‘Synchrotron E.P.’, Release 09.05.2014

Thanks: Location Reitwein, Boris, Tine Margot, Helene Cat Bilbo

No animals were hurt during production (except mosquitoes).

CatSynth pic: Skye the Bad Cat

1519572_751166134896953_1189760176_o

From Skye the Bad Cat on Facebook.  We don’t know if Skye is actually a bad cat or not.

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 2: The Concerts

Today we conclude our reports from the Battery Powered Orchestra Workshop (BPOW!!!) in Portland, focusing on the evening concerts. Like the workshops, which we covered in Part 1, the concerts focused on DIY technologies, as well as analog synthesis.

The Saturday-evening program opened with Stephanie Simek performing on her custom multi-armed turntable.

20130810-IMG_9779

The arms on the turntable were outfitted with contact microphones which picked up vibrations from the grooves of hand-cut records. Each arm fed a separate audio channel, creating a multi-track, spatialized performance from a single record. Musically, the repeated sounds of jungles, space, human activity and instrumental sources formed complex rhythms with changing syncopations and graduation motion over time. The effect was quite hypnotic. Even with the enveloping sound system, there was something intimate about the performance, probably related to the visuals and distinct sound of the record player.

Simek was followed by F-DT (Future Death Toll). F-DT is an artist collective and performances feature a rotating lineup, but on this occasion it included Edward Sharp and Nathanael Thayer Moss. F-DT describe themselves as “a throbbing mess of noise that eats technology and shits performance art.” And it was certainly a performance filled with loud noise in a variety of aural ranges – high electrical noises and pounding low-frequency patterns – set against a relentless stream of glitchy visuals and text.

20130810-_MG_9783

Although it is hard to tell from this photo, much of their gear was colored orange, which seems to be an important part of the group’s identity. The music and presents is undeniably challenging, but well worth for those who make the effort.

Then it was my turn to take the stage. My setup focused on the analog modular synthesizer, along with another analog synth, iPad, the dotara (Indian string instrument), and Skatch Box. I also used the Synthrotek 4093 NAND synthesizer that I built during one of the workshops earlier in the day.

catsynth_bpow

The 4093 worked flawlessly, as did the modular and the Luna NT analog synth. The acoustic instruments (dotara and skatch box) also worked well. As with any experimental electronic improvisation performance, there were a few technical glitches and a few things I would have done differently in hindsight. But overall, I thought it was a good performance, and it was very well received by the attendees. You can see and hear it in its entirety in the video below:

CatSynth (Amar Chaudhary) at BPOW, August 10, 2013 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The final act of the first night was Mechlo. His performance combined lo-fi glitch audio and video from an NES console.

20130810-_MG_9785

Clearly, there were modifications made to allow the system to be performed in a way that a traditional NES could not. Nonetheless, the graphics and audio were reminiscent of what one would expect from the classic 8-bit games. There were repeated modulating patterns, some of them more melodic, some noisier, with occasional glitches and pauses.


The Sunday evening concert opened with a performance by analog modular virtuoso Jeph Nor with Dan Green on analog video. Green brought an LZX modular video system, while Nor had a large collection of audio modules from different manufacturers.

jeph_nor_c

Nor built complex patterns of sound that went from sparse and resonant to thicker and more pad-like. There were moments of eerie ambience and others that had a machine-like precision. Overall, he was able to give his improvisation with this instrument a musical and even narrative quality. The visuals focused on patterns of colors, curves and lines that were constantly changing, but occasionally slowing to a standstill before shifting rapidly and switching to a completely separate collection of shapes.

Next was Mike Todd performing custom visuals and sounds. Unlike the sharper edges from Nor and Green earlier, or the noisy intensity from F-DT the day earlier, Todd’s performance was software and more organic. The visuals, based on his own software, were composed of curving liquidy shapes that seemed alive. Similarly, his music had an equally liquid quality, with more open space between fast elements, as if a swarm of moving organisms.

20130811-IMG_8673

Todd was followed by JMEJ, who assembled sonic circuits live on stage. One can think of this as “analog live coding”.

20130811-IMG_8676

The process was fun to watch. As one might expect, the sounds were a bit on the noisier and unpredictable side, but with a lot of good crunchy lo-fi texture. As the performance continued, the circuits grew more complex and culminated in this tangled product:

20130811-IMG_8678

The final performance featured Claus Muzak performing some of his electronic-music compositions.

20130811-IMG_8680

This was a more structured performance, divided into songs. His music had a strong rhythmic and harmonic foundation, realized with a diverse collection of synthesizer and drum-machine sounds. It was dark and richly textured, and at times danceable, especially when he employed rhythmic lines with high-Q filters. It was probably the most “traditional” of any of the performances on either night, well crafted electronic music that would be at home in a club setting. But it was a fitting conclusion for evening’s performances and for the festival as a whole.


You can see and hear brief excerpts from all the performances in this video:

BPOW!!! Battery Powered Orchestra Workshop – Aug 10-11, 2013 from Molecule Synth on Vimeo.

Overall, both the concerts and workshops from BPOW were a rewarding experience. It would be great to visit again to participate in future events, and in the meantime I look forward to hearing more from the artists involved. Thanks to Travis Feldman of moleculesynth for organizing BPOW and Myles de Bastion of Cymaspace for hosting.

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.

squishy_circuits_c

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.

conductive_ink_c

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.

hard_at_work_c

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.