March for Science SF, April 22, 2017

Yesterday we at CatSynth attended our local March for Science, part of a nationwide – and indeed, international – network of marches protesting the continued devaluing of science and reason in our public discourse and policy-making. From the March for Science Mission Statement

The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest

People who value science have remained silent for far too long in the face of policies that ignore scientific evidence and endanger both human life and the future of our world. New policies threaten to further restrict scientists’ ability to research and communicate their findings. We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely. Staying silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford. We must stand together and support science.

And indeed, a great many people gathered here in San Francisco to stand up for science, as can be seen in this picture, courtesy of the March for Science Facebook page.

The overhead view shows the march heading southwest on Market Street. At ground level, the march was characterized less by the density and size of the crowd, but its clever signs. To be sure, there were appropriate denunciations of Trump that would lead many to question the “nonpartisan” nature of the event, but more were just fun, smart, perhaps a bit snarky. All of which is awesome.

I must also say this was probably among the quietest of marches I have attended. Polite, perhaps even a bit introverted if a march can be described that way. There is no doubt the passion of many of the folks participating, but we do tend to be a quieter, more cerebral bunch. It lacked the exuberance of the annual Pride Parade, or even the loud vocal indignation of the Occupy protests in 2011 and 2012. For me personally, the most important message was “I can’t believe we actually are out here marching for this.” For a long time, science was well respected in public discourse (even if scientists themselves were sometimes teased). There has long been an anti-intellectual streak in American politics and discourse, but it has come to a new and dangerous level with the outright scorn and erasure of science by the angry populist movement that sees in Trump, a man proud of his own scientific illiteracy, a champion. This long predated any one person, but it’s long past time to stand up. Even nerds in lab coats have to get political in this climate.

If there was one thing that particularly bothered me about the crowd, it the relatively low representation of people of color. The lack of diversity in science, engineering and related fields is a topic of ongoing discussion. But it did make me feel a bit alienated politically and socially from the older, whiter, somewhat hippie-ish elements of crowd.

The march ended with a “science fair” in front of City Hall. It was pretty much a normal street fair, but the booths had a scientific theme to them. I was happy to see Mission Science Workshop, an organization dedicate to bringing both understanding and joy of science to one of our diverse local neighborhoods. I also saw the both of Association of Women in Science. I have to admit I quite like their hashtag/motto.

There was also a group of artists who do scientific illustrations. Among them was this pamphlet on circuit bending. I’m glad to see circuit bending making its way into the world of science education 😺

I did not stay long at the fair. It is not really my thing, especially on a cold and blustery day, and I had things to prepare for that evening. I am glad to have participated in the march, but the real questions will be what comes next.

CatSynth: The App! 2.5.0 for iOS Released

We have a new version of CatSynth: The App! available on the Apple App Store. This is a tremendous update. The best version of CatSynth: The App! ever. We have rethought the user experience while preserving the distinctive style. It also happens to match Sam Sam’s markings quite nicely.

It is smoother and simpler to browse and read articles on your mobile device. And for the built-in Mystery Synths, we have added MIDI input support!

You can play the synths with an external MIDI controller or sequencer using either the network or (on iPads) a class-compliant MIDI USB device. We will have some video demos of this soon.

If you have an iOS device, please do try out the app and let us know what you think! 😺


CatSynth: The App! on iTunes

Lake Oroville and the Oroville Dam

We at CatSynth have been following the events at Oroville Dam here in California quite closely. While the worst of the crisis has passed for, we do send our thoughts to those in the along the Feather River and in the low-lying areas along the Sacramento River that remain in danger of flooding, especially during and after massive storm systems like the current one were experiencing.


[Click to enlarge]

Oroville, as the name implies, was an important trading town during the Gold Rush era. It sits at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada along the Feather River which cuts through the mountains. The Oroville Dam was built it the 1960s – it remains the tallest dam in the United States, and Lake Oroville is a rather deep lake – second to Lake Tahoe but a distant second. It also the second largest reservoir in the state.

The landscape in the area is quite beautiful as the water combines with the Sierra foothills as well as the human-made structures, like the dam, the hydroelectric plant and the Bidwell Bar Bridge. The original Bidwell Bar Bridge was the oldest suspension bridge in California. It was relocated when the area – including the town of Bidwell Bar – was flooded in the creation of Lake Oroville and still serves as a pedestrian bridge.


[Jet Lowe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

A newer suspension bridge replaced it over the lake.


[By Thad Roan from Littleton, CO, USA, http://www.Bridgepix.com (Bidwell Bar Bridge, Oroville, California) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Highway 162 crosses the bridge, and connects the town of Oroville to Highway 70 and the Sacramento Valley. Highway 162 continues westward towards the wide flat Thermalito Afterbay, a wide shallow reservoir that is part of the Oroville system, and serves both agricultural water delivery and regulation of the main lake and the power plant.

Highway 70 heads southwards towards Sacramento, passing the towns of Marysville and Yuba City , where it continues as a freeway towards Sacramento. Yuba City is interesting as the home to perhaps the largest Sikh community outside the state of Punjab in India. Many of the Sikh settlers in the area became farmers, in particular peach farmers. And the town hosts a large annual festival that brings in thousands from outside the area.


