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.

RIP Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016)

We have lost yet another musical hero this year. Pauline Oliveros, composer, innovator and pioneer of the concept of “Deep Listening”, passed away on November 25.

Pauline Oliveros
[Photo by Pinar Temiz via flickr. Available via Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

Her influence over the decades in experimental electronic composition and rethinking our relationship with sound cannot be underestimated. She was one of the founders of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 1960s. The following video features her composition Bye bye butterfly, a title that seems very apt with her passing. It was composed during her time with the center and features two HP oscillators among other elements.

Although an electronic composition, one can hear and sense the sounds that would become important in Deep Listening, looking for and finding joy in small details and the sounds in between other sounds. The beating patterns and other elements in this electronic piece were certainly present in performances of Heart Chant that I participated in with the Cardew Choir. She coined the term “Deep Listening” in the late 1980s, and went on to found the Deep Listening Institute. I should let her describe the meaning and origins of the term in this video.

Oliveros and I intersected on multiple occasions, both in person and through her music. However, it is clear that she even more profoundly touched many of my friends and colleagues who are mourning her passing with a multitude of personal memories. We at CatSynth extend our condolences do them, as well as to Pauline Oliveros’ family.

Fun with Highways: I-587 in Kingston, New York (and Deep Listening)

Today we look at the city of Kingston, New York. Kingston is about 90 miles north of New York City on the west bank of the Hudson River. It was the first state capital of New York in 1777. For those of us in the world of electronic and experimental music, the city is the current home of renowned composer and musical innovator Pauline Oliveros as well as the Deep Listening Institute which she founded.

Kingston is also the location of one of the most obscure and oddest Interstate highways, I-587.


NY-28I-587I-587, known as Colonel Chandler Drive, is co-signed with NY 28. It is a full freeway from it’s start at a traffic circle near the New York State Thruway (I-87) to its eastern terminus at an intersection with NY 32 (Albany Avenue) in downtown Kingston. Other than its termini, it has no exits. It also never meets its parent route, I-87, though the traffic circle at the western end does connect to Exit 19 of the Thruway.

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

I-587 is signed along its route and at either end, but there is no mention of it on signs for Exit 19 on the Thruway. Thus, travelers on I-87 would never even know its there unless they took the exit and encountered the signs at the traffic circle.

By coincidence, I will participating in a performance of Pauline Oliveros’ The Heart Chant with the Cardow Choir at this year’s Garden of Memory event in Oakland. You can read past reviews of this unique yearly event and here. As for The Heart Chant itself:

This participatory Deep Listening meditation is a gesture of sonic healing for all beings and circumstances that need healing. It was created in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. “Ah” is a vocal sound associated with the heart shakra.

Anyone at the Chapel of the Chimes tonight is welcome to participate in singing this piece. There will also be numerous other performances by noted Bay Area musicians, and I hope to see as many of them as I can. You can follow along with me on Twitter @catsynth with hashtag #gardenofmemory.

Garden of Memory 2010

This past Monday on the Summer Solstice I once again attended the annual Garden of Memory at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland. This year, I was going not just as an audience member and reviewer, but also to participate with the Cornelius Cardew Choir, and also ended up playing in an impromptu electronic improvisation.

Being practical, I first crossed the building to where the choir was located to check in and drop off a few things. On the way I encountered Randy Porter’s “one man orchestra” featuring prepared guitar, brass instruments and tubing. This was a fun performance to watch, and it did not escape me that there were a lot of kids watching him, too.

After dropping off my stuff, I wandered around the corner following some strong bass tones that echoed around the hallway. In one of the side chambers, Beth Custer was performing clarinet. She produced a variety of standard and extended-technique tones. I was wondering if she also was going to perform using the array of other wind instruments behind her. I continued to follow the resonant bass sounds and in a side room found Thomas Dimuzio performing dronelike sounds with guitar and effects. This section of his performance had long tones with heavy distortion and bass undertones that were the source of resonances in the main hallway. I sat to listen for a few minutes as his tone gradually moved away from distortion towards something more pure sounding. Nearby was an outdoor patio, where Orchestra Nostalgico was playing minor-key jazzy music that reminded me a bit of klezmer.

[Schocker, Ueno and Fong. (Click to enlarge)]

One of my favorite new performances this year was the trio of Ken Ueno, Adam Fong and Edward Schocker. Ueno’s expressive and virtuosic vocals, which focus on a variety of extended techniques, blended well with Schocker’s performance on glasses and Fong’s bass. For example, Ueno’s vocals used techniques like throat singing with strong resonances, which complement harmonics on the bass. The sounds were more delicate at times, but the performance an aggressive, harder sound overall which I found welcome. It is interesting to note that they were situated in the Chapel of Tenderness.

