Posts Tagged ‘new jersey’

Fun with Highways: Livingston (?)

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Every so often we like to have fun with the cities and towns that appear in our Facebook Insights and Google Analytics. One town that has been appearing prominently in our Facebook page stats recently is Livingston. However, we have no idea which place called “Livingston” this actually is, so we will explore a few possibilities.

Based on the demographics of our readers and Facebook fans, it’s probably in the U.S., and it is most likely Livingston, NJ, a town east of Newark along I-280, not far from New York City.

Livingston is a medium-sized suburban town. Though its history dates back a long time (about 300 years), it was relatively sparse until automobiles and highways arrived in the 1920s. Notably, it is named for William Livingston, the first Governor of New Jersey. It is also near the Riker Hill fossil site, also known as Walter Kidde Dinosaur Park, a major paleontological site – I remember hearing about the “major dinosaur fossil site in New Jersey” a few times while growing up across the river in New York.

It could be Livingston, California, a town along the Highway 99 corridor in the Central Valley, between Modesto and Merced.

Like much of this part of the Central Valley, it is primarily an agricultural town.

It could also be Livingston, Montana, a picturesque town along I-90 and US 191 north of Yellowstone National Park.

[Image by Jonathan Haeber (http://www.terrastories.com/bearings/) via Wikimedia CommonsClick image to enlarge.]

It has that classic “old US downtown” look with mountain ranges in the background. It also seems like a relatively prosperous town (much of its economy is related to tourism). As of this writing, however, it sounds like they are at the edge of this year’s intense flooding along rivers in the U.S. and the Yellowstone River is again above flood stage as of the writing of this article. We hope they stay safe and dry! In late May, flooding on the Yellowstone River closed parts of I-90 near Livingston.

Livingston, NY is in the Hudson Valley and quite a ways north of New York City. It is considerably smaller than its counterparts in New Jersey, California and Montana.

In the strange way that I remember such things, I am pretty sure I have been through the junction of US 9, NY 9H and NY 82 (and NY 23).

Smaller yet is Livingston, Louisiana.

It is along I-12 east of Baton Rouge. I mention it because it has a gravitational wave observatory. That is cool. Gravitational waves are theoretical ripples in the curvature of spacetime that propagate as a wave – a phenomenon predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity but never directly detected.

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Fun with Highways: Piscataway, NJ

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Today we visit another of the locales featured on our Facebook Insights, which provides geographical data about where our page receives its “likes”, etc. New York remains our top city, but some interesting other towns made the list as well, including Piscataway, New Jersey.

Piscataway is in Middlesex County in central New Jersey at the southern edge of the New York metropolitan area. The main highway running through the area is I-287, which connects to I-95 and the New Jersey Turnpike to the east, and then travels north and west into northern New Jersey and then back into New York. It is also served by Highway 18, one of the frequent limited-access highways that cover this part of the state.

Unlike Saint Catherines, Ontario, which we profiled a couple of weeks ago, it is possible to draw a specific connection to Piscataway. Just south along Highway 18 is New Brunswick, which is home to the Alfa Art Gallery and the Omega Sound Fix festival from last November. If you have not read the original article from that event, I recommend following this link. The area supports an art and music scene via its proximity to Rutgers University.

Like many towns in this part of the U.S., Piscataway has a long history, dating back to the late 1600s.  It is listed as “one of the first five New Jersey settlements” (I am not sure what the significance of “first five” is).  It has morphed from a more rural community to an established suburb that has been featured in real-estate sections in the New York Times, CNN and elsewhere.

I also have read and personally experienced the area in Middlesex County as one of the highest concentrations of South-Asian Americans (aka “Indian Americans”) in the U.S. I have had relatives in and around the area for years (and I will further embarrassing them at this moment).

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Omega Sound Fix, Alfa Art Gallery

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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.

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Omega Sound Fix, Alfa Art Gallery, New Brunswick NJ, November 20-21

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On Sunday, November 21, I will be performing a solo set at the Omega Sound Fix festival at the Alfa Art Gallery in New Jersey.

“What is the Omega Sound Fix? It’s a new music festival in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It features 12 bands over two days, some international acts, and some local. It will showcase the underground explorers, the Magellans of the music world…foregoing the known in search of new lands and new sounds. They are all on the bill because they offer something unique to the music world.”

