CatSynth video: Synth Studio Tour with Zac the Black Cat

Submitted by James Bragg via our Facebook page.

Quick view around the Fernforest Project Studio. My black cat likes sitting on things that are black and stylish. He thinks he fits in well and looks cool.
Synths in order – Doepfer Modular A-100, Moog Etherwave Theremin, Moog Voyager Old School, Schlagswerg analogue drum machine, CP-251 moog control processor, Dave Smith Mopho and Tetra, Mackie Onyx firewire mixer, PC, M-Audio Oxygen 25, NI Maschine and a Monome my brother built.
The music is called “Dark Glow” by me. you can find the whole track on soundcloud.

Experi-MENTAL night at TheaterLab, New York

Today we look back at the second of my November performances in New York. This one took place at Theater Lab in Manhattan in one of the venue’s stark white studios that served as both performance venue and blank canvas. There were several now-familar faces from east coast shows, as well as new artists that I heard for the first time.

The show opened with an acoustic performance by PAS, featuring Robert L. Pepper, Amber Brien, Michael Durek and John “Vomit” Worthley with guest Carlo Altomare (one of the founders of TheaterLab) on piano. The acoustic instruments included a wide variety of percussion, strings and winds, as well as DIY combinations of objects (buckets, balloons, etc.) to produce other sounds. In this way, they played acoustic instruments as if they were synthesizers.


[PAS. (Click images to enlarge.)]

The performance moved between gradually evolving by strongly rhythmic material and more freeform noise textures, all expressive and performed with a wide dynamic range. At various times, the performers moved around the space, among the audience and up into the loft, which added a theatrical element as well as spatialization. You can see and hear for yourself in this video:

PAS live with Carlo Altomare at Experi-MENTAL Night at Theaterlab. November 26th, 2011 from PAS Music on Vimeo.

The particular combination of instruments and idiomatic playing gave portions of the performance an Asian feel (particularly at the beginning of the video), but even there the piano provides an avant-gard counterpoint and the overall texture moves to something more reminiscent of Henry Cowell before moving into a more experimental dramatic mode featuring Altomare soloing on piano and Pepper repeatedly chanting “Piano Man!” I like how they were able to move so easily between the different timbres and textures and rhythms without stopping, except of course for the silences that occurred in response to the instruction “Silence!” In all, a great set that set a confident tone for the entire evening.

Next was a duo featuring Richard Lainhart on a Buchla synthesizer and Lucio Menegon on strings and effects. They performed a live improvised set to a film by Scratch Film junkies.

The film was beautiful and mesmerizing, though I did find myself also watching the Buchla to see and hear what was happening. In general, the synth performance was subtle and blended well with the string sounds to produce an overall ambient texture, with occasional metallic and inharmonic swells. The eerie and slowly moving sound fit the abstract video, with frequently changing clips overlaid with digital effects that simulated paint and chemical treatment. At times, the harmonies and timbres seemed to approach an acoustic orchestra and choir, as one might hear in a science fiction film, while others seemed to channel the sounds of bowed metal and glass.

PAS presents Experi-MENTAL Night with a duo by Richard Lainhart and Lucio Menegon at Theaterlab from PAS Music on Vimeo.

This was followed by a trio featuring Jay Pluck on piano, Julia Violet on vocals, and Michael Durek returning, this time on theremin.


[Jay Pluck, Julia Violet, and Michael Durek. Photos by Michael Zelner. (Click to enlarge.)]

This was the most traditional and idiomatic of any set during the show. The songs were songs, quite lyrical and featuring traditional harmonies and melodic lines for voice and theremin. The introduction featured a theremin solo – Durek is quite good at getting standard pitching and phrasings from the instrument – set against gently rolling arpeggios of romantic chords on the piano. As Violet’s vocals enter, the music takes on a light cabaret feel, but the theremin backed with Mini-Kaoss Pad effects, continues to give it a somewhat otherworldly quality. The second song, which featured more major harmonies, had a bit of a 1960s rock quality to it, as if it was it was a song from a popular album rescored for piano and voice. Here the theremin had a bit of a darker tone.

