The Making of Lake Merced

Today we talk about Lake Merced, as well as the recent video we made featuring it.

Lake Merced is located in the southwestern corner of San Francisco, in the vicinity of the SF Zoo and SF State University.

Lake Merced in San Francisco

Despite its odd shape and the fact that it borders three golf courses, it is actually a natural lake.  It is fed primarily by an underground spring.  In the 19th century, the lake briefly had an outlet to the ocean, approximately where the Great Highway breaks off from Skyline Boulevard, just south of the zoo.  The outlet is long gone, but the lake’s ecosystem retains some of its saltwater heritage among the fish and other wildlife that inhabit it. Lake Merced and its surrounding park remain one of the last and largest natural spaces left in the city (in spite of the golf courses), and is home to a variety of plant and animal life.  On the day I visited to shoot video, I encountered this egret.

But it is definitely an urban natural space, with sounds and sights from the surrounding city mixing with nature.  I am particularly fond of this view looking east over the lake to some apartment buildings.  It brings to mind Flushing Meadows in the New York City borough of Queens.

I have been spending more time in the western neighborhoods of San Francisco of late, and Lake Merced is one of the spots I revisit.  This is what inspired me to make it the subject of a CatSynth TV video, complete with original synthesizer music.

Here is see the final post-production on the video in Pro Tools.  Front and center is Tracktion’s BioTek software synthesizer, which I reviewed during NAMM 2016.  It was among the primary instruments used in this video where I blended its mix of natural and traditional-synthesizer sounds with the sounds of the field video.

I also made extensive use of the 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator and Epoch Modular Benjolin (designed by Rob Hordjik).  They both have very elemental sounds that resemble air and water.  The Benjolin is chaotic by design, and a small turn of a knob can change it from liquidy to screeching, so it’s sometimes a challenge to get a good recording that fits the concept of the music.  The SMR is a lot of fun to play, especially using alternate tunings and changing the spread and morph parameters.  A clock is used to constantly shift the bands.

 

Rounding out the sound palette were the Arturia MiniBrute 2Mimimoog Model D, and Metasonix R53 vacuum-tube waveshaper and ring modulator.

The Moog Model D, the MiniBrute and several of the modules make cameos during the video, as does Sam Sam.  Watch the video all the way through to spot her 😺

This was a fun video to shoot and put together, something a bit more creative and abstract than our usual demos or live-show reports.  I have more of these waiting in the queue to be made…

 

Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam: Exploring the Modular and Roland JP-08

Sam Sam checking out the next studio setup

Sometimes Sam Sam ends up in CatSynth pics of her own, as when she recently got up to explore the redesigned studio space.  She is fascinated by the new decorative shelves as well as the narrow band between the video/office corner and the modular synth.

Perhaps she is picking up some scents on the modular case from our recent live performances.

I have been having a lot of fun in the studio lately, especially making videos and exploring our synthesizer collection in greater depth.  I really should be working on some more formal compositions, but it seems I am in more of experimenting and exploratory mood at the moment.  I have also, unfortunately, been battling insomnia.  It ebbs and flows, and on the worst night (about a week ago), I decided to sit up for a while and play with the Roland JP-08 boutique synth.

Sam Sam and the Roland JP-08

The size is actually ideal for playing in bed late at night.  I spent some time exploring the architecture (it’s basically a Jupiter 8 with a few extensions) and came up with some new and unusual patches.  We hope to share them with you in an upcoming CatSynth TV.

 

Big City Music at NAMM

No visit to NAMM is complete without a stop at the booth of Big City Music. There were familiar faces and instruments, but a few new things as well.

The Mellotron micro is the latest in the Mellotron series. It’s small and compact, and with an expected price $800-$1000 USD it’s more affordable than the others in the series (although still quite pricey).

Mellotron micro

Metasonix is at it again. The big yellow box that Big City Music always brings to the show sported some new modules in silver.

Metasonix modules

Among them was the RK2 XSVCA. It’s not just a VCA, but has distortion, feedback and out-of-phase outputs among other features. The marketing material is everything we have come to know and love from Metasonix.

Horsecock

There are always some odd and unusual pedals. These pedals from Indu Trielectric were quite visually intriguing.

Indu Trielectric

The maker’s descriptive text – much less colorful than Metasonix’s – suggested that this was a bit of a Swiss Army Knife with lots of features, including “chaotic reverb” but it also came with the admonition to the user to expect weirdness and imprecision, traits that can be quite useful for music. I wasn’t able to hear it at the time, but might get a chance to later.

Wordless Wednesday: Modular Synthesizer

Modular Synthesizer

CatSynth in the Window, Artists’ Television Access

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.”

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[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.

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[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.

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[Photo by David Samas. Click to enlarge.]

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.

NAMM 2014: Big City Music (Metasonix, Mellotron, Leon Dewan)

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.

analog solutions wall of synth

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.

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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.

CatSynth pic: Metasonix Synth Cat

cheramiecat

From metasonix.com.

I really should get a Metasonix R54.

New analog modular improvisation, May 9

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.

NAMM: Big City Music (Swarmatron, Jomox, Metasonix, and more)

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!

CatSynth pic: Equinoxoz Launches Promotion for New Storefront in Newcastle, AU

From Equinoxoz, via matrixsynth.

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…

Hmmm, I am looking for an R54…