I participated in quite a few performances in 2014, with a lot of challenges and memorable experiences along the way. But there was perhaps none quite as unique or purely fun as my solo set in the window gallery of Artists’ Television Access (ATA). It was part of a month-long program called Almost Public/Semi-Exposed, a “series of installed performances ranging from movement to musical, ritual to reenactment, interactive to endurance.”
[Photo by David Samas]
My performance, entitled “CatSynth in the Window”, was a solo with Moog theremini, analog modular, full cat-print costume and body movement. The theremin was a controller for various sound-generated modules, including the Metasonix R54 and Benjolin by Rob Hordjik. And at three hours with just one break, it was among the longest continuous performances I have done.
[Photo by David Samas]
Immediately I know this was going to be a great experience. The window was my stage, and the city bustling by on Valencia Street was my audience. Many walked by with just a curious glance. Some stopped to listen for a few minutes. Others stayed a while, contacting friends to come check it out. One little girl called me a witch.
Sonically, the performance was relatively sparse, with usually no more than two sound sources at once. Motion and gesture were an central part of the performance, as was interacting with the people on the street. Here is a video excerpt.
[Video by Claire Bain]
Although I was inside the window, the sound was being broadcast through a speaker in the entryway of ATA to the outside so that people could clearly hear as they walked by. One unexpected challenge was the jazz band practicing inside the main ATA space. But I made the most of it using my skills as a jazz pianist and riffing off the standards they were playing. The audience interaction was among the most rewarding parts of the event, matching the gestures and motions suggested by people outside. For an extended period of time, one of the neighborhood’s icons Diamond Dave was completely enthralled by the performance and interacting with me.
In this next video, you can see a bit of our impromptu “duo”, as well as some of my attempts to play against the jazz ensemble.
[Video by David Samas]
The performance was an endurance test, physically and mentally, but it was an incredibly rewarding experience and I hope to be able to do it again, perhaps bringing to different venues and cities. It was interesting to see how a diverse flow of people choose to observe or interact. Indeed it was a mutual coming together at times, quite democratic and independent compared to a traditional concert setting. I would also like to think it was a positive contribution to the ATA site itself and to life along Valencia Street. I like how vibrant the street and neighborhood is, but providing a little weirdness and unusual performance brings back a bit of San Francisco’s long history of unique culture back.
A big thank you to Ariel Zaccheo and Tessa Siddle for curating this event, and to the folks at Artists’ Television Access for providing us the time, space and support.
One of our perennial stops at NAMM is to the Big City Music booth to see what’s new and play with old favorites. There is always an impressive display of analog modules, including the “wall of synth” from Analog Solutions.
Of course, Big City Music also prominently displayed a full complement Metasonix modules. This included the new spring reverb (at the bottom) that does not conform to the usual yellow color.
I spent a little time with the Mellotron, including a demonstration of the original instrument and its extensions. You can see a bit in this video:
Towards the end, you can see the mechanical elements for the tapes at work.
We also visited again with Leon Dewan, who presented his Swarmatron instrument. Here he demonstrates, and I tentatively try to play as well (one handed as I am also holding the camera):
Although most of these instruments were familiar ones, it is great to see them in action again.
I really should get a Metasonix R54.
Here is another improvisation, or perhaps a meditation, on the analog modular synth. Enjoy!
This one used most of the modules in the system, including the Metasonix R53, both Make Noise modules, the Morphing Terrarium from Synthesis Technology, the Koma Electronic SVF-201 filter, the Polyvoks filter, and the Noisering from Malekko Heavy Technology, all mixed together via Pittsburgh Modular’s Mixer and Out. The Noisering was in many ways the foundational element for this meditation.
Please share your thoughts either in the comment section here or on SoundCloud.
Once again, one of my main destinations at NAMM was the booth of Big City Music, where I can always find analog synthesizers and exotic electronic musical instruments that defy categorization. There certainly was no shortage of modular systems, including this scary looking yellow box full of Metasonix modules.
Because Metasonix modules, especially the R55 VCO, take a huge amount of current, this case can handle a ridiculous 7500mA. That is half of a standard home electrical line. Other manufacturers besides Metasonix were represented as well. Just to the left of the case one can see the new vactrol filter from Koma Electronic, a module I recently acquired.
On the more exotic end, Leon Dewan of Dewanatron was on hand again this year to demonstrate the Swarmatron (watch as our feline mascot nearly gets carted away on the nearby Mellotron):
I tried my hand at it as well. The ribbon controllers feel different from anything else I have tried playing, but once I got used to the feel I was able to start using the instrument expressively.
Perhaps the most visually intriguing but confounding instrument at the booth was this little geometric puzzle with lighted transparent tubes sticking out in all directions:
It turned out to be a prototype for the Akasha synthsizer from Jomox. Today, Jürgen Michaelis from Jomox demonstrated his new device:
In the corner behind the Jomox devices was an increasingly rare analog TV monotor, which was displaying audio from Critter and Guitari instruments rendered using an audio-to-video converter (also by Critter and Guitari).
The simple video converter caught my interest, especially if I decide to do more with video synthesis in the near future.