After that it was time to take the stage. It was basically the same setup as a few nights earlier at the AvantElectroExpectroExtravaganza in Brooklyn, but with a few musical differences. I opened with a newly programmed piece that featured timbres based on the Bohlen 833 scale in which I could call up individual pitches and harmonics via the monome and iPad working together. The end result was a somewhat an ambient piece that was relaxed but with anxious undertones.

[Click to enlarge, if you must.]

I did reprise my Wicks Looper and Korg Monotron improvisation that had worked well at the previous performance, as well as another another piece featuring additive synthesis in which iPad-controlled tone clouds are set against short percussive tones. At the end of the set, I was joined by Robert L. Pepper from PAS for a duo improvisation featuring acoustic instruments and electronics. We started with a steady pattern on the dotara and large drum, gradually bringing in some electronic sounds controlled by the monome and other acoustic instruments and effects. Overall, we meshed very well musically despite this being our first time ever playing together! I particularly liked the moment where we were both playing string instruments, as it felt particular aligned and expressive. This gave way to a finale with dotara and drums that approached traditional folk music and a well-defined final note. You can hear the full solo and duo in this video:

Amar at TheaterLab, New York. from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The final set featured Richard Lainhart’s film The History of the Future with a live soundtrack performed by the “Orchestra of the Future”, an ad hoc ensemble featuring many of us who had performed in the previous four sets. The film featured clips and images from old educational and demonstration films featuring depictions of possible feature technologies. It’s a snapshot of “what the future used to be” in previous eras.

[Orchestra of the Future.]

The improvised soundtrack, which featured a variety of acoustic and electronic instruments, was rich in texture and dynamism and dramatic moments. Everyone did a good job of watching what was happening on the screen and listening to each other. There were moments where it seemed like the relative volumes of instruments were off, but that was a minor issue. It was a great way to end the evening (and a bit of a relief to be in the large ensemble after performing solo).

We had a decently sized audience for the show and a very positive response both during the event itself and in talking to people at the small reception afterwards. It was interesting that although this event was in New York, there were Bay Area connections both among the performers and the audience. This year has been a good one for bi-coastal collaboration and I look forward to more of it next year.

[Additional photos available at Michael Zelner’s flickr set. Additional videos available on vimeo by PAS Music and CatSynth.]

Chamber music day at the  de Young Museum

Outsound GearExplore at Chamber Music Day

Back in mid-October, a few of us from the crew at Outsound Presents participated in Chamber Music Day at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.

There were over 140 musicians participating, with performances and demonstrations scattered around the museum. And “chamber music” was defined quite expansively to include a wide variety of instrumentation and genres, ranging from traditional classical music to experimental avant-garde ensembles and crossover groups. Our contribution was a demonstration of electronic-music gear – a mini version of “Touch the Gear Night” from the Outsound Music Summit. I primarily focused on software-based sound generation, with an iPad and a Monome connected to a MacBook running Open Sound World. Matt Davignon presented his setup featuring drum machines and effects pedals. CJ Borosque demonstrated her input-less effects change where the noise in the signal chain is the source for sound manipulation; and Rent Romus demonstrated live sound processing with a setup that included a Korg Monotron.

There was quite a large turnout overall for Chamber Music Day, and we had a lot of traffic at our demonstration table. Reactions ranged from mild curiosity to deep technical conversations. We were a particularly big hit with children, who are naturally attracted to hands-on demos and electronic gear.

[Amar Chaudhary and Matt Davignon demonstrating gear for young attendees at Chamber Music Day. Photo by Scott Chernis.]

This trio of young ladies spent a lot of time at the table exploring the various devices in great detail.

[Exploring the gear. Photo by Scott Chernis.]

They were particularly interested in the iPad. Here they are trying out the Korg iMS-20 app.

[Playing the iPad.  Photo by Scott Chernis.]

I would like to think that some of the kids (as well as a few of the adults) went off and downloaded some music-making apps for their devices and started playing. Or perhaps a casual guitarist found a new way to make sounds with his or her pedals.

Overall it was a great experience, and an opportunity for us to share what we do with musicians outside our small “new-music” community and with the general public. Thanks to the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music (SFFCM) for inviting us to participate. To find out more about Chamber Music Day and their other events and programs, please visit their website.

