Posts Tagged ‘review’

Base 4 and the Bay Area Improvising Tag Team Ensemble

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Despite being extremely tired from a major event as well as a rehearsal this past weekend, I did manage to catch a performance of jazz and improvisational antics at Berkeley Arts this Sunday evening. The evening opened with Base 4, a jazz trio featuring Bruce Friedman on trumpet, Derek Bomback on guitar, and Alan Cook on drums and percussion.

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They performed very abstract versions of standards, including Afro Blue and Solar, two favorites of mine. There was also free improvisation and some lesser-known compositions. It was a technically strong performance, a full of creative details.

Then we switched rooms for a completely different experience with the “Bay Area Improvising Tag Team Ensemble.” Not really an ensemble, this cast of characters assembled by Moe! Staiano performed free improvisation “refereed” by Gino Robair. Basically, performers were given signals of when to start and stop, and could within that context tag one another to play together and switch instruments. There were, however, penalties that could be levied against performers. A penalty meant holding a can of motor oil and not playing until it lapsed or another penalty was committed.

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As with sporting events, one could find disagreement with the referee. In this case, I strongly disagreed with Gino’s giving Polly Moller a penalty for using a wah-wah pedal. We at CatSynth approve of wah-wah pedals.

Here are some other scenes from the evening’s performance. We begin with Matt Davignon on turntable and Moe! Staiano on drums.

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Bandmates Polly Moller (Reconnaissance Fly) and Melne Murphy (Surplus 1980).

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Mark Clifford and Kyle Bruckmann. Mark does not usually play bass.

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Brian Tester and Yacob Roli Glowniss.

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Rounding out the ensemble for the evening were Dominique LeoneJacob Felix HeuleJason Hoopes, and others who I have missed.

Overall it was a lot of fun to watch, especially when things got more rhythmical or when a penalty was eminent. The performers who I talked to seem to have a lot of fun as well.

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Quick takes: MAS attack LAxSF and Surrey Street Salon

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It’s been a while since I have reported on one of those evenings with multiple cultural events that enrich life here. One recent rainy evening involved a visual art opening and a salon with a variety of performances.

I started at 17th Street Studios in the Mission for MAS Attack: LAxSF, a one-night show that featured 30 artists from Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively.

One of the particularly intriguing pieces in the show was Miri Chais’ Rabbit Hole, with its organic circular forms but technology-inspired details and changing blue patterns of light. The mixture is intentional, and the title is inspired by Alice in Wonderland.

Miri Chais Rabbit Hole

Utopian Heads by L.A. artist Mark Dutcher caught my attention for its evoking of painting styles and concepts of the early twentieth century experiments. The title of the piece seems to fit with that as well.

Mark Dutcher, Utopian Heads

It seemed that the artists from L.A. dominated my attention at the show. As with the above pieces and the one below by Steven Wilkoff, they seemed to unapologetically modern.

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But these piece from Oakland-based artist Scott Greenwalt did provide a contemporary take on abstraction.

Scott Greenwalt

It was then off to Glen Park, just a short trip south from the Mission along the miniature freeway known as San Jose Avenue. (But that’s a story for another time.) My destination was the Surrey Street Salon for a fun evening of performance with a circus theme. So of course there were clowns with vaudeville-style musical numbers.

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There was also serious musical talent on display. I was quite impressed with Tin Sandwich, an all harmonica band.

Tin Sandwich

Their instruments ranged from tiny inch-long specimens to the large bass harmonica.

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Their arrangements, while mostly traditional songs, were quite tight, and included some impressive solos. I would definitely want to see them again.

Surplus-1980 bandmate Moe! Staiano also performed, this time on solo percussion.

Moe! Staiano

His avant-garde percussion playing is frenetic, moving quickly from on idea and one instrument to another, whether it is part of his traditional drumset or superballs against the window.

In all, it was a great evening of music and art, and the two events provided quite a contrast in style.

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NAMM 2014: New WMD / Steady State Fate modules

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Analog-module makers WMD had a strong presence at this year’s NAMM show. In addition to their existing offerings, which include both utility and more esoteric modules, they presented a set of devices that were jointly made with Steady State Fate (SSF). You can see a demo in this video.