Click on the digital dinosaur picture above to see the flyer featuring the full festival line-up.  I am excited to be a part of this event.  To help us fully fund the festival and make it a success, we have launched a Kickstarter campaign. Check out this video from festival organizers Mike Durek and Mark Weinberg, and donate something if you can. We have discounted tickets, CDs, DVDs, and other neat things to offer as rewards (I wouldn’t mind the housecleaning myself).

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Super Tuesday Fun with Highways: I-80

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So how to continue our “primary highway series” when so many states are voting at once? Well, we can't visit them all, but we touch several important places with a trip along Interstate 80. I-80 runs the entire width of United States connecting New York City to San Francisco, two cities to which I have connections. In between New York and California, it crosses three other states voting this Tuesday: New Jersey, Illinois and Utah. We have already visited two other states crossed by I-80, Iowa and Nevada, during earlier contests.

Actually, I-80 never enters New York. Rather, its eastern end is in Teaneck, a town on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge:

It would have been cool if I-80 crossed the bridge along with I-95 into New York. Perhaps then splitting at the Bruckner Interchange in the Bronx (yes, I had to get the Bruckner Interchange into this article) before heading out to Long Island.

North of New York City is Chappaqua, “hometown of CatSynth and Hillary Clinton,” as I have mentioned a few times on this site. And while it is my hometown in that I grew up there, Hillary's original hometown is a little bit west of New York and New Jersey, in Chicago. But of course you can get there by heading west on I-80, which passes through Chicago's southern suburbs.

Chicago is all the home of Barack Obama. So we have two candidates with Chicago roots, either of whom I would be very happy to support.

What a strange position to be in, to have such a choice – and I admit I have had a hard time deciding. There are historic opportunities with each, connections to various aspects of my own life (geography, education, mixed heritage). I guess it's much better than 2004 when I was excited about no one.

Traveling further west along I-80, we eventually come to Utah, a place of striking natural beauty that I would love to visit again soon. In the south are canyons, stone formations and other wonders of the southwest. In the north, along I-80, are the Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats:


[Click to enlarge]

When they say salt flats they mean flat. It is an incredibly stark landscape, and that's part of what makes a great experience. And the silence. Longtime readers know how such things appeal to my personal and aesthetic sensibilities. Although I have been to the Great Salt Lake, I did not get to see Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, which is considered a major work of modern American art, and which I have seen reproduced countless times.

Heading further west, we cross Nevada and then arrive in California, where I-80 crosses the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, my new hometown.

I-80 actually ends as the western approach of the Bay Bridge, although most people (and road signs) suggest that it continues into San Francisco to US 101. This section of freeway actually cuts through my South-of-Market (SOMA) neighborhood, contributing to its urban, industrial feel.


[Click to enlarge]

I did manage to find my polling place, and will soon have to make a choice as this election season reaches home. But it is great that those of us in California finally get to make a difference. Same for the folks in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Utah. So many of us have had very little opportunity to actually have a say in the process, long dominated by Iowa and New Hampshire and the South. The rest of the country will finally have to listen to the people in our major urban centers and in the west. And I'll be satisfied with whomever we end up choosing (at least in one party).

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Fun with highways: Goethal's Bridge Crossing

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We turn our focus once again to the New York metropolitan area. Countless motorists take I-278 over the Goethal's Bridge from “the armpit of NJ to the ampit of NY,” as at least one website so eloquently described it. The armpit of NJ is presumably Elizabeth, and the armpit of NY is of course Staten Island.

This isn't our first encounter with I-278 here at CatSynth. Its eastern terminus is the Bruckner Interchange, featured in a previous “fun with highways” article. Between the Goethal's crossing and the Bruckner Interchange, I-278 meanders it's way through all four “outer boroughs” of New York City. An interesting description of I-278 from Steve Alpert:

I-278 is a horrid excuse for an Interstate, patched onto a network of existing freeways including the Staten Island, Gowanus, BQE (Brooklyn-Queens), and Bruckner Expressways… and the Grand Central PARKWAY.

There is certain symmetry to I-278, connecting from I-95 in the Bronx to I-95 in New Jersey…except that it doesn't end there. It keeps going past the I-95/NJ Turnpike interchange into Elizabeth, eventually ending at an intersection with US 1 & 9. It seems like I-278 was destined to continue further into New Jersey, perhaps to meet with it's missing parent I-78, or even cross I-287 at some point. I-278/I-287 interchange, that would be trippy…

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