[All photos in this article by Scott Chernis and provided courtesy of SFFCM.]

CatSynth video: Studio Tour with Zac the Black Cat

From hyperdust7 on YouTube, via matrixsynth.

Quick view around the Fernforest Project Studio. My black cat likes sitting on things that are black and stylish. He thinks he fits in well and looks cool.
Synths in order – Doepfer Modular A-100, Moog Etherwave Theremin, Moog Voyager Old School, Schlagswerg analogue drum machine, CP-251 moog control processor, Dave Smith Mopho and Tetra, Mackie Onyx firewire mixer, PC, M-Audio Oxygen 25, NI Maschine and a Monome my brother built.
The music is called “Dark Glow” by me. you can find the whole track on soundcloud.

Preparing for March 4 Concert, Part 2

On Tuesday, I went to the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT) in order to continue preparing for the Regent’s Lecture concert on March 4.  I brought most of the setup with me, at least the electronic gear:

Several pieces are going to feature the iPad (yes, the old pre-March 2 version) running TouchOSC controlling Open Sound World on the Macbook.  I worked on several new control configurations after trying out some of the sound elements I will be working with.  Of course, I have the monome as well, mostly to control sample-looping sections of various pieces.

One of the main reasons for spending time on site is to work directly with the sound system, which features an 8-channel surround speaker configuration.  Below are five of the eight speakers.


One of the new pieces is designed specifically for this space – and to also utilize a 12-channel dodecahedron speaker developed at CNMAT.  I will also be adapting older pieces and performance elements for the space, including a multichannel version of  Charmer:Firmament.  In addition to the multichannel, I made changes to the iPad control based on the experience from last Saturday’s performance at Rooz Cafe in Oakland.  It now is far more expressive and closer to the original.

I also broke out the newly acquired Wicks Looper on the sound system.  It sounded great!

The performance information (yet again) is below.


Friday, March 4, 8PM
Center For New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT)
1750 Arch St., Berkeley, CA

CNMAT and the UC Berkeley Regents’ Lecturer program present and evening of music by Amar Chaudhary.

The concert will feature a variety of new and existing pieces based on Amar’s deep experience and dual identity in technology and the arts. He draws upon diverse sources as jazz standards, Indian music, film scores and his past research work, notably the Open Sound World environment for real-time music applications. The program includes performances with instruments on laptop, iPhone and iPad, acoustic grand piano, do-it-yourself analog electronics and Indian and Chinese folk instruments. He will also premier a new piece that utilizes CNMAT’s unique sound spatialization resources.

The concert will include a guest appearance by my friend and frequent collaborator Polly Moller. We will be doing a duo with Polly on flutes and myself on Smule Ocarina and other wind-inspired software instruments – I call it “Real Flutes Versus Fake Flutes.”

The Regents’ Lecturer series features several research and technical talks in addition to this concert. Visit http://www.cnmat.berkeley.edu for more information.

Preparing for tonight’s performance

I will be performing tonight in Oakland at Rooz Cafe (1918 Park Blvd, Oakland, CA) at 7PM tonight. Details below:

A rescheduling of a an old date, remade in Rooz-y glory:

-Zeina Nasr
Emphatic, ethereal vocalisms

-Amar Chaudhary
(www.amarchaudhary.com/)
Complex, articulate solo work with an electronic aesthetic

-Karl Evangelista/Shaun Lowecki/Sean Peterson Trio
(www.karlevangelista.com)
(www.shaunlowecki.com)
-Animated, explosive inside/outside music

I have been busily preparing today with a small setup, similar to one I had planned for January 17:

Once again, I will have the monome controlling the MacBook, primarily for live sampling and looping today. I will be using the dotara, an Indian folk string instrument, as one of the live sample sources. I will also bring a bell and the prayer bowl as live sources. The iPad will be running Curtis, which gets more an more advanced with each upgrade and is becoming a true musical instrument. I will also be using TouchOSC to control Open Sound World, including a brand new implementation of my piece Charmer:Firmament for iPad, replacing the retired Wacom graphics tablet. This is a dry run for the big concert next Friday (March 4), so we’ll see out it goes.