[By Jujhar.pannu (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons[]

The volume of water in the lake, its height, and the dramatic contrast between the foothills and fertile flat low-lying Sacramento Valley make Lake Oroville a “lynchpin” of the California water system, but also quite dangerous in the event of a dam failure. We should be clear that currently the main dam is sound, it is the main spillway and emergency spillway off to the side suffered damane rainstorms. But that could still send large volumes of water to flood large areas of the valley below. The original evacuation order (lifted before the current storm system) covered Oroville, Yuba City and other communities along the rivers. The danger in terms of a catastrophic event would also extend to the Sacramento River and the delta, where numerous “islands” exist below sea level and are protected by an aging levy system.

We hope everyone along these vital waterways remains safe. And as the Oroville Dam system is repaired and upgrade, hopefully this provides the state the proverbial “kick in the tuchus” to address the rest of our aging infrastructure.

NAMM 2017: Moog Music Tribute to Synthesizer Pioneers

This year our friends at Moog Music, Inc. had a very different sort of booth. Instead of the usual array of gear for demonstration, the space was bare and stark, with a simple kiosk and a wall dedicated to the many synthesizer players and innovators we lost in 2016.

It was a rough year for the synthesizer community. Among those we lost were Pauline Oliveros and Don Buchla, both of whom were memorialized here on CatSynth and whom I had known in person. There were also images and statements for Keith Emerson, Bernie Worrell, Isao Tomita, and Jean-Jaques Perrey.

Visitors were invited to wander the space in contemplation or with a mix of music from the artists on classic Walkmans. Visitors could also leave social media tributes to one or more artists and have an opportunity to win one of several current Moog instruments, including a Werkstatt, Mother-32 and even a new Model D.

We didn’t win, but were very touched by the way Moog used their space to pay tribute to the many heroes we lost in 2016. It was a unique and moving experience at this year’s NAMM show.

Farewell to 2016: Annus Horribilis

2015 may have been a difficult year, but 2016 was a true annus horribilis. It was a year of loss. The graphic only represents a subset that we elegized in 2016 here on CatSynth. Some were personal, some were heroes, some symbolic. There were many deaths. A dark illiberal populist pall has been cast over the country and the world. But most of all, I am still grieving for the loss of our beloved Luna.

How does one keep going after a year like this? The answer I give to friends who have asked that question in the past is that we have no choice. Surviving is what we do, until that day when we don’t.

To be fair, there were many good things this year. Much good music and art that we have written about; career and personal life are much better now than they were a year ago as well. And we look forward to many adventures with our new cat Sam Sam in the coming years.

It’s hard to know what will come to in 2017. It’s a prime number, which brings us a modicum of joy. A see quite a bit of anxiety ahead, but also things to look forward to, including in January. We shall see…

RIP Alphonse Mouzon, Vera Rubin, Carrie Fisher

2016 continues to be a year of losses. Below we visit three people whose work has influenced our diverse interests here at CatSynth and who passed away since this holiday weekend.


[By Dontworry (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Alphonse Mouzon was one of the important early artists in jazz fusion, and performed with many of our musical heroes, including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Gil Evans. In 1971, he joined Wayne Shorter and the rest of Weather Report for their debut album Weather Report. The band has a mixed history – something we should write about on another occasion – but those first albums in the early 1970s have a sound that were quite influential and resonate with those of us who love jazz fusion of that era. You can hear some Mouzon’s 1971 work with Weather Report in this video:


Vera Rubin is a name that should be better known that it is in popular culture, as her contributions to cosmology and astronomy are central to our current understanding of the universe. Her work made the case for dark matter and its prevalence in the universe. It was another step in the process of understanding our place in the universe. The earth, then the sun, then the galaxy, all became just small and non-centrals parts in a much larger universe; and the discovery of dark matter showed that the “stuff we are made of”, the ordinary baryonic matter (all the chemical elements and such that we learn about in school) is only a small portion of the mass-energy of the universe. Dark matter has since been eclipsed by dark energy in terms of cosmological composition.

In addition to the grand perspective, Rubin’s work helped us understand why galaxies like our own Milky Way are shaped the way they are and move the way that they do. She was also a strong advocate for women in science, not just in her own career and field but overall in terms of advocacy in inspiration.



[By Riccardo Ghilardi photographer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

From great science facts we move to great science fiction. Star Wars is one of the important mythologies in contemporary world, and many of us who saw the original movie in 1977 remember it vividly. While Carrie Fisher was not one of the comedic droids or Darth Vader, her character Princess Leia was important to the story in ways a kindergarten-age kid couldn’t quite fathom at the time. What also makes Fisher particularly interesting is how she presented herself, flaws and all, completely outside of the mythology of Star Wars. She was brutally honest and with a dark, dry sense of humor that came out in real life and in Princess Leia. Indeed, after she reprised the role for Episode VII, she was very up front taking on the trolls who mocked for simply doing what we all do: age. Her semi-autobiographical Postcards from the Edge was an accidental discovery in a video store – I liked seeing women leading a dark story, and only afterwords realized that Fisher wrote the screenplay and the original book.


