Ornette Coleman at 85: Sleep Talk

This evening we at CatSynth would like to pay tribute to one of our musical heroes who is still alive and well and still swinging, Ornette Coleman. Known for his avant-garde jazz and free improvisation explorations, I am particularly taken with his funk/disco inflused 1979 album Of Human Feelings. As a tribute for his 85th birthday, here is that album.

#OccupySF October 26

On Wednesday, I returned home to San Francisco around 9PM and was greeted by the sounds of helicopters overhead. I went outside to the patio and saw a helicopter flying closer to CatSynth HQ and lower to the ground than I had ever seen. We had all seen what had happened across the bay in Oakland the day before, with tragic results. Twitter was alight with concerns and rumors that a raid of #OccupySF was possible, and the official protest feed exhorted followers to “come join us”. So I did.

There was a fairly large crowd when I arrived at Justin Herman Plaza, and a rather festive atmosphere. In the center of the plaza, north of the camp, there was a large circular procession like a picket line. A small brass and drum band was playing a funky riff. Indeed with the bass line, pentatonic scale and four-on-the-floor rhythm it had a bit of an old disco feel! You can hear a bit in this video:

The sound from the iPhone recording was not that great, so the lower brass instruments are a bit soft. But there was a bass line, and the bass line is key to the disco/funk feel (something I suspect most Tea Party rallies lack).

However, underneath the party-like veneer it was a bit tense. The nearby BART station was shutdown (as were the stations in downtown Oakland), and reports were flying over Twitter of various groups of police massing, most notably in the Potrero Hill area where they were seen to be boarding MUNI busses. This led to all sorts of jokes about the fact that if they were riding MUNI they would probably never make it here. But jokes aside, organizers and participants took the threat of a raid quite seriously. We had frequent drills for those who were going to hold the camp (and thus risk arrest), and those who were going to form a more diffuse perimeter. There were advisories on what to do in the event of tear gas being used. It involved vinegar. It did not sound pleasant at all.

Hours went by, alternating between the festive party-like scene, the drills, and an open mic. No sign of any police activity – a fire truck with horns blaring did pull up near the camp, but that was it. Still, conflicting reports and rumors continued to circulate. There was even talk that people from #OccupyOakland who wanted to come across the bay to support us would attempt to cross the Bay Bridge, which is a busy freeway even at night and has no pedestrian sidewalks of any sort. (It was amusing to follow that from the point of view an anthropomorphized @SFBayBridge). This of course did not actually happen, though a small number of people from Oakland were able to come across by using alternate BART stations or other means and did speak to the assembled crowd, including accounts of what had happened on Tuesday and what people in Oakland were doing that evening, and a moving account of what happened to Scott Olsen.

Several political figures from the city were on hand as well, including several members of the Board of Supervisors (our city council equivalent) and a few mayoral candidates. Current Mayer Ed Lee was not present. However, my own Supervisor, Jane Kim, whose district covers my neighborhood as well as the plaza itself was present – I had actually run into her and (almost literally) earlier in the evening but not recognized her at first. At first, the officials started speaking so a small crowd of media people around 2AM, but after a back and forth with protest representatives, they came to speak to us, using the official “mic check” and call-and-response system:


[video by josborn25 on YouTube.]

There was one really annoying heckler, even though he seemed to be echoing the immediate and long-term concerns of many in the Occupy Wall Street movement, he was not respecting the mic system, the speakers or the audience, and its not clear to me if we was really an agitator rather than an overly enthusiastic supporter. For example, he was demanding portable bathrooms, even though the city had already provided several that were present and available at the time.

In some ways it was a lonely experience. I did not really have any close friends there. But I did feel connected to a community online on Twitter, with people I know across the bay in Oakland who sent and solicited updates, and with readers beyond who let me know they supported my being there.

I ended up departing around 3AM. It felt like a raid was not likely. And I was happy to see the next morning that it did not happen. It’s not clear if there was a raid in the works that was called off or if it was never really planned. It will also be interesting to see how the movement and the events this week and next week play into local politics (we do have a mayoral election coming up in less than two weeks).

New Podcast: Remix of Ninjam sessions June 15/17, UCSC DANM exhibition.

Well, it's another Sunday, and another podcast for the CatSynth Channel.

Click here to subscribe.