I had been hoping a new contact mic would arrive today – I am considering that for March 4 as well – but of course FedEx showed up just while I was out at an important art-related meeting, so I missed it and they are the one courier that won’t leave things. So I will be using an ordinary mic once again for the live sampling/looping – maybe it’s for the best.

Update: Just as I finished posting this article, a package arrived.  Not the contact microphone, but it was an exciting new toy, the Wicks Looper.

You see previous CatSynth pics and videos with this and related devices via this link (the cat in most of these is also named Luna). I have been considering getting one these for a while, and the current run of performances provided the impetus.  Although I have not yet played it, I am seriously tempted to try it out for tonight’s set.  After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Preparing for tonight’s performance

I am busily getting ready for my next solo performance tonight.

Light A Fire: Amar Chaudhary, Zeina Nasr, Evangelista/Lowecki/Stuart
Monday, January 17 · 7:00pm – 10:00pm
Mama Buzz Cafe
2318 Telegraph Avenue
Oakland, CA

Please join us for creative music in three acts (incidentally the third Monday of the month)–featuring:

-Zeina Nasr
Emphatic, ethereal vocalisms

-Amar Chaudhary
(www.ptank.com/amar_music/)
Complex, articulate solo work with an electronic aesthetic

-Karl Evangelista/Shaun Lowecki/Doug Stuart Trio
(www.karlevangelista.com)
(www.shaunlowecki.com)
-Animated, explosive inside/outside music

Hope to see you!
-Friendly Neighborhood Light A Fire Committee

I am once again using a relatively minimal setup (or as minimal as I can make it for a solo show).  There is the iPad (and the iPhone), the MacBook with a monome, and the Evolver.  I also have a couple of percussion instruments, and the dotara, an Indian string instrument.

For the iPad, I will be using the Curtis for iPad (shown in the photo below), along with the from Smule, the 古筝 (Guzheng) app, and the KORG iMS-20, among others.

Based on feedback from my last performance at the Omega Sound Fix, I am going to try and use fewer elements, particularly in the live sampling/looping section. I will start with the dotara, and layer the Magic Fiddle and guzheng model on top of it. I will be reusing some of the other elements that I have been having fun with, such as the Count Basie Big Band Remote from the Blue Note in Chicago controlled via the monome.

Luna wants to help out with preparations, too:

CatSynth pic: Grainslide for Monome

From the B-Roll, via matrixsynth:

“…a friend and fellow monome user Jared just recently released his new monome app called Grainslide. I tested an early version of the app on Day 213 and he has since made adjustments and released it to the community. It’s a simple but effective concept. His layout design is unique to most other monome apps which I think is great. It’s not a quick sample cutting app although you could play it that way. It’s a layering tool really.”

I am curious to check out Grainslide. The mlr application that I often use with the monome would be the quintessential “sample cutting app” – it has worked well for me in live performance, but I really have only scratched the surface on what I can do with this controller.

Omega Sound Fix, Alfa Art Gallery

Today we look back the Omega Sound Fix Festival, which took place at the Alfa Art Gallery in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The festival spanned two days, Saturday, November 20 and Sunday, November 21, and I was myself scheduled to perform on the second night. (You can read an earlier article about my preparations for the event here.)

As with other events this year, I was live tweeting during the performance @catsynth, using the tag #omegasoundfix. Additionally, PAS has posted videos from the first night of the event, several of which are included below.

After a brief trip to lower Manhattan on Saturday, I headed across the river via the Lincoln Tunnel (which the iPhone assured me had the least traffic of any crossing) and south on the New Jersey Turnpike towards New Brunswick. It was comforting to finally arrive at Alfa Art Gallery after the long trip and come in out of the cold air to the abstract electronic sounds. I arrived in time to hear the second half of Richard Lainhart’s set (I wish I had arrived in time to hear the whole thing). You can see part of Lainhart’s performance below:

Richard Lainhart live at Alfa Art Gallery (Part II) for the Omega Sound Fix Festival from PAS on Vimeo.