Maggie Payne had an installation in the same room as last year, once again making use of the fountain and other elements of the room. Next door was the Crank Ensemble, who were getting started with a new piece as I arrived. The instruments cover a wide range of sound-generation techniques and timbres, but they are all hand cranked. As such, they tend to produce regular rhythms of repeating notes and different rates. The piece began with some slow patterns of metallic and plucked sounds, but as more performers came in it got increasingly complex, with faster rhythms and more variety. One thing that is always readily apparent is how much physical effort it must take to operate some of those instruments, especially given the repetitive nature.

An equally rhythmic but very different performance was unfolding in the Chapel of Eternal Wisdom. Laura Inserra performed on an instrument called a hang, a large tuned metal pod set against a percussionist with three tablas (as opposed to the standard two). The duo quickly built up complex but meditative rhythms. Interestingly, there was another hang performance nearby (I am not sure which group this was, however).

[Laura Inserra. Hang and tabla performance. (Click to enlarge)]

In the columbarium, a heard a performance of Gino Robair’s opera I Norton. I had seen a large production of the piece at least year’s San Francisco Electronic Music Festival. This performance once again featured Tom Duff in the role of Norton I, “Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.” Robair performed with a small custom electronic instrument alongside a Bleep Labs Thingamagoop (I do want to get one of these at some point), with small portable speakers and taking advantage of the acoustics of the stone room. This performance also featured dance elements, and the two dancers also provided theatrical supporting vocals.

[Scenes from Gino Robair’s I Norton. (Click images to enlarge.)]

Wandering back I heard Theresa Wong performing cello while singing a blues song. I have heard her perform cello both solo and in ensembles on many occasions, but had not heard her sing blues before. I then walked by another performance featuring cello. Albert Behar and the Movement combined cello with electronics to produce ambient music that sounded like a score for a film.

I passed by a trio with our friends Tom Djll, Karen Stackpole and Ron Heglin. The combination of brass (Djll and Heglin) with Stackpole’s trademark gongs seemed like it would be quite a contrast, but at this particular moment, the short tones on the gongs and the bursts from the trumpet and trombone seemed to match in overall contour if not in timbre.

[Cornelius Cardew Choir. (Click image to enlarge)]

It was then time for my first shift with the Cornelius Cardew Choir. We were performing a four-hour version of Pauline Oliveros’ The Heart Chant, in which performers enter and exit a circle, and while joined with others sing long tones on a steady pitch in between breaths. This turns out to require a lot of energy, singing a series of long tones for about ten minutes, especially for someone who does not do a lot of singing. I did my best, and also simultaneously listened to the sounds of the other voices and the overall harmonies. My favorite moment was when the harmony evolved organically into a steady perfect fifth. The overall quality, while very focused on the body and breadth, was meditative and calming. The piece is supposed to be one of healing, and I used the opportunity of this performance to send healing vibes to someone who needs them.

At sundown, around 8:30PM, we led the annual ringing of bells, as part of Brenda Hutchinson’s Daily Bell project, which started in 2008 but continues every year. At 8:32PM bells started ringing throughout the main hall, gradually getting louder as more people joined in; and then a minute later, it came to an end.

After sunset, I wandered down to the Sanctuary, a small dark room, where Sylvia Matheus and Thomas Miley were performing a large and richly textured electronic improvisation with a mixture of synthesized sounds and vocal samples. Gino Robair had joined in with the instrument he had used in I Norton, and at Matheus’ invitation I joined in as well, using several iPhone instruments such as the Bebot and Smule Ocarina. This spontaneous performance was a welcome coda to this long evening of music.

The Heart Chant at Garden of Memory 2010

As I have for the past two years, I will be attending the Garden of Memory walk-through performance event at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland on the summer solstice this Monday.

This year, in addition to exploring and writing reviews (follow these links for my 2009 and 2008 reviews), I will be performing with the Cornelius Cardew Choir. We will be performing a version of The Heart Chant by Pauline Oliveros that will span the entire evening (about four hours).

This participatory Deep Listening meditation is a gesture of sonic healing for all beings and circumstances that need healing. It was created in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. “Ah” is a vocal sound associated with the heart shakra.

Basically, the piece unfolds with members or the choir forming a circle, with each performer placing their right hand over his or her heart, the left hand on the heart position on the back of the person to the left, and then repeatedly singing the syllable “ah” in long steady tones for length of a breath. Choir members and audience participants (everyone is invited to participate) can enter or exit the circle at any time.