Tonight's podcast features some live internet improvisation using NINJAM, a system that allows people to share live audio in real time and thus jam together over the internet. To overcome network latency that has stymied most systems for online collaboration, NINJAM actually adds delay so that everyone's audio conforms to a particular meter and tempo, i.e., everyone's down beats are in sync though they may be a measure or two off from one another. This leads to either simple “groove” jams on one or two chords and a steady beat (think of the 70s jazz classic Chameleon), or freeform improvisation.

The particular sessions used in this remix were from June 15 and 17 featuring several performers live at the Digital Media Factory in Santa Cruz California as part of the MFA Exhibition for the Digital Art and New Media (DANM) program at UC Santa Cruz. Though I am not a student, one of my best friends is, and so I had the opportunity to perform in several of the jams with local musicians as well as others over the internet.

Out of several hours of material, I made a 30-minute “remix” of several of the jams. The feel ranges from free-form to driving funk/jazz rhythms to a relaxed fusion/lounge feel (this happened when most of the musicians turned out to be keyboard players) and more.

All recorded mixes from the NINJAM AutoSong Archive, which are the sources for this track, are released under the Attribution, Noncommercial, Share Alike Creative Commons License v2.5..

Collaborators on the various jams include synthany, mvollrath, dbkick, tbfx, Funkify, leftyf, Oubien_ke, ekinox, hotdog, and chazz. (Sorry if I missed anyone).

Synthany is Synthia Payne and friends at the DANM exhibition, where I played as well. For my parts, I used E-MU Emulator X2 on my PC laptop, doing keyboard/piano, rhythms (using TwistaLoop), and even some bass when it was needed.

As always, comments are welcome. I'm not sure my brief discription really did justice to the topic or this particular example of online music collaboration, so feel free to ask more about it, or research the topic for yourself. In the meantime, enjoy.

RPM 2007: Twista Dilemma

Latest from my RPM 2007 blog:

I have been playing around with some of the loop-based sound sets that come with Emulator X2, including the “TwistaMania” bank – mostly just looking for some inspiration for the techno and beat-based sections of the album, but I found I really liked what I was playing. Plus, it's got that really addictive funky disco thing going. You can hear a brief sample here. This could be the kernel of a track for the album, possibly even the first full track after the intro – but it leads to what I am calling my “twista dilema.” Anyone else with Emulator X2 could easily do something similar, and more abstractly a 4/4 techno-dancy thing might sound trite in the context of my work.

UPDATE: since the original post on RPM, I heard an interesting, and quite timely, program on radio open source. Between the discussion in praise of creative appropriation, and my own sense of energy and enthusiasm for the funk disco sound, I think this track will be a part of the album – and it will be titled “Twistadilemma”, probably the second full track.

UPDATE: since the original post on RPM, I heard an interesting, and quite timely, program on radio open source. Between the discussion in praise of creative appropriation, and my own sense of energy and enthusiasm for the funk disco sound, I think this track will be a part of the album – and it will be titled “Twistadilemma”, probably the second full track.









Weekend Cat Blogging #82: Black Pride

This New Years edition of Weekend Cat Blogging is being hosted by Champaign Taste. We wish all our WCB friends, feline and human, a happy and healthy new year!

Our contribution this week continues our tribute to James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, who is a hero of ours here at CatSynth; he passed away this past Monday. In addition to his music (which is playing in the background as I write this), he made contributions to civil rights and the “Black Power” movement, through his efforts to promote African American ownership of the distribution of music on records and radio, and of course his classic anthems such as “Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud.” It is in honor of this anthem that Luna strikes a proud, stately pose this week, reminiscent of the iconography of the Egyptian goddess Bast:

The connection between black cats and civil rights isn't entirely gratuitous. Consider the well-known symbol of the Black Panther Party. Although founded in Oakland in 1966, the story goes that the party took its symbol from the Lowndes County (Alabama) Freedom Organization:

We chose for the emblem a black panther, a beautiful black animal which symbolizes the strength and dignity of black people, an animal that never strikes back until he's back so far into the wall, he's got nothing to do but spring out. Yeah. And when he springs he does not stop.

Getting back to James Brown, I would be remiss if I did not also recognize one of my former cats Morty, the original “Supa-Bad Kitty”:

He got his nickname for his constant mischief, like sitting on the dining room table, but remainingly devilishly lovable. Plus, he could shake his money maker like no other kitty I've met. I miss him – he was taken by a former girlfriend and although I haven't seen him in many years, I hope he is doing well.











