First visit to Cat Town Cafe

The Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, California is the first cat cafe to open in the United States. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit for the first time.

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The cafe is essentially divided into two sections. The first resembles a standard small cafe but covered with cat photos. Here is where one checks in to visit the cats as well as order drinks and small snacks, all made by local Oakland-based businesses. After ordering, visitors can cross an airlock to the cat room. This is a spacious area designed at least as much with the cats in mind as the humans. They are plenty of places to play, hide, eat, and sleep. The interior wall is covered with a mural featuring Oakland cityscapes and a few celebrity cats like Grumpy Cat and Li’l Bub. The cat furniture pieces are one-of-a-kind based on landmark Oakland buildings, including city hall, the twin Federal Building, and the Oakland Tribune Building.

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The largest concentration of cats during my appointment was in the Tribune building. For the first half hour they were all napping, but one could gently reach through the openings to pet and stroke the cats. One little girl particularly seemed to enjoy the attention, and eventually she got up to stretch and explore.

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Turns out her name is Athena, and she was quite playful after her nap. A few of us took turns playing with her as she wandered the space. She particularly enjoyed feather toys.

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Like most cats at the cafe, she comes from local shelters via Cat Town, an Oakland-based organization that recused and fosters cats in the community. The cafe has been extremely successful in adopting out cats. As of my visit, 77 had been adopted since the they opened in October. And it is always crowded with humans, especially on weekends. Indeed, they have sold appointments for every weekend since opening!

I’m sure I will be back to see the cats and find out more about the workings of the cafe. We at CatSynth also hope their success will help others get off the ground. There is at least one now open in New York, and there is currently one planned for this year in San Francisco.

Oakland Internet Cat Video Festival

The 2nd Annual Oakland Internet Cat Video Festival took place a little over a week ago. Large numbers of cat lovers and cat-video enthusiasts descended on a block of West Grand Avenue along The Great Wall in celebration of cats, and of course your author was there, complete with crazy-cat-lady dress and bag.

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The daytime part of the event had more of a street fair atmosphere, with numerous booths providing food and miscellaneous cat-themed products under a bright but cloudy sky. There were also numerous organizations involved in fostering and adoption of cats, including the East Bay SPCA (one of the main beneficiaries of the event) Cat Town, and Oakland-based group that finds foster and forever homes for local cats and is also opening what may be the first cat cafe in the United States!

Cat Town

Many of the organizations brought adoptable cats and kittens for viewing. We certainly hope some found homes that day.

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The celebrity rock star of the event was Li’l Bub, who was on hand for visitors to meet.

Li'l Bub

Our friend Serena Toxicat of Protea performed a feline-themed set of music for voice and electronics. Among her songs was a tribute to the manual (or Pallas Cat) with the warning not to get too close to one despite its awesomeness.

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Other daylight fun included a photo booth from the makers of 9lives cat food, inviting visitors to Instagram and tag themselves as #MorrisAndMe (and of course #catvidfest).

Finally, the sun set and the actual videos began. The videos were from a curated reel featured at the Minneapolis Cat Video Festival hosted at the Walker Art Center., and featured many familiar videos such as Henri the existential cat and Grumpy Cat, but also new discoveries.

Henri the existential cat

What makes this experience unique is not the videos themselves, which so many of us know from our time on the Internet, but the act of getting together and watching them with others, and laughing together at the cat antics.

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I am certainly looking forward to this event coming back again next year!

Reconnaissance Fly at DUENDE, Oakland (March 26)

Today we look back at Reconnaissance Fly’s recent performance at DUENDE on Oakland. DUENDE is a venue and tapas restaurant/bar that has been quite supportive of the new music community (I have been remiss in writing reviews for some of the other shows I have seen there), and also has delicious food and wine.

patatas bravas and Tempranillo

The patatas bravas are simple but delicious. The Tempranillo was quite nice as well.

The performance itself was fun. We had a good audience, mostly filled with familiar faces but that is always welcome. And we premiered a couple of new pieces, Spirograph by Polly Moller and Undeciphered by Tim Walters, which featured text in the undeciphered Linear A script (go look it up). Here are some views from the show.

