NAMM 2018: Pedro Eustache Plays a WMD Synchrodyne

NAMM is full of serendipitous moments. One of those occurred as we passed the WMD booth and saw a live performance unfolding with flute and woodwind virtuoso Pedro Eustache performing on a vintage wind instrument controlling a WMD Synchrodyne module.  We featured it on CatSynth TV.

Eustache informed us that his wind instrument was an unusual one from the 1970s, and that he was using it as a CV controller for the Synchrodyne.  He found the combination to be quite expressive and complete, and we can certainly hear that in his performance.

WMD Synchrodyne

The Synchrodyne is intended to be a complete synthesizer voice in a module, and it has the combination of sawtooth VCO, filter, and VCA that are the building blocks of subtractive synthesis.  But it also includes a built-in Phase-Locked Loop (PLL) controlling the VCO, which adds a variety of new sound and control dimensions.  PLLs can be challenging to use – the concept implies stability but often includes chaotic phases – but controls on the PLL for dampening, speed and input influence provide more musical control.  Additionally, the VCO provides support for frequency modulation.  Finally, there is a wavefolder on the front end of the filter that provides additional non-linear signal processing and distortion options.  WMD puts it succinctly in their description of the module:

Containing several pieces to a traditional synthesizer voice, the Synchrodyne is a powerful addition to any subtractive oriented system. However, it is designed primarily as an experimental sound source/filter, intended to push the limits of modular synthesis…WMD style.

This is not your classic subtractive analog synthesizer voice, as one might find in a Moog synthesizer or the Korg Prologue that we reviewed in an earlier article.  It is a beast, but with practice, we see how it can be an expressive musical instrument on its own. We look forward to trying it out ourselves one of these days.  And we thank Pedro Eustace for being so gracious after the performance and sharing with us his process making music with the Synchrodyne and his wind controller.  From his official website:

“In Pedro’s own words: ‘I simply hope–and I really work hard at this, through ‘active submission’–that someday, whenever I see my Creator I would be able to give Him an answer worthy of the ‘package-of- grace’ he entrusted me with.'”

 

http://wmdevices.com
http://pedroflute.com/

NAMM 2018: Korg Prologue and Waldorf STVC

We would be remiss if we didn’t visit the Korg booth at NAMM, especially as Waldorf was there as well.  We took some quick peeks at some of the new offerings, which you can see in this video.

The Korg Prologue synthesizer was among the most hyped instruments leading up to NAMM, so we of course had to check it out.

Korg Prologue

It is quite pretty, with a sleek black front panel and wooden side panels.  The analog synth was not that exciting to us, as we at CatSynth are rather spoiled by the offerings of Dave Smith Instruments such as the Rev2 or Prophet 6.  And it doesn’t fill the niche of the Minilogue as an affordable polyphonic analog synthesizer.  What intrigues us is the open architecture for the digital oscillators that will allow advanced users to add their own programs.  At NAMM, it is difficult to impossible to explore this, but we look forward to learning more about in the future.

Waldorf STVC

By contrast, the Waldorf STVC string synthesizer and vocoder was fun to play and sounded great on our first test.  The vocoder played more smoothly with my voice than the Roland VP-03 that I frequently use (including in the opening for CatSynth TV).  But it does require dialing in the exact right patch for one’s voice.  When we returned to the booth to record our video segment, it took a while to find something that worked, and it wasn’t quite as good as that first time.  But we know this is part of the deal with vocoders, and they require practice to play well.

 

NAMM 2018: Rossum Electro-Music

Rossum Electro-Music Assimil8r.

We visited our friends at Rossum Electro-Music at NAMM and were treated to an in-depth demonstration of their Assimil8or module by Marco Alpert.

We are grateful to Marco for his demonstration, not just because it made our video awesome, but because it helped better understand what is a complex module.  The Assimil8or is a sample engine with many of the features one found in classic E-MU samplers, and more (Dave Rossum being the mastermind behind E-MU’s popular instruments).  One particularly intriguing advance was the timed switching among samples, which allows one to move between different tracks seamlessly while remaining in time (the Cars example in the video demonstrates this quite well).  There is also “virtual tape-scrubbing” of audio.  Of course, everything is CV controllable.

Combining the Assimil8or with the Morpheus module (which we at CatSynth own and enjoy) and the Control Forge, one can assemble something akin to an E-MU sampler on steroids, with vastly more complex and rich control options, including at audio rate!  Even the Morpheus on its own is rather overwhelming, but having seen the modules in action by the folks who made gives us ideas on how to use it better.  We look forward to more experiments with these modules from Rossum Electro-Music!

More info can be found at http://www.rossum-electro.com.

(Disclosure: Amanda Chaudhary of CatSynth used to work for E-MU Systems, several of whose principals are now at Rossum Electro-Music.)

NAMM: Qu-Bit Electronix New Modules

Qu-Bit Electronix modules

One of our first stops at NAMM 2018 was to visit our friends at Qu-Bit Electronix to see what they are up to.  They have three new modules, Synapse, Nebulae MK2, and Scanned.  We had a chance to try them out for ourselves – you can see a bit of our experience in this video.

