Weekend Cat Blogging: The Messy Desk

Luna sits in the command chair of our office/studio. Our common tools of late, the laptop, the Eurorack modular, and coffee mug sit nearby. The stack of CDs was for our recent radio show. This is of course the spot where most CatSynth posts originate as well.

The desk is quite a mess at the moment, which I don’t particularly like, but I haven’t had much time to remedy. I feel far more creative and relaxed in a clean space, but in this busy month we will do the best we can.


Weekend Cat Blogging #373 is hosted by Pam at Sidewalk Shoes.

Carnival of the Cats will be hosted this Sunday by When Cats Attack!

And the Friday Ark is at the modulator.

Preparing for tonight’s performance

I have been busily preparing for tonight’s solo performance at the Luggage Store Gallery.

Because of all the other things going on in my life and the limited time to prepare, I had to scale back a bit and keep things simple.

On the bottom row is a custom analog noise synth with chaotic elements created by Travis Johns, the iPad running Smule Magic Piano, and the monome. Above this row, there is the Dave Smith Instruments Evolver, one of my Chinese metal bells, the iPhone running a looping app that I often use called TTW2, and the MacBook running “mlr2″ and other programs with the monome. I am using a few other apps that are not in the photo, including the Smule Ocarina on the iPhone, and SoundThingy and a guzheng simulator on the iPad. This may still sound complex, but each device is small and self contained, and the interconnectivity is kept to a minimum. I can pick each one up and play it while others run independently.

I am organizing the set into three major pieces. The first mixes purely electronic sounds with an old NBC broadcast of Count Basie from the 1950s. The second features the guzheng simulator with some rhythmic elements and sample loops, set against the Indian string instruments (ektar and gopichand). The third mixes the Evolver with the Ocarina on the iPhone.

One thing that I have revived after not using them for a while is the “Big Band Remotes” recordings from the Internet Music Archive. I still have a recording project I want to finish that uses them, but it also “felt right” to incorporate them into this performance.

As she often does, Luna sat down on the beanbag chair to supervise the goings on.

At night, she tends to be even more camouflaged than usual. The beanbag chair seems to slowly roll over itself over the course of time in a geological manner. The label from the bottom is starting to show at the top.

For those in the area who wish to attend the show tonight, it is at 8PM at the Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street (near 6th) in San Francisco.

Garden of Memory 2008

I had to the opportunity to attend the Garden of Memory, a walk-thru performance to celebrate the summer solstice at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland.

The Chapel of the Chimes is a columbarium, a building dedicated to the placement of cremated remains. It is an exquisite building both in terms of shape and lighting, and thus a rather interesting place to experience late evening sunlight:

There were so many performances throughout the building that it was difficult to see them all, and we only provide a small sampling here.

Outside the chapel, I saw a performance by Jaroba that featured the gopichand, a single string instrument from India that we have mentioned on numerous occasions here at CatSynth.

Inside the chapel, performances ranged from more conventional to the more exotic. Sarah Cahill performed the music of James Tenney and others (yes, here at CatSynth James Tenney is considered “conventional”). Dan Plonsey’s Daniel Popsicle played several avant-guard jazz sets for most of the evening on the roof garden.

Edmund Campion, a former colleague of mine from CNMAT, performed with Daniel De Gruttola and John Campion, with digital piano, cello, live electronics, poetry, and a row of triangles. I was listening to hear how the triangles were being processed or used to trigger other sounds in the performance.

In the meditation chapel, Randy Porter performed a set of compositions that featured a 1940s portable electric organ, prepared guitar, and series of “brass instruments”, consisting of tubing and custom horns. The result was both musically and architecturally interesting, and seemed to “fit” into the space:

Custom instruments were in abundance, with these offerings from Walter Kitundu, including the “phonoharp” illustrated below:


[click to enlarge]

I am definitely curious to check out more of his instruments.

This installation by http://www.maggipayne.com/]Maggi Payne[/url] used one of the many fountains to control one of my favorite hardware synths, the E-MU Morpheus:


[click to enlarge]

I haven’t even plugged in the Morpheus since we moved into the new CatSynth HQ :(. Maybe this will provide some inspiration to do so.