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Amanda Chaudhary
[Photos by MSW.]

Yes, I deliberately matched the color of the Nord.

Rounding out the band as always were Rich Lesnik on reeds and Larry the O on drums.

We are now busy working in more detail on those pieces and at least one more new one for our next show at the Makeout Room in San Francisco in early May.

A Tale of Two Duos

Today we look back at duo performances from the middle of September: an electro-acoustic spoetry performance with Polly Moller, and a punk-themed Pitta of the Mind performance at Bay Area Ladyfest. Musically, conceptually, and socially, these were contrasting experiences, but both very rewarding. Both duos combined voice with live electronics, and both involved my feminine persona . They also provided opportunities for different styles of playing and collaboration.

Ode to Steengo is a piece based on spoetry (spam poetry) derived from Harry Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” series. Polly Moller and I performed it several times as an electro-acoustic duo in 2008 and 2009, and then later in our band Reconnaissance Fly. We reprised the piece for our duo performance at The Nunnery in San Francisco on September 15. It was a more expansive interpretation, with more instrumental breaks and live processing of voices. It was also different in that I used the analog modular for the electronic parts. The Make Noise Echophon was great for processing Polly’s vocals and wind instruments. And overall, I thought this was our best performance of this piece to date. The technology, timing and overall musicianship were strong, and we both had a good time while playing. You can enjoy it in its entirety via the video below:

Amar Chaudhary / Polly Moller Duo: Ode to Steengo, The Nunnery 9-15-2013 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The performance by Pitta of the Mind at Bay Area Ladyfest in Oakland was something altogether different. Maw Shein Win and I interpreted several classic punk-rock songs as “art-damaged” music and spoken word performances. Musically, this involved a mixture of idiomatic and freeform improvisation on electric piano, mixed with some odd synth sounds. As with Steengo, the performance itself was a lot of fun, and in this case we made that a deliberate and overt part of the show. This was especially apparent in our final piece, an interpretation of The Ramones’ “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” where we invited the audience to sing along with us.

Pitta of the Mind at Bay Area Ladyfest: The Ramones “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Both performances were well received by the audiences, which filled their respective venues, and of course I hope to do both again. Pitta of the Mind already has two more performances scheduled this year, and of course Polly and I perform together quite often. It is a good reminder to make time for duos as a specific performance format even while spending much time on solo work and on full-size bands.

Reconnaissance Fly in January, with Luke Westbrook, Grex and Greenlief/Dykstra/Perkis

Today we look back at two Reconnaissance Fly performances in early January. The first was a return to Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento, and the second was at Revolution Cafe in West Oakland. By coincidence, we shared the bill on both nights with guitarist Luke Westbrook who was visiting from New York.

This was Reconnaissance Fly’s third gig at Luna’s – we like playing there and not just because it shares my cat’s name. But the stage was once again a bit cozy for a band of our size, even more so now that we have a fifth member, Chris Broderick on reeds (saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet). This was our first public performance with the new quintet lineup. So it was a bit of puzzle trying to get the bass, drums, keyboard and bass flute on the stage, and still find room for the people who play them. But somehow we managed.


[Photo by Tom Djll]

Our set went well – at least, I was pretty happy with it. Our opening graphical score improvisation piece Small Chinese Gong went off without a hitch. As Neat As Wax is becoming our most consistently well-played song, as it is not too difficult and it is quite lyrical and rhythmic. Electric Rock Like a Cat and Sanse Iz Crede Nza are our most difficult, but also the most energetic and got a great response from the small but enthusiastic audience when we hit the final notes.

After striking the stage, it was time to relax with beer and guacamole and other treats and enjoy the next sets. Luke Westbrook took the stage for a solo guitar performance.

