CatSynth 10th Anniversary!

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On July 19, we hit a major milestone: 10 years since our first post. And we celebrate as always with some stats:

2,982 Posts
14,031 Comments
4.7 comments per post
1088 Cat-and-synth pics, videos, etc.
430 Reviews, gig-reports, and related posts

In some ways, the blog activity has declined a bit since it’s height in the early 2010s. Much of the activity has moved over to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And more recently, we are looking to the future via our mobile apps – there is much more coming there in the not-too-distant future. Additionally, I find myself balancing time spent writing blog articles with an increasingly busy schedule of musical performances and such. All good things in their own way.

We are a bit late to celebrate this year due to some major personal and medical priorities on my part (all of which are going well, but also beyond the scope of this forum). It isn’t the first time our blog anniversary has gotten caught up in other things. Last year we missed the 9th anniversary entirely as we coped with Luna’s cancer diagnosis. And our first anniversary came amidst a major downtime for the site that took a week or so to fix.

As always, here is the photo of Luna that started it all on July 19, 2006.

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Luna hasn’t aged all that much, retaining her youthful appearance. And that beanbag chair is still a favorite of hers. It’s where she hangs out in the studio, and over the years we have taken major photos of her with it.

The studio has certainly gotten more crowded over time.

Please join us in celebrating 10 years of CatSynth, and looking forward to many more!

2013, The Transformative Year

2013 Year End photo

 

[click image to enlarge]

 

Once again, it’s time for our traditional end-of-the-year image at CatSynth.   The past couple of years have all been good, rich, full, and sometimes complicated.  But 2013 has been particularly significant, certainly one that I will long remember.  As the title says, it has been a transformational time on multiple dimensions for me, indeed it has touched almost every aspect of my being.  There will be more to say on that in the coming days. Music and art have been going very well, too, and one of the main challenges of this coming year will be to build on the successes of this past year but in a more directed way.  If that sounds vague, it’s because I haven’t quite figured it out yet.

For Luna, things pretty much are the way the always are.  Such is the life of a contented house cat.  And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thanks to everyone who reads and supports this project, whether here at the blog, on Facebook, or through the many personal friendships that grown from here.  You are all what makes this work worthwhile!

Ambient Chaos at Spectrum: Schuyler Tsuda, Amar Chaudhary, John Dunlop, RMA Trio

Today we look back at the November 26 Ambient-Chaos night at Spectrum in New York. I was happy to once again perform there, and hear some of what the local experimental-music scene has to offer.

The performance itself, the New York debut of my feminine persona, went quite well as was very well received. It was anchored by rhythmic elements on the Dave Smith Evolver, overlaid with iPad synths, the garrahand drum, sketch box, and a miniature subset of my analog modular system.

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[Photo by Painter Jung Nam Lee at Spectrum Manhattan, New York Nov 26, 2013]

Performing at Spectrum is always a great experience, sonically as well as visually. Lighting and shading was part of the design of my set and worked perfectly with the ever changing light patterns in the space. I was also happy with the narrative structure within the music. You can see and hear the full set in the following video:


Performance at Spectrum, November 26, 2013 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I was preceded on the program by Schuyler Tsuda, who performed a set featuring his sonic sculptures. In a space lit only by candles on stage, he struck, bowed and scraped a variety of sonic objects. There were long ambient metallic sounds punctuated by shorter percussive events. The overall effect was eerie and sometimes a bit anxious, but also immersive and inviting. It is difficult to capture in a still photograph, so here is a video clip:


Schuyler Tsuda from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The third set featured John Dunlap on guitar and vocals as part of a duo that also included saxophone and electronics.


John Dunlap from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Their playing was loud and frenetic, and quite a contrast to both my set and Tsuda’s. Dunlap also incorporated throat singing into his performance.

RMA Trio
[Photo by Painter Jung Nam Lee at Spectrum Manhattan, New York Nov 26, 2013]

The final set brought together the RMA Trio along with a guest vocalist/actor to read excerpts from an upcoming play.

The text was in German, and if I understood correctly (which is doubtful) it was based on Hamlet. There was a variety in the instrumental pieces, including both percussive and harmonic piano, drums and guitar effects.

Overall, it was a great show, and a decent turnout considering that it took place in the middle of a nasty rainstorm. Thanks as always to Robert L. Pepper (PAS) for hosting this series, and to Glenn Cornett for making Spectrum a destination for musicians and sound artists in New York.

APAture 2013 Opening Night

After a four year hiatus, Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture festival is back. The previous APAture in 2009 was my first look into the Bay Area’s vibrant scene of emerging Asian Pacific American artists. This time around, I not only attended the festival and gallery exhibition opening, but participated as well as one of the featured musicians. I created a set that featured the dotara, a South Asian folk instrument, as well as a sketch box, DSI Evolver, and analog modular.

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The presence of blue and purple in the setup is not an accident, as the color blue was central to this performance. It was part of my costume and the lighting as well.

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[© 2013 Susa Cortez/Kearny Street Workshop.]

