μHausen (micro-Hausen) 2018

Today we look back at this year’s μHausen, a “micro-festival” of experimental electronics that takes place every summer deep at a secure undisclosed location in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  It was the subject of our most recent CatSynth TV episode.

As suggested in the video, I was thinking a lot about our natural surroundings as we made music with our thoroughly artificial electronic instruments.  The trees, the air, the light, all seemed to be of a piece with the music at times.  I also thought about the fact that I had not been able to attend the last three installments.  In 2015 and 2016 I had to cancel or decline because of medical issues, and I’m not sure what happened in 2017.  But I was back now and was great to see and hear everyone.

First up was Peter Elsea, recently retired from his longtime position as a professor of electronic music at UC Santa Cruz.  On this occasion, he performed with a small rig that included a modular synthesizer and an electronic wind instrument.

Peter Elsea

His set featured tones that were timbrally rich and often noisy, but still pitched.  This worked well with the wind controller which allowed the noisy tones to swell and fade musically.  But there were also some beautiful moments of quiet pure tones that evoked the natural surroundings.

Next up was Later Days, a project featuring Wayne Jackson with his iOS-based evolutionary synth  MendelTone, which allows patches to “breed” and evolve.

There was an urgent “machine-like” quality to the music, with low drones oms mixing with high swirls of sound and various percussive hits.  Wayne is also the founder of this event and often its leader, but this year he ceded organizing duties to R Duck (of the R Duck Show), who performed next.


[Photo by Later Days (Wayne Jackson)]

The first segment of his set featured beautiful drones of processed guitar. There were quick runs, but they were absorbed into the overall sound.  Over time, the tone and structure darkened, with more complex timbres and harmonies set against slow but anxious guitar riffs.  He also teamed up with Later Days to deliver his perennial incantation featuring chocolate.  (Did I mention that we at CatSynth love chocolate?)

Next up was synthesizer virtuoso Doug Lynner, who performed on a Eurorack-based Serge modular synthesizer.


[Photo by Later Days (Wayne Jackson)]

I have long come to expect very complex and intricate sounds from Doug, often set in a very sparse texture where one can clearly hear the details.  That was certainly the case in this performance, which opened with light sounds reminiscent of birds and whale songs.  It could have come from the surrounding woods rather than the synthesizer on stage (OK, the bird sounds could have, probably not the whale sounds).  After a period of rapid modulation, the music settled into a different pattern, with a contrapuntal texture of long ascending tones reminiscent of sirens.

Lynner was followed by Paul Nicholson who had a large Korg-centric rig that included both a Minilogue, an MS-20 and an SQ-1 sequencer among other instruments.

His opening piece was more traditionally harmonic compared to the preceding sets, with slowly changing harmonic patterns that evoked late-20th-century minimalism (think Steve Reich and John Adams).  The second portion of the set featured some harsher sounds and noise centered around Nicholson’s modular synth.

Then it was time for me to take the stage.  I brought a rig that included the large 9U modular, a Casio SK-1 and my trusty Moog Theremini.


[Photo by R Duck]

As with most of my recent solo work, I select one of my more formal compositions as a point of departure.  In this case, it was “White Wine”, with the melody set against one of the SK-1’s drum beats.  This them morphed into a broken and complex break of sound and eventually to a pure improvisation with the modular and theremin, though the beats never really disappeared.  As I was when listening to the other sets, I was thinking about the natural surroundings – in my case being the “city girl” mastering my place in space and sound, even if just for a few brief minutes.

The final set featured Lemon DeGeorge on harmonica and electronics.

Lemon DeGeorge

The harmonicas (like a true player of the instrument, he had more than one) added a unique dimension to the music, and the electronics followed with long breathy tones.  The sounds appeared to build up layers upon layers into something heavy and enveloping, but never overwhelming.  Compared to Nicholson’s sounds, DeGeorge’s lone tones and patterns were thoroughly inharmonic but no less beautiful or musical.

Overall it was a fine afternoon of weird electronic music in the woods, and not just for the music itself but for the fellowship with friends who I don’t get to see that often.   I remained in the mind space of the show, the environment, and the sounds for a while on the drive back, at least until reaching I-880 and heading first into Oakland and later home to San Francisco, where I snapped back into my everyday urban life.

 

CatSynth Pic: If it fits…

OK, technically this is neither a synth nor a synth case, but it is feline and musical 😸

Submitted by our friend techno_id_com via Twitter.

Trimpin, Center for New Music, San Francisco

The Window Gallery at the Center For New Music in San Francisco currently features a sound sculpture installation by the artist Trimpin. We at CatSynth were on hand for the opening.