He has a very intense stage presence and a virtuosic technique, but the music itself has a certain ease to it. It began with gentle arpeggios that had a consistency even as they were constantly changing. These evolved into more defined repeated phrases over time that were occasionally punctuated by the occasional chromatic tone or blues-like bend. Later on, the music become more distorted with noisier and more percussive elements. There was a passage of single repeated tones that provided an increasingly anxious vibe before settling down again.

Westbrook was followed by Philip Greenlief and Jorrit Dykstra on saxophones with Tim Perkis on electronics. On the things I look for in electro-acoustic combos is how well the electronic and acoustic parts blend. In the case of this trio, they blended quite seamlessly from the start with long tones of subtly different intonation. The music soon became more animated, with syncopated saxophone rhythms set against low gurgly electronic sounds.

There were many humorous moments with matching squeaks and bleats, and richly textured moments with multiphonics against electronic pads. Perhaps the most amazing moment of the entire set was a long virtuoso noise solo by Dykstra. It is hard to describe in text, but it was one of the most impressive saxophone performances I have heard in a while. The later sections of the performance featured more percussive saxophone sounds, key clicks and striking of the metal hardware set against contrasting electronics with vocal and wah-wah effects.


Revolution Cafe is located deep in West Oakland, not far from the rebuilt I-880 freeway, which makes for an interesting exterior environment. The interior is something altogether different, with every surface adorned with vintage and eclectic artifacts. There were street and highway signs, political posters (from old Oakland Mayoral elections to the most recent Jean Quan recall announcements), vintage keyboard instruments, strange dolls and even a shrine of sorts of Frank Zappa. I spent quite a bit of time just photographing the space before even considering the music.



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The show was actually the latest incarnation of Karl Evanglista’s Light A Fire series. I had performed in this series last year with solo electronics. This even opened with another solo guitar set by Luke Westbrook.

Westbook’s performance was actually quite different from the one he did two night’s earlier. While his technique was on display both nights, this one was more virtuosic and more diverse in terms of material and sound. This performance was mesmerizing. I had a sense of warmer colors as he played, though that may have been a kinesthetic combination of the cafe’s ambience and Westbrook’s harmonies.

Next up was Grex, the duo of Karl Evangelista on guitar and Rei Scampavia on keyboard, voice and flute. Their music covered quite a bit of range, some more song-like with voice, keyboard and guitar, some closer to free-jazz with fast-moving improvised lines. One memorable moment featured featured a mellow guitar solo – Evangelista is quite a versatile guitarist – that morphed into in a driving loop pattern with distortion that produced its own harmony.


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I believe at least some of the material was from Grex’s recently release CD. You can follow the link above to find out more info.

Finally, it was our turn to take the stage. I had toyed with the idea of using the Cafe’s B3 for An Empty Rectangle, but in the end decided it would have been a lot of effort, especially with a stage that seemed to be even smaller than Luna’s Cafe We had a lot of fun and played with a lot of energy that matched the intensity of Revolution Cafe’s decor. It didn’t feel as tight or accurate as we would want for a Reconnaissance Fly set, but it did have the humor that has become part of our band’s character.

Additionally, the visuals of the space and the presence of the old keyboard instruments did inspire me to consider a future solo performance or installation there. I don’t have much more to say about that yet given everything else that is going on this season, but something to consider for later…

Reconnaissance Fly in Oakland and Sacramento next week

The first performances of 2012 both feature Reconnaissance Fly with our new expanded lineup.  Chris Broderick joins myself, Polly Moller, Tim Walters, and Larry The O.  We will be back at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento on Monday and then at in Oakland on Wednesday.  Details below:

Monday, January 9, 2012, 7:30PM
Luna’s Cafe, 1414 16th Street, Sacramento, CA

Reconnaissance Fly is back hoping to get stuck in the Luna’s Cafe guacamole once more. Phillip Greenlief & Jorrit Dykstra will play transcendent saxophones and Luke Westbrook will make guitar magic.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012, 9PM
Light A Fire Returns! Luke Westbrook/Grex/Reconnaissance Fly
Revolution Cafe,1610 7th St, Oakland, CA