The piece unfolded with the usual black-cat-blue-light opening, followed by a gradual swelling and fading of sounds from the modular. The dotata and sketch box were fed into the Make Noise echophon for effects reminiscent of old studio tape delays, alongside more modern noisy elements from the other modules. Overall, the performance was well received. For some, it was their first experience with electro-acoustic improvisation, and expressed to me their curiosity about it afterwards.

The opening night also included an opportunity to see the work of the visual artists participating in APAture. There was quite a range of work, and several pieces were quite strong both technically and conceptually. Jessica Tang covered an entire wall with panels connected by strands of red string. A closer look revealed that the panels were successive runs of Google translator on a block of text. The view can observe the decay of meaning and language through her piece:

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Yuki Maruyama’s wooden blocks function as 3D versions of manga (comic) frames. The blocks can be assembled into new comic narratives, i.e., an “exquisite corpse”. Having three dimensions, however, allows for more combinations and interpretations of the assembled comic.

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More traditional artistic media were represented as well. Wenxin Zhang’s presented stark versions of portraiture and architectural photography.

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One of the more amusing pieces was an interactive conceptual work by Alison Ho, in which she invited visitors to stick gold stars with various Asian stereotypes on a blown up image of her face. Her piece was intended to challenge the notion of Asian American’s as a model minority. Clearly, many people were having fun with it.

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[© 2013 Susa Cortez/Kearny Street Workshop.]

Other works that piqued my interest was Mido Lee’s starkly beautiful photographs of dead/forlorn trees, including some from desert landscapes; and a minimalist ring of light presented by featured artist Michael Namkung.

APAture has continued throughout October with events focus on different media, including writing, performance, and comics/zines.   The next event will be music night on Friday, October 25, at SUB/Mission (2183 Mission Street, San Francisco). If you are in San Francisco, do check it out.

re:BOUND, visual and performance art at Live Worms Gallery

Two weeks ago I participated in a two-day opening with visual artist Yong Han and performance artist Jacqueline Loundsbury Live Worms Gallery in San Francisco. Together, we created an experience combining sculpture and two-dimensional artwork with music and performance art.

The overall show was anchored by Yong Han’s sculptures, paintings and drawings. The sculptures, which range widely in size, use a combination of metal, ceramic, beeswax and other materials. The two dimensional pieces were a combination of ink drawings and paint.


[Image courtesy of Yong Han.]

There are elements that are common in his work across media, including graceful geometric curves and lines with organic shapes and patterns seamlessly integrated. Indeed, some of the two-dimensional works appear to the shadows of his sculptures.

What particularly works for me in these pieces, whether two dimensional or three dimensional, is their simplicity. The lines and curves form repeating patterns and leave empty spaces; and the areas of color are simple and well-deliniated as well. Many of the pieces have a very delicate feel to them, but some of the more recent ones are very densely packed and suggest strength.

The basic structural theme of thin metal and curving lines carried over from the visual art to the performance aspects of the event, providing a level of continuity between the two. The first night featured Jacqueline Loundsbury in an improvised performance piece called re:BOUND where she wrapped her body in steel wire bindings. Large rolls of steel wire were placed around the performance space where she stood and visitors were encouraged to participate by taking pieces of wire and wrapping them around her bare body. Throughout this performance, she was quite exposed and accepted the risks of not knowing what participants might do – something taken to much more dangerous extreme by some of the early performance artists in the 1970s. Indeed, the resulting “wrapping” was less of a cocoon and more an overwhelming array of adornments, such as headgear and other decorative elements, some sexually charged. And the whole amalgamation of wire seemed quite heavy and uncomfortable. But she successfully completed the performance and the resulting embodied artwork fit well with the existing sculptural pieces. After extricating herself from the wire, some of the pieces themselves became independent elements (along with the unused wire) for the presentation on the next day.

The second evening featured my live improvised electronic music in the space with the artwork and a video projection of Loundsbury’s performance from the previous night. For the set, I used several iPad apps including Animoog, Bebot and iMS-20, along with the Dave Smith Evolver and a couple of newly acquired analog synthesizer modules, the Wiard Anti-Oscillator from Malekko Heavy Industry and the E350 Morphing Terrarium from Synthesis Technology. Overall, I intended the sounds to reflect the wire theme that was present in the sculptures, drawings and the performance, with sounds that were metallic, continuously curving, or otherwise reflecting of the other elements. You can see a short clip below of the video projection and the music-gear setup in action.

re: BOUND, with Yong Han, Jacqueline Loundsbury and Amar Chaudhary from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The improved music continued for the whole evening, about four hours in all, with breaks for selections from my CD Aquatic.

A decent number of people came through the show over the duration, a combination of people who knew advance from announcements as well as some who wandered in from the surrounding North Beach neighborhood and enjoyed the experience. I am glad I was able to participate, and look forward to working with both artists again in the future.

Dave Smith Instruments Tempest and Mopho at NAMM

Another perennial stop at NAMM is the ever-growing booth of Dave Smith Instruments. I had a chance to talk with one of the senior representatives on my regular use of the DSI Evolver in my live shows and my fondness for the instrument (despite the tendency of the knobs to fall off). I of course also had to play the Mopho because it was there:

But the real star of the booth this year was the Dave Smith Instruments Tempest, a collaboration of Dave Smith and Roger Linn.