RIP James Brown (1933-2006)

I cannot let the passing this morning of the Godfather of Soul go unremarked. The music that James Brown launched remains among my favorite popular music – funk and soul from the 1960s and 1970s have a special place in my heart and my CD collection. In particular, I return the 1970s era with the original JB's, funker, grittier and with just the right amount of slop. Indeed, the track “Turn It Up or Let It A-Loose” from the 1970 collection Funk Power was included in the research for my dissertation. I probably have the only PhD dissertation in Computer Science that includes a reference to James Brown in the bibliography. I suppose that's my tribute.







Webs on an autumn afternoon

It's been a rather pleasant October afternoon, warm, breezy, with a clear sky. The mobile sculpture Airborne catches both the wind and the waning October sun:

The garden plants are doing about as well as they have all year. Admist a recent burst of flowers, I noticed this rather impressive spider web:

…not to mention the rather impressive spider that inhabits it:

The peace of the backyard was briefly interrupted by the sound of cats fighting. More worrisome was the sound of an angry dog barking in response. After peeking over the fence to investigate, I was assured by a neighbor that it was “just some crazy cats.” One of the “crazy cats” wandered into view and I immediately recognized him as the friendly grey tabby that often visits my yard (I jokingly refer to him for a while as Luna's “boyfriend”). Foruntately, he seemed to be none the worse for wear.


Cats, or more specifically, cat allergies, have been much in the news this weekend. The New York Times featured an article on a California biotech company that is breeding hyperallergenic “no sneeze” kitties, two of which are pictured to the right. The market for the hypoallergenic cats, which the company says will cost about $4000 USD each, is people who love cats in spite of their allergies. It is certainly a high price tag, but I gather so are the medications for the most severe allergies. Those who seek a more affordable feline companion and want to continue to adopt shelter cats can take heart in a study supporting the theory that having pets cuts allergy risks. Finally, there is this story from Wales about a hospital fighting to keep their cat Tibs, who has chearing up patients for years. While I do my best to avoid hospitals, I know having a cat around would help me during a health crisis.


I had an opportunity last night to jam with some friends and acquaintances I have not seen in a while. I played keyboard, with primarily piano, electric piano and organ sounds, though I did add a Moogerfooger pedal to the mix. Musically, we did a mixture of jazz standards, some 12-bar and 16-bar “headless” jams, and several trippy free-jazz experiments with keyboard, guitar, bass and drums. The latter reminded me of how I would like to get together a standard “quartet” at some point that freely moves back and forther between jazz/funk and experimental improvisation. It would be quite a contrast to my recent performances, but still consistent with my musical vision and sensibilities…

…in another example of slipping back and forth between disparate musical styles, I was listening earlier to alternating tracks from Ethiopiques, which I described in an earlier article, and the rather dark, political, and vaguely Middle-Eastern electronic music of Muslimgauze. The two albums could not be more different in geography, style, production and social context, yet they seemed to work well together. The dark electronica of Muslimgauze worked for me, dispite an implicit political view I probably don't share, and the gritty funk of Ethiopiques brought me back to reality. Perhaps here is the seed of another musical project…

…or just idle thoughts on a warn autumn day…










Ethiopiques – Funk and "60s" music from Ethiopia

Heard a really cool filler track this morning on NPR, it after a follow-up comment to a story about
Jazz from the Horn of Africa, but the song on the radio was more funk ala James Brown 1970 (i.e., with the JBs, not the original band). The track was from Ethiopiques Volume 8: Swing Addis.

Happily, the entire series is on emusic, and I immediately downloaded the entire volume 8 album. In addition to funk, there are tracks reminiscent of 60s R&B and British/American movie soundtracks of the era.

There is something quite amazing about some of these old recordings. Like western releases of the time, the gritty low-fi recordings blend with the unmistakably “modern” quality of the music that overproduced contemporary artists can't seem to duplicate (think of how contemporary dance and hip-hop can't match the sound of old disco and R&B). It's music you can play late at night in a retro pad with low colored lights while chilling out with your girlfriend and enjoying the psychoactive substance of your choice.

More specifically, this series suggests a lively and sophisticated scene in Addis Ababa of the early 1970s before decades of dictatorship, starvation, poverty, war and now Islamic fundamentalism at its doorstop. You can read an interesting interview with the producer of the Ethiopiques series.

I am curious to review and explore more of what was going on the world at that time culturaly, as compared to where we find ourselves now. Collectively speaking, we're just not as cool as we used to be. But that's a project for another day…time to light up, groove out and tweak a few knobs (so to speak)…