Trimpin Kraut Kontrol

The installation called Kraut Kontrol featured several custom made guitars in resplendent purple hues and outfitted with a variety of actuators. All the elements are controlled by a computer which conducts the instruments as an ensemble. You can here a bit of installation in action in this video.

Trimpin installation in action!

A video posted by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on

Jimi Hendrix is of course fun to hear on this automated guitars, but it really only scratches the surface of what one can do with such instruments. I hope to hear some more abstract sounds that focus on the interplay between the different guitars.

As part of the opening reception, we were treated to a Q&A session with Trimpin himself. A fascinating but humble character who shuns some of the flair of the art world, he mostly delved into the details of the installation, its original version at the Orange County Museum of Art. He also spoke extensively about the larger automated-guitar installation he created for the Experience Music Project in Seattle, including a bit of behind-the-scenes of working with Paul Allen.

Trimpin’s Kraut Kontrol will be on display in the window gallery of the Center For New Music (55 Taylor Street, San Francisco) through June 30. I strongly recommend checking it out.

CatSynth pic: Cat, Guitar, and Synthesizer

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From Eliran Ohayon on the Facebook group Synthesizer Freaks.

CatSynth (sort of) pic: Maisy Gray and guitar

Maisy Gray and guitar

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

“@Xitmuse:Happy #Caturday! #MaisyGray is telling me to make some NewMusic today”

CatSynth video: Singer and attentive cat

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Yes, this is not a cat-and-synth pic, but it is definitely cat-and-music, and too adorable not to post. Via Facebook.

Outsound New Music Summit: Guitar Night!

The 2014 Outsound New Music Summit continued last Thursday with night featuring guitars, and only guitars. This was an unusual curation for a concert of new music, and generated some lively and amusing discussion during the pre-concert Q&A.

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The concert itself opened with a solo set by Henry Kaiser. He performed on an instrument that he had never used before, or even plugged into an amplifier before the set began.

Henry Kaiser
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

He opened with a simple piece directly into the amp that was quite pretty, with lots of harmonic and melodic sounds punctuated by percussive moments. But it was when he added his effects that things because more interesting, with very lush sounds and intricate patterns of delays and loops – not the simple looping harmonies one often hears but complex textures reminiscent of improvising ensembles.

Next up was a duo featuring Sacramento-based guitarists Ross Hammond and Amy Reed.

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[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Their set featured a wide range of sounds and styles, some quite idiomatic drawing on the artists’ blues and folk roots, some much more experimental with extended sounds techniques, and some quite noisy. Particularly memorable moments includes drones that were interrupted by higher scratchier sounds, and the final acoustic traditional song sung by Reed.

Hammond and Reed were followed by another duo, John Finkbeiner and Noah Phillips. At once one could tell theirs would be a different sound, heavier and a bit more aggressive.

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[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

There was a lot of fast playing and use of percussive and prepared techniques. The music never really settled down, which I suspect was the intention. I liked a lot of the electrical and “beyond guitar” sounds they were able to achieve.

The final set was also a duo, this time bringing Houston-based Sandy Ewen together with Jakob Pek. From the start, this was the most avant-garde of the sets, with both performers placing the guitars in their laps, and bowing or striking the instruments.

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[Photos: PeterBKaars.com.]

This was a beautiful and captivating set, with dramatic changes in texture and technique. There mere many long tones but also moments that were very sparse and quiet. They kept the listeners on edge with strange and eerie sounds combining guitar strings with rubber balls, steel wool and other elements, but their gentle intensity also kept us drawn into the performance for the entire duration.

Overall, it was an interesting night, with quite a range of music from a single instrument. All of the artists took us far beyond the typical stereotypes and expectations of the guitar and showed us a lot more of what it can do in the right hands.

Wordless Wednesday: Guitar

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NAMM: Visionary Instruments

Oakland-based Visionary Instruments presented their new guitar-based MIDI controller at NAMM. Guitar-controllers are nothing new, but one is quite advanced, going beyond simple conversion of basic guitar fingering to include a wide variety of modern controls, including accelerometers and pressure sensitive pads in addition to an array of knobs, sliders and buttons.

Here we see Moldover demonstrating the basic version of the guitar. (We have reviewed Moldover’s performances in San Francisco in past articles.) You can see a little bit of the guitar in action in this video:

There was also a model with twelve strings and a more traditional finish. That one also had a built-in “e-bow”, which was a nice feature.

In addition to the controller, Visionary Instruments makes “video guitars” with embedded video screens. The main model has a stylized, curving shape, but I particularly liked this metallic retro model:

For those who look at such details, the video is Nigel Tufnel from Spinal Tap.

In addition to the quality of the instruments, it nice to see an innovative company from the Bay Area (and Oakland in particular) represented here.

Wordless Wednesday: Electric