We at CatSynth send our regards to the families of Alphonse Mouzon, Vera Rubon, and Carrie Fisher; and to all those taken by 2016.

RIP The Bear (1995-2016)

2016 has claimed another hero. The Bear was the grand old man of multiple books and blogs by self-described “cat man” Tom Cox. We had read his book Under the Paw in one of its earliest editions back in 2008 – you can read our brief review here. In the book, The Bear immediately came to the forefront even in a household with many cats. He was already an old cat whose body had a scars of one who lived life hard but survived to tell it. And those sad, sorrowful eyes spoke volumes. These traits have earned The Bear a loyal following on his Twitter feed @MYSADCAT. Posts often pictured a picture of The Bear with his sad eyes and snarky quotes about music or current events. As The Bear survived year after year passing the milestone of 20 in 2015, he seemed indestructible.

But this is 2016, the year that felled Fidel Castro, along with a great many of our musical heroes and feline friends. We read the sad news on Tom Cox’s blog, where he pays tribute to his kind friend of so many years. With the recent loss of our beloved Luna, we at CatSynth can sympathize. We send our heartfelt condolences to Tom Cox and to the rest of his human and feline family.

Welcome Samantha!

Samantha

We at CatSynth are excited to introduce the newest member of our family. Samantha, aka “Sam Sam”, came to live with us one week ago today.

Samantha comes to us via our friends Michael de la Cuesta (of Vacuum Tree Head and Karen de la Cuesta. She has had a challenging few years, with multiple moves – she is well traveled throughout California – and the death of her long-time human followed by the move by her subsequent human into assisted living. I hope she can have a happy and stable life her at CatSynth HQ. She’s still a bit nervous from all the changes, but she is starting to come out more; and has shown herself to be a very sweet and affectionate cat.

She has been thoroughly exploring CatSynth HQ and finding her own places. Here we see her posing among the artworks on the staircase.

It will take a little time for to fully adjust to life her, but we think she is going to be happy. So please join us welcoming Sam Sam!

Thoughts on the Oakland Ghost Ship fire

Long time readers may know that fire is among my biggest fears. I fear fire in every rickety wooden space where I go to play or hear music. Most are fairly safe, with alarms, sprinklers and clear corridors. And even in those few cases where there weren’t, my attention shifted to the music, fellowship and always had a wonderful time. That’s why we go. It’s what we do, it’s what we love. We, artists, have no choice but to create and participate. It could have been any of us.

Oakland warehouse fire
[By Janna487 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

By last count, the fire at the Ghost Ship in Oakland on December 2 claimed 36 lives. We at CatSynth send our thoughts and condolences to their families and close friends. I was worried for many dear friends who might have been there. They fortunately have all checked in safe in the week since, but they are grieving deeply in the aftermath for their friends who were lost. I feel for them, and try my best to remember those who perished with whom I crossed paths like Cherushii (aka Chelsea Dolan), Cash Askew, and others. But this is not my story. It is the story of my friends who knew them best. The personal remembrances they have posted are not mine to share. I did find this article helpful in understanding the victims better. Their stories are another reminder that it could have been any of us.

As we grieve, we in the arts community brace for a round of crackdowns on spaces, from both authorities and landlords. Ghost Ship was an outlier – most spaces while operating in the margins do more often than not operate with a concern for safety and cleanliness and civility. These are the spaces that are now under attack – it’s starting to happen beyond Oakland, with reports from New York, Denver, and here in SF. My own neighborhood in San Francisco was a warren of old factory buildings and warehouses that contained a thriving underground scene in the 1980s at a time when I just a kid in New York buying a first synth. I saw the waning days of that scene, with some of the last large artist-studio buildings being displaced in the past couple of years to make way for offices and condos. Fire is not necessary for authorities to displace artists, but it can certainly make it easier. But even the most safety-minded among us can’t compete easily in places when both the powerful and the populists do not value artists. New York has done better. The grim artists’ spaces of the lower east side may have long given way to boutiques, restaurants, and other upscale spaces but artists are still colonizing spaces and they have “paths to legality.” If authorities here want to help safety in a way that doesn’t show contempt for artists, a similar system of support for bringing things up to code and then operating would be useful as well.

Although I maybe starting to “age out” of some of the underground spaces of the Bay Area – even if my spirit wants to be there, my body and mind are not as enthusiastic – I still cherish many of my past experiences both as a performer and an attendee. My first time out and about in the world as Amanda was at a large warehouse space in West Oakland in 2011, and shortly afterwards I performed at a very nice space in an old factory in East Oakland as her. Some of my early shows in the mid 2000s at underground spaces in San Francisco were very informative for my solo practice today – a few of them even written up here on CatSynth, but I hesitate to link directly to them as authorities may use them in their crackdowns.

This is already a perilous time for those of us in marginalized communities, such as people of color and LGBTQ individuals. Coming together to create and enjoy, even in the edges of society, is one way we cope and thrive; and now we have to fear that may become more challenging as well. So some will forced further out to the edges. And another tragedy will happen.

It could have been any of us.