I had not arrived in time to hear Lainhart’s introduction in which he explained that piece was by the renowned 20th Century composer Oliver Messaien – a 1937 piece Oraison that was was one of the early pieces written purely for electronic instruments. It was later adapted for acoustic instruments as part of Messaien’s “Quartet for the End of Time”, composed while he was in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1941. Lainhart’s arrangement of the piece uses the Haken Continuum with a Buchla synthesizer. The music starts out very quiet and melancholy, like a mournful piece of acoustic chamber music. But one can hear the timbral details, suble pitch changes and effects that make it unmistakably electronic. Every so often, there is strong feedback in the sound, but it remains very expressive within the context of the piece. The harmonies move between minor and very anxious augmented. It feels very much like piece of music for a dramatic film, set in forlorn ruins or a desert approaching dusk.

Lainhart then joined Philippe Petit for the next set. I would characterize Petit’s performance as “virtuosic experimental turntable”, as that was the primary instrument he was using (along with a laptop) to generate his sounds that were at once very natural and very constructed. The set began with Lainhart playing long bowed tones on the vibraphone set again Petit’s liquidy granular sounds, scratches, low rumbles and anxious harmonies. There was a strong contrast between the more ethereal and natural timbres, and the lower-frequency and louder machine noises. Petit’s sounds moved from more natural and machine towards snippets from other recordings with bits of distorted harmony, and urban city-like environments. It then changes over to turntable effects, pops and skips and speed changes, and gets noiser and more agressive. Lainhart’s bowed vibraphone provides a constant dreamlike quality against Petit’s changing textures.

Philippe Petit collaborates with Richard Lainhart live at Alfa Art Gallery for the Omega Sound Fix Festival from PAS on Vimeo.

At some point during the set, the duo were joined by a guitarist to form a trio. [Note if anyone can provide me the guitarist’s name, please let me know!] The trio with guitar began scratch and percussive, but became more tonal over time. There is a section which I referred to as the “thud march”, which electrical pops forming a march-like rhythm with other turntable effects filling in the space in between. The rhythm breaks apart after while, with the electronic pops continuing in a more chaotic pattern, and scratching and percussive effects on the guitar providing a counterpoint. Quiet inharmonic synthesizer pads can be heard in the background. The set drew to a large close, starting with a quiet turntable solo and then into a big finish, with loud howling wind-like sounds, and dark harmonies.

They were followed by PAS (Post Abortion Stress). Petit remained on stage and joined regular group members Michael Durek, Robert L Pepper and John “Vomit” Worthley and guest saxophonist Dave Tamura.


[Click image to enlarge.]

The set began with a very simple pentatonic sequence. On top of this, Worthley played a bowed waterphone waterphone, and Durek soon joined on thermin with a melodic line. Tamura’s saxophone provided a strong counterpoint to the other elements, alternating between very expressive jazz-like lines and a “skronking”. There were moments where the saxophone and thermin seemed to respond to each other, melodically and harmonically. At some point, the original pentatonic pattern cut out, and the music centered around saxophone, theremin and electronic violin. This was followed by a purely electronic section with dark analog sounds and driving electronic drums. Pepper repeatedly slammed his electronic violin against the table, while Tamura played fast runs on the saxophone. Another interesting moment was Pepper using a standard fishing rod as an instrument (perhaps the first time I have seen that), set against synthesizers, guitar and saxophone. Gradually the music gets louder and more insistent, with driving percussive guitar, loud saxophone, and synthesizer sweeps, howls and sound effects in the background. Below is a video of PAS’ entire performance.

PAS live at Alfa Art Gallery with Dave Tamura & Philippe Petit from PAS on Vimeo.


The Sunday program began with blithe (doll). The performance combined acoustic drums as a foundation with live electronics and voice. I particularly liked the combination of loungy Latin rhythm and harmony in one piece with eerie electronic sounds and Phrygian vocal melodies that permeated much of the set. There were sections that were more “spacelike” with analog square waves and loud hits. Overall, the slow rhythms and melodies were reminiscent of goth or darker electronic club music.


[Click image to enlarge.]

This was a fun set to watch and listen too, and the band drew a relatively large crowd. I guess that should be surprising given that the band is local, and husband-and-wife duo of James and Lisa Woodley were well known from the previous band.