Thanks as always to the folks at Big City Music for being very hospitable and supportive of CatSynth!
Purchases made during the month of September will go into a drawing to win a customized Metasonix R54 module, curtesy of Metasonix. Anything bought online will get one entry and any purchases made in the store itself will get two entries. The draw will be October the 14th.
Hmmm, I am looking for an R54…
The 2012 Outsound Music Summit began this Sunday with the annual Touch the Gear Expo. Visitors have a chance to see and try out the equipment used by musicians and sound artists. Although we had fewer presenters this year, we had a variety of instruments and devices, and a fairly sizable crowd of visitors.
In the above image, we see Matt Davignon presenting effects pedals driven using a Casio keyboard, and Joe Lasquo presenting laptop-based programs with Max/MSP.
One of the fun aspects of Touch the Gear is getting one’s hands on instruments that one only sees on stage. For me, one of those opportunities came when I got to play the Arp 2600 that Benjamin Ethan Tinker brought to the event. It was only a little over a week earlier that I heard him play it at the Luggage Store Gallery.
But it there is the discovery of new and never-before seen musical creations. The most unusual for me was this creation by Omer Gal:
The organic head-like element contained several mechanical and optical sensors that one could touch or put ones hands near to affect the sound. A second part of the installation included a mechanical “robot” that played a set of strings with a pickup. The performer can affect the operation of the robot and the sound through electronic controls.
Other unusual electro-acoustic instruments were presented by Walter Funk and Dan Ake. Walter Funk’s metallic instrument called Ulysses offered opportunities to explore different resonances and timbres through sheets of metal, rods and springs arrayed throughout its body. Dan Ake’s invention was a series of gridded metal inside a large wooden box, than one could excite with a variety of objects, such as bows, rods and a glove with long wooden fingertips.
I was presenting at this event as well. I always try to bring something a little different each year. This year, I decided to go with two ends of the technology spectrum: an iPad running Animoog and iMS-20, and a Eurorack modular system with a Metasonx R53, Make Noise Echophon, Malekko Heavy Industry Anti-Oscillator, and several others. Both technologies caught people’s attention, with some more excited about the analog modular system with its physical knobs and cables, and others gravitating towards the iPad.
Andrew Wayne presented a very tangible set of objects containing unpopped popcorn kernels in aluminum trays and other contains, augmented with contact microphones and electronic effects. He assembled his own contact mics to use with these acoustic sources.
Other participants included CJ Borosque with an Alesis Air, Laurie Amat with vocal and ambient sources into a Line 6, and a surface by April-Jeanie Tang with rubber-ball mallets. Through contact miss, the action of the rubber mallets and the surface and transmitted to effects processors for a deep, haunting sound. Tom Duff presented a series of software processes that could be randomly controlled from a MIDI controller. Despite the randomness, it was quite expressive after playing with it and dialing in on particular processes. He also had a couple of critters from Bleep Labs.
Long-time participants Tom Nunn and David Michalak were back again with the most recent incarnations of the sketch box. You can read an interview with Tun Nunn and discussion of his musical inventions here on CatSynth.
And finally, Bob Marsh was back with his intriguing and “charismatic” metal creations.
I do tend to gravitate towards metallic sounds when looking for new material, something which seems to be common among those who are looking for invention and discovery in musical sound.
On Monday night, the summit continued with the Composers Symposium, a panel discussion featuring four of the composers in this year’s festival: John Shiurba, Christina Stanley, Benjamin Ethan Tinker, and Matthew Goodheart were on hand to discuss their work. And as a first this year, I acted as the moderator for the evening. It was a great experience, and I did not have to do very much besides seeding the discussion with a few questions. From those starting points, a lively discussion ensued among the composers as well as dialog with the audience. We talked about the role of notation in each of the composers’ music, such as Stanley’s use of paintings as her scores and Shiurba’s use of graphical elements derived from print newspapers (a major theme of his piece this year); and the dual role that these artists played as both composers and performers. One of the things that made this panel work was the variety of musical disciplines, styles and backgrounds among the participants, as well as the interest that the audience brought to the discussion with their numerous questions. Everyone had criticisms of the terms “new music” and “experimental music” that are often used as blanket designations for the music featured in the summit and indeed much of the music reviewed here on CatSynth, but that was to be expected. The two hours of the discussion went by rather quickly, and I’d like to think everyone on the panel and in the audience found the experience enjoyable and illuminating. I would definitely like to do more of these at events in the future.
Today, we at CatSynth have our very own “CatSynth video”. Luna looks on from her favorite beanbag chair as I attempt to operate the newly installed Eurorack modular synth.
This particular improvisation features the Metasonix R53, Make Noise Echophon, MOTM E350 Morphing Terrarium, and Circuit Abbey ADSRjr.
Our video was also posted yesterday by matrixsynth
Today we have a little musical improvisation I created primarily using the Metasonix R53 (aka “Big Yellow”) along with several other analog modules, including with Wiard Anti-Oscillator and the E350 Morphing Terrarium. It was a relatively spontaneous expression, a bit raw, but I thought it came out well.
And here is a picture of “Big Yellow”.