It is a very meditative and healing piece. I am planning to be part of the circle at the time leading up to sundown (8-8:30PM), and I have also chosen a recipient for whatever healing energy I create as part of the performance.

Luxe at Hotel Biron, SF Electronic Music Festival, and “The Company”

I have been remiss in writing about the many art and music events from this past month. And especially in regards to the first week. I found myself attending events every night between September 4 and September 7, each of which had at least some personal connection. This was a coincidence, but it was also a great antidote to the just-concluded McCain-fest and the parade of speeches proclaiming “Small Town Good, City Bad.” What better response than to step outside for an evening walk in search of friends, art, music, food and drink.

The night of the 4th was the opening of a photo exibition by Luxe at Hotel Biron. It is not in fact a hotel, but a wine bar in the Hayes Valley neighborhood that features monthly art exhibits. It is a small, darkly lit and intimate space, with dark wines in huge glasses, and brick walls that provided quite a contrast to the photographs on display.

The exhibition was titled “Her Being and Nothingness” and featured a series of self portraits. In each image, the focus is on “the body.” The face is either absent or obscured, and the poses and attire vary in each. We of course know they are self portraits (itself an interesting concept in photography), but without the usual cues for identity. In this case, we draw the conclusion directly from the bodies.

Of course, the recognition is easier if the artist happens to also be a personal friend. Multiple of Luxe’s prints are on display at CatSynth HQ, so I can definitely be considered a “fan.” A more in-depth review can be found

On Friday, I attended the second night of the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival at the Project Artaud Theatre.

The performance opened with two works by Richard Teitelbaum, professor of composition and electronic music at Bard College. His first piece, Serenissima, featured two wind performers and a laptop computer running Max/MSP. The computer was performing spectral processing on samples and the live instruments, which could themselves control the sound. The wind instruments included several clarinets, including a contra-bass clarinet (which one does not see every day), performed by Matt Ingalls. The second piece was Piano Tree, for piano and computer, and was in part a tribute to Teitelbaum’s father, David and to “some musical forbears whose work has influenced me greatly.” The piano part, which included many extended and “prepared piano” techniques (a nod to John Cage), was performed by Hiroko Sakurazawa.

The next set was from Myrmyr, the local duo of Agnes Szelag and Marielle Jakobson. The combine experimental recording and live computer-based processing with a variety of acoustic instruments, including cello, violin and voice. The result is still very much “electronic music,” but it has a more traditional sound as well, especially in the parts that feature voice and songs. Myrmyr was accompanied by members of the sfSound ensemble during part of their performance, primarily with undulating long notes and “drones”. Again, the effect was both experimental and more “familiar” at the same time.

The final was from Ata “Sote” Ebtekar. He calls his music “a new form of Persian Art Music,” which I was very interested in hearing. However, the performance was so overpoweringly loud that I really was not able to appreciate it. I wish more electronic musicians would take care not to do that. Certainly, some music will be quite loud, I have come to expect that, but it should not remain so an extended period of time.

The following night was my performance with Polly Moller and Company at El Mundo Bueno Studios in Oakland. Polly Moller and Company in Oakland. We had a great set that combined elements from different past performances. And, as Polly relates, it was a “good crowd of nice people most of whom had not heard us before.” And it was interesting contrast to the other performances, which included folk music, traditional Celtic singing, and belly dancing.

On Sunday, it was back the SFEMF for the final night. This performance featured a collaboration of ]Pauline Oliveros and Carl Stone. Oliveros is of course on the giants in modern American music, the founder of the music practice Deep Listening and one of the founders of the original San Francisco Tape Music Center. History aside, this performance was quite contemporary, laptop-based, and very much in keeping with the other performances of the festival.

The second performance, Barpieces was a duo of Charles Engstrom and Christopher Fleeger. However, to those of us in the audience it appeared as a solo performance event though it was actually a “remote duo.” This was a bit of logistical improvisation in the wake of Hurricane Gustav.

The final performance of the festival was by Hans Fjellestad, a Los Angeles-based musician and filmaker, whom some readers of CatSynth may know from his documentary Moog. His performance featured analog electronics and custom instruments that were a contrast to the previous performances of evening, both sonically and visually:

In addition custom electronics in the transparent boxes with blue lights, he also had a Moogerfooger and one of the infamous tube-effects boxes from Metasonix. The performance consisted long evolving analog sounds, noise bursts and other effects. And it provided a conclusion to the festival by adding another variety of “electronic music” to the mix.