Blithe (doll) was followed by Borne (aka Scott Vizioli). He created a large dramatic and very visual soundscapes. Although his sounds included ambient, environmental and noise-based material, there was also a somewhat unsettling minor harmony that seemed to be just under the surface. Nonetheless the overall sound it was quite meditative, and easy to get lost in the soundspace. Over time, a beat emerged, very sparse and minimalist with metallic sounds. It gradually became stronger and more drum-like, with ethereal bell sounds in the background. I also recalled a single sample of a dishwasher (or something that sounded like a dishwasher) towards the end.

Next up was Octant, which could be described as a band consisting of one human and several robots. The electromechanical robots play acoustic instruments (drums, etc.) while the human member of the band, Matthew Steinke performs on lead vocals.

This was a unique set to watch. My focus was definitely on the robotic performance, but I was also listening to the music itself, which reminded of 1960s British rock with lots of chromatic chord changes. (@catsynth It’s not every day I see retro rock music performed by robots #omegasoundfix ). In order to get a rock rhythm feel, the timing among the robots needs to be well controlled – too much jitter or drift between machines and the musical quality is lost. Octant seems to have that down from a musical and technological perspective. Among the individual songs were “Bowl of Blood”, and another that was introduced by Steinke as being a “song about my cat.”


[Click image to enlarge.]
Octant was followed by Ezekiel Honig. As stated in the program notes, “He concentrates on his idiosyncratic brand of emotively warm electronic-acoustic music.” The set began with sounds that evoked water as well as machinery. I was able to hear that we was making extensive use of looping, although as he states he is “using the loop as more of a tool than a rule” and elements come and go freely outside the context of strict looping. A strong heartbeat sound emerged, and then later other elements joined to form a calm rolling pattern. At one point a strong major 7th harmony emerged. The beating changed sublty over time, as did the implied harmonies, which became more minor. Towards the end, the sounds seemed to focus on voices in the distance and other evidence of everyday human activity.

I had to begin setting up for my set after this, but I was able to part of Trinitron, the musical project of local artist Mark Weinberg. More so than Honig’s set, Trinitron’s performance was very focused on looping of processed electric guitar. Weinberg sat with his guitar in the middle of a circle of candles, and began to layer different lines and effects on top of one another. The resulting sounds from were alternately harmonic and gritty or noisy. Overall, his performance had an ambient dream-like quality to it.

Then it was time for me to play. I started the set with one of the “Big Band Remotes”, old radio broadcasts of big band shows made in the 1930s and 1940s. In particular, I used a recording of Count Basie and the Blue Note in Chicago, under the control of the monome so that I could start, stop and jump to different sections at will. I immediately segued from the final note to the Chinese prayer bowl and a similar metallic resonance on the Evolver synthesizer. After a while, I attempted to add the Smule Ocarina to the mix, though attempting to induce feedback from the speakers was a little more unstable than I had hoped. The second piece involved live sampling and looping of several of my Indian and Chinese folk instruments, including the newly acquired dotara, the gopichand, and Chinese temple blocks. Once again, this was under control of the monome. The piece transitioned to more electronic sounds, otherworldly crashing waves and loud resonances, and into a meditative solo using a guzheng app on the iPad. You can see a video of the first two pieces below:

Amar Chaudhary at Omega Sound Fix (Part 1) from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I then performed 月伸1, the video piece featuring Luna that I did at the Quickening Moon concert in February. In this instance, I did not have the Octave CAT synthesizer, but instead used the Smule Magic Fiddle and Korg iMS-20 on the iPad as the main electronic instruments, along with the Bebot app, a simple synthesizer on the laptop controlled by the monome, and the Evolver. I liked the new iPad apps for improvising against the video, it gave it a different musical quality from the premiere performance, though not as different as one might suspect. The video projection was a challenge – it covered the entire back wall, and I found myself standing “inside” the images, sometimes next to a gigantic projection of Luna. The effect of the projection against the artwork was also quite interesting visually. You can see this performance in the video below:

Amar Chaudhary at Omega Sound Fix (Part 2) from CatSynth on Vimeo.

My performance was the last of the evening, and of the festival. Overall, I thought it was a great experience, both as a performer and audience-member. Thanks to Michael Durek and Mark Weinberg for organizing this event, and to the Alfa Art Gallery for hosting.