It was fun how they made Zip, our trusty stuffed kitty, rock out to the modular :)

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Battle of the iPad Docks NAMM 2014: Miselu C.24 vs Focusrite iTrack

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Once again, iPad docs were a popular offering at NAMM. Perhaps the most unusual and interesting was from Miselu, a small San Francisco-based company. The C.24 acts as a hard-shell case for a standard-size iPad, but opens up into a dock with a two-octave keyboard and other controls.

Miselu C.24

The keys, which feel quite different from standard keyboard/synth keys, are magnetic rather than mechanical, and include aftertouch. The connection to the iPad is via bluetooth, bypassing the issue of Apple’s changing the port shapes. And it includes a space for expansion controllers above the keyboard. This is an intriguing device, though it is not yet available.

The iTrack from Focusright is perhaps more conventional in the world of iPad docks. But what makes it different is that can support both iPad Minis and full-sized iPads.

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It also includes audio support based on Focusrite audio technology and with mic and line level I/O. MIDI is supported via USB.

Both of these are interesting devices, it depends on ones need for portability and MIDI keyboard versus audio support.

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NAMM 2014: Waldorf 2-pole

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Waldorf introduced a new analog filter, the 2-pole at this year’s NAMM show.

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Those of us who spend time with analog synthesis are quite used to all sorts of complex filter topologies, most of which have at least four poles. So a two-pole filter seems a bit simple by comparison. But Waldorf is known for taking simple concepts and turning them into complete instruments. The 2-pole includes low-pass, band-pass, and high-pass elements, and also includes drive and rectify settings. It also includes its own envelope and LFO, as well as live triggering capabilities.

You can see a full demo of the Waldorf 2-pole in this video:

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NAMM 2014: Moog Theremini

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The most notable new offering this year from Moog Music, Inc. was the Theremini, a very accessible incarnation of the classic theremin.

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The design of the instrument evokes classic science fiction of the 1950s and 1960s (in which the theremin was a mainstay), and it features modern enhancements including a variety of tones and effects, support to stabilize pitch, and CV and MIDI for external control. And it’s MSRP is $299.

I decided to try my hand at this fun and photogenic instrument.

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You can see a bit of my attempt to perform one-handed in this video.

I can see this being a great tool for live performance, both standalone and as a controller for analog synths. I look forward to learning more about it.

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NAMM 2014: Teenage Engineering OP-1 and OpLab

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Our friends at Teenage Engineering were back at NAMM, with the latest iterations of the OP-1 and OpLab.

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The little screen on the OP-1 continues to delight, with one of the most unique interfaces from a non touch screen.  They added a new module that allows one to use the device as an Etch-A-Sketch and draw out pitch contours.  It even includes the shake-to-erase gesture.  The little cranks that go on top of the knobs are also new.

The OpLab, including some branded sensors, seems to finally be ready for prime time.

 

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The OpLab does allow one to use alternative sensors, and outputs control voltage suitable for analog modular synths in addition to controlling the OP-1.

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NAMM 2014: Big City Music (Metasonix, Mellotron, Leon Dewan)

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One of our perennial stops at NAMM is to the Big City Music booth to see what’s new and play with old favorites. There is always an impressive display of analog modules, including the “wall of synth” from Analog Solutions.

analog solutions wall of synth

Of course, Big City Music also prominently displayed a full complement Metasonix modules. This included the new spring reverb (at the bottom) that does not conform to the usual yellow color.

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I spent a little time with the Mellotron, including a demonstration of the original instrument and its extensions. You can see a bit in this video:

Towards the end, you can see the mechanical elements for the tapes at work.

We also visited again with Leon Dewan, who presented his Swarmatron instrument. Here he demonstrates, and I tentatively try to play as well (one handed as I am also holding the camera):

Although most of these instruments were familiar ones, it is great to see them in action again.

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NAMM 2014: Sensaphonics Ear Protection

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We at CatSynth take ear protection very seriously, so our first visit and first article of NAMM 2014 was Sensaphonics for custom ear protection, now in a variety of colors. These devices better preserve overall frequency response while attenuating volume. They are also good for those of us whose ears don’t fit the “average”. These will come in handy when I play out with my bands.

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CatSynth at NAMM 2014

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Once again, we at CatSynth are going to be attending the big NAMM show in southern California, starting on Thursday. I will be focusing on synths and other music technology, but I also enjoy finding fun and esoteric musical instruments of all sorts.

Stay tuned to these pages for full coverage during the show, along with live updates via Twitter @catsynth and Instagram. And if you’re attending, maybe I will see you there :)

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