I started with an existing pattern in the sequencer and immediately used the drum pads to subvert the pattern while attempting to remain in the tempo and meter. The pads are very comfortable and playable, and I found it quite intuitive to get different effects of each even without knowing in advance that they would do that.

This would be a great instrument to have in a live performance (and for recording as well), but probably something to ponder for a later time given its retail price of USD $1999.

Regents Lecturer Concert, CNMAT (March 2011)

Today we look back on my solo concert at the Center for New Music Technologies (CNMAT) at U.C. Berkeley back in early March. It was part of my U.C. Regents Lecturer appointment this year, which also included technical talks and guest lectures for classes.

This is one of the more elaborate concerts I have done. Not only did I have an entire program to fill on my own, but I specifically wanted to showcase various technologies related to my past research at CNMAT and some of their current work, such as advanced multi-channel speaker systems. I spent a fair amount of time onsite earlier in the week to do some programming, and arrived early on the day of the show to get things set up. Here is the iPad with CNMAT’s dodecahedron speaker – each face of the dodecahedron is a separate speaker driven by its own audio channel.


[click image for larger view.]

Here is the Wicks Looper (which I had recently acquired) along with the dotara, an Indian string instrument often used in folk music.


[click image for larger view.]

I organized the concert such that the first half was more focused on showcasing music technologies, and the second half on more theatrical live performance. This does not imply that there wasn’t strong musicality in the first half or a lack of technological sophistication in the second, but rather which theme was central to the particular pieces.

After a very generous introduction by David Wessel, I launched into one of my standard improvisational pieces. Each one is different, but I do incorporate a set of elements that get reused. This one began with the Count Basie “Big Band Remote” recording and made use of various looping and resampling techniques with the Indian and Chinese instruments (controlled by monome), the Dave Smith Instruments Evolver, and various iPad apps.

Electroacoustic Improvisation – Regents Lecturer Concert (CNMAT) from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The concert included the premier of a new piece that was specifically composed for CNMAT’s impressive loudspeaker resources, the dodecahedron as well as the 8-channel surround system. In the main surround speakers, I created complex “clouds” of partials in an additive synthesizer that could be panned between different speakers for a rich immersive sound. I had short percussive sounds emitted from various speakers on the dodecahedron. I though the effect was quite strong, with the point sounds very localized and spatially separated from the more ambient sounds. In the video, it is hard to get the full effect, but here it is nonetheless:

Realignments – Regents Lecturer Concert, CNMAT from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The piece was implemented in Open Sound World – the new version that primarily uses Python scripts (or any OSC-enabled scripting language) instead of the old graphical user interface. I used TouchOSC on the iPad for real-time control.

I then moved from rather complex experimental technology to a simple and very self-contained instrument, the Wicks Looper, in this improvised piece. It had a very different sound from the software-based pieces in this part of the concert, and I liked the contrast.

The first half of the concert also featured two pieces from my CD Aquatic: Neptune Prelude to Xi and Charmer:Firmament. The original live versions of these pieces used a Wacom graphics tablet controlling OSW patches. I reimplemented them to use TouchOSC on the iPad.

The second half of the concert opened with a duo of myself and Polly Moller on concert and bass flutes. We used one of my graphical score sets – here we went on order from one to the next and interpreted each symbol.

The cat one was particular fun, as Polly emulated the sound of a cat purring. It was a great piece, but unfortunately I do not have a video of this one to share. So we will have to perform it again sometime.

I performed the piece 月伸1 featuring the video of Luna. Each of the previous performances, at the Quickening Moon concert and Omega Sound Fix last year, used different electronic instruments. This time I performed the musical accompaniment exclusively on acoustic grand piano. In some ways, I think it is the strongest of the three performances, with more emotion and musicality. The humor came through as well, though a bit more subtle than in the original Quickening Moon performance.

月伸1 – Video of Luna with Acoustic Grand Piano Improvisation from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The one unfortunate part of the evening came in the final piece. I had originally done Spin Cycle / Control Freak at a series of exchange concerts between CNMAT and CCRMA at Stanford in 2000. I redid the programming for this performance to use the latest version of OSW and TouchOSC on the iPad as the control surface. However, at this point in the evening I could not get the iPad and the MacBook to lock onto a single network together. The iPad could not find the MacBook’s private wireless network, even after multiple reboots of both devices. In my mind, this is actually the biggest problem with using an iPad as a control surface – it requires wireless networking, which seems to be very shaky at times on Apple hardware. It would be nice if they allowed one to use a wired connection via the USB cable. I suppose I should be grateful that this problem did not occur until the final piece, but was still a bit of an embarrassment and gives me pause about using iPad/TouchOSC until I know how to make it more reliable.

On balance, it was a great evening of music even with the misfire at the end. I was quite happy with the audience turnout and the warm reception and feedback afterwards. It was a chance to look back on solo work from the past ten years, and look forward to new musical and technological adventures in the future.