The Light A Fire series returns! This will be the pilot show for a brand new curation–if we turn out, this series stands to provide a regular home for the local creative music scene. Come out and enjoy the weird and wonderful environs of Cafe Rev in Oakland (fully stocked with great food, coffee, a stage area, and copious seating…)

1. Luke Westbrook/Vijay Anderson Duo
Luke Westbrook (guitar), Vijay Anderson (drums)
westbrookmusic.net

2. Grex
Karl Evangelista (guitar, vox, etc.), Rei Scampavia (keys, vox, etc.)
www.grexsounds.com

3. Reconnaissance Fly
Chris Broderick, Amar Chaudhary, Polly Moller, Larry The O, and Tim Walters
www.myspace.com/reconnaissancefly

Fun with Highways: The Bay Bridge Turns 75

This past Saturday, November 12, marked the 75th anniversary of the opening of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge, known conventionally as “The Bay Bridge.” It is a regular part of life for many of us here, one of our main connections to the communities across the bay and a principal landmark during walks in my part of the city. It has been featured in many previous articles here on CatSynth.

The Bay Bridge is a workhorse, spanning over 4 miles and carrying an estimated 270,000 vehicles a day, making it second busiest in the U.S. after the George Washington Bridge in New York. But the western double-span is quite a beautiful structure, both as seen from the hills of San Francisco and from up close.


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Don’t let that last photograph fool you. Even though it may look like it was taken 75 years ago, it was actually taken yesterday using the iPhone Hipstamatic app during an early afternoon walk by the bridge.

It was quite an engineering feat when it was built, the longest bridge of its time and built in challenging geography of the bay.

[Image from Wikimedia Commons.]

This video (as seen on the official Bay Bridge info site) captures both the era and the engineering:

Much like the Brooklyn bridge when it was first built, the Bay Bridge towered over the surrounding architecture of the cities it connected. It is anchored in the middle to Yerba Buena island with tunnels connecting the two spans of the bridges. On the the San Francisco side, it is anchored to Rincon Hill, once an upscale neighborhood in the late 1800s that fell into rapid decline and largely destroyed in the 1906 quake. The eastern bridge was built resting on mud rather than bedrock. It was the most expensive bridge built to date.

The idea of a bridge crossing the bay has been around since the 1800s. Indeed, such a bridge was proposed by Emperor Norton in the 1870s (I think this even made it into Gino Robair’s opera I Norton). But unlike his other proclamations, this one seemed like a good idea. After that, there were many proposals, such as this one that in some ways resembles the bridge that was actually built.

The bridge proposed in this drawing connected to Telegraph Hill rather than Rincon Hill, and has suspension bridges on both sides of Yerba Buena island.  The spires also make it look like some of the older suspension bridges on the East River in New York.

When bridge first opened, it carried US Highways 40 and 50 as well as the trains from the Key System in the East Bay. The upper deck had longer ramps leading to Harrison and Bryant Streets at 5th, roughly the same as the rather long ramps at those streets today. On the Oakland side, the bridge had viaducts from Cypress Street (Highway 17) as well as San Pablo Avenue and the Eastshore Highway (US 40). The bridge now carries Interstate 80 across the bay. The railway is long gone. Gone also are the connections to the old Transbay Terminal and Embarcadero Freeway, both of which have been demolished. The area under the bridge on the San Francisco side, once a gritty industrial waterfront, is now a picturesque boulevard that is great for walking. Through all of the changes, the bridge itself has not changed very much at all…

[Bay Bridge approach, 1940s]

[Bay Bridge and Embarcadero, 1970s and 1980s. Photos from Wikimedia Commons.]

[Present day, Bay Bridge and southern Embarcadero. Photo by CatSynth]

…until now. The eastern truss span, which was badly damaged in the 1989 earthquake, is now being replaced with a new more graceful cable-stayed span. The construction has progressed to the point where the tower is in place and the cables are being hung. It is indeed a bit distracting when traveling the bridge. But I am looking forward to seeing it completed, probably around the 77th anniversary in 2013.