More tubes, this time with both air and water. Krystina Bobrowski performs on special water glasses with electrical pickups, with Brenda Hutchinson (in the background) playing a large metal tube.

Brenda Hutchinson has also been involved in a project called dailybell2008, in which people observe every time the sun crosses the horizon and mark the event by ringing bells. The solstice sunset is a particular special crossing, and most everyone in attendance participated in bell ringing at 8:34 PM. Given the time and the location, it was also an occasion to remember those who have left us.

After sunset, darkness began to descend quickly and many of the chambers in the building, providing an appropriate end to the event.

Preparing for tomorrow's performance

Well, the first big solo show since moving to the city is nearly upon us. And it's a big one, at least in terms of the setup and preparation. Indeed, this is the largest and most complex setup I have used for a live show in quite a while, with both Mac and PC laptops, the tablet, MIDI keyboard, the Evolver synth, and the Proteus 2000 module. And of course the rather byzantine wiring and signal routing to keep it all together.

In the photo, one can see not only the equipment, but a couple of the acoustic instruments I will be playing including the ektar and the gopichand.

Why such a complex setup? Well, I wanted to a variety of pieces for this performance, combining both the newer simplified performances (such as those I did last year on tour with Polly Moller and Company), with some of the older more complex works. I also wanted to play the tablet, which I haven't done in a while, and it only runs on the older PC laptop; and include a couple of pieces from the CD, including Chimera and a variation on Xi. I was a little bit concerned about pulling out the old laptop for this performance, but after some effort it's running decently, and it's great to be able to blend elements from my older performances with the more recent ones. And in truth some of the older pieces are more fun to play, such as Chimera on the tablet, and the patch that responds to live drumming (officially called “drummer boy”).

Luna has of course had to make her presence felt during the rehearsals, as you can see here.

After a shaky start, the program has come together quite nicely in the last few days, and I am now looking forward to performing tomorrow.

For those interested, the time and location is:

Thursday, May 8, 8PM
Luggage Store Gallery
1007 Market St.
@ 6th Street
San Francisco, California

More details can be found here.

New Podcast: Performance at 7th Annual Skronkathon


Click here to subscribe.

Tonight we feature the much-discussed performance from the 7th Annual Skronkathon two weeks ago. I did a solo electronic set featuring myself playing laptop (running [http://osw.sourceforge.net]Open Sund World[/url]), the Indian ektar and gopichand string instruments, a toy piano, the DSI Evolver, and of course my quacking toy duck (everyone loves the duck).

This recording was done my Matt Ingalls for the sfSound Radio broadcast. I edited it a bit, mostly cutting out the empty bits or embarrassing errors.

You can see a photograph from the performance here and more info about the technical preparations here.

For subscription and listening options, click the “CatSynth Channel” icon in the upper right or the subscription link at the top of this post. And as always, enjoy!

Preparing for tomorrow's today's performance, part 2

Things were looking pretty dire yesterday afternoon, with major audio problems on both the PC and Mac. Without going into details, I was getting intermittent pops, clicks and stutters on the PC, and the Mac was simply outputting something wrong. Eventually, I was able to get the mac working with clean audio, so that became the computer for today's performance, together with an E-MU 0202 | USB and an Xboard.

Basically, the mac is running Open Sound World, more specifically, the latest version that works with my new Python interface. Without the pesky graphical interface, the system is rock solid and a lot more efficient to program. It's more akin to SuperCollider or the practice of “live coding”, if you are familiar with either of those. So with this setup, I was able to get things up and running for today very quickly. And it is rock solid, though I don't want to jinx the actual performance too much by describing all the things that didn't happen.

The “instrument” for today allows two live recordings to be played back at various rates, controlled by the MIDI keyboard and knobs. I will be playing several of my Indian instruments to feed the recordings, in particular the ektar (single-string instrument) and the gopichand (also single string, with a bendable neck for pitch modulation).

Of course, the ketzela wants to get in the act again, too:

One last-minute change was dealing with my Xboard killing itself (something stupid on my part, really). Fortunately, I also have the Novation keyboard as a backup, and although the keyboard itself isn't as good, the controllers are a better fit.

The setup is also extremely compact. This is all I have to carry:

Well, actually, this and the folding table I usually bring. Still, it will be very light and relatively easy to set up (especially as the mac boots very quickly).