We at CatSynth own and enjoy using the original Nebulae module, but the MK2 is a significant improvement, with more versatile and expressive controls for pitch, speed, and granularity (rate, window, etc.).  The main speed button traverses quite a range both forward and backward, and features a quick reset to unity by pressing.  Similar functionality is available with the pitch button.  The granularity features go beyond the original, including the ability to freeze the sound in place to create a steady timbre from any section of a recording.

The Scanned module is perhaps the first hardware implementation of scanned synthesis technique pioneered by Max Matthews and others.  The simplest way to describe it is as a system that provides the control of a struck or plucked string, but with a far greater range of sound than a vibrating string, such as any wavetable source.  The module has independent controls for pluck, tension, and many more parameters, of course all individually controlled via CV.  With pitch and gate input, it becomes the starting block for a rich modular instrument.

Although not included in the video demo, the Synapse is an interesting and handy module for mixing, switching, and otherwise routing a variety of CV sources to various destinations all from a single module.  It makes your CV sources more like a mixer with cross-fades and such.

Qu-Bit Electronix

 

It’s always fun to check in with Qu-Bit, and we look forward to seeing more of these modules.

Scott Amendola’s Orchestra di Pazzi at Slim’s, San Francisco

Our first music report of the year features the final show we saw in 2017. Scott Amendola assembled a cast of seasoned improvisers for a concert at Slim’s in San Francisco that took us on quite a journey over two full-length sets. It was the subject of our last CatSynth TV.

As one can hear in the video, there were a variety of textures throughout the two sets. My favorites were the forceful rhythmic sections, some of which came at the very start of the performance. There were also quite a few “operatic” segments that featured the voice of Pamela Z, who was also manipulating samples through various electronic processes. Aurora Josephson’s vocals provided a counterpoint with different timbres and style.

Aurora Josephson and Pamela Z

The ensemble includes three electric guitars (Henry Kaiser, John Schott, and Fred Frith) and three percussionists (Jordan Glenn, Robert Lopez, William Winant). As we have often remarked, doubling and tripling of such powerful instruments can be treacherous, especially in an improvised setting. But it worked here, as everyone had a distinct sound, and the good sense to always listen and lay out when appropriate. In fact, to my ears the music, especially during the more operatic less rhythmic sections, was dominated by the concert string section, consisting of Christina Stanley and Alisa Rose on violin, Crystal Pascucci on cello, Zach Ostroff on string bass, and Soo-Yeon Lyuh on haegeum. At various points, Mark Clifford cut through the harmonies and timbres on the ensemble with frenetic solos on vibraphone.

 Crystal Pascucci

The ensemble was rounded out with the wind section, which included the entire Rova Saxophone Quartet: Bruce Ackley, Larry Ochs, Steve Adams, and Jon Raskin. I felt like I didn’t hear as much of a distinct voice from the saxophones as I did from the other sections, but that was perhaps because they blended with the violins and cello.

In all, it was a fine night of music to wrap up the year. As we often do at Slim’s, we enjoyed the concert from the balcony over dinner and drinks, but we also had the chance to mingle with our many friends in the ensemble and the audience. We look forward to more music from everyone in their own projects in 2018.

Fred Frith Trio, IMA and Watkins / Peacock at Starline Social Club, Oakland

Today we look back at the December show at the Starline Social Club featuring the Fred Frith Trio, IMA, and Watkins / Peacock. It was the subject of a recent episode of CatSynth TV.

In addition to giving a great interview, Zachary Watkins performed a great set with collaborator Ross Peacock, featuring a large array of electronic gear, with interesting rhythms, harmonies, and timbres throughout. The largely improvised set included several patterns and patches from Watkins as well as solo work by Peacock on a vintage Korg MS-20.

Wakins and Peacock

IMA, the duo of Nava Dunkelman and Jeanie Aprille Tang (aka Amma Ateria) provided a very different sound and style combining percussion and electronics.

The timbres of Nava Dunkelman’s percussion and Tang’s electronics complement each other, with the electronics weaving between the frequency ranges and timbres of the percussion. This worked especially well with the metallic sounds. Having played together as a unit for a while now, IMA’s improvised sounds have a tight structure and narrative quality.

Then it was time for the Fred Frith Trio to take the stage. In addition to Frith, the trio features Jason Hoopes on bass and Jordan Glenn on drums.

Like IMA, the trio locked in even in more free-form improvised sections to maintain a rhythmic and virtuosic quality. They have developed a musical language among the three of them that allows them to converse and also listen during “monologues”, like Frith’s solos or Hoopes’ dramatic bass patterns.

We had a great time at this show – the Starline is a good place to see live music. The stage lighting was almost a performer in its own right, constantly changing and adapting to the music. The fog could have been a bit lighter, though.

John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring at the Warfield, San Francisco

Today we look back at the recent concert by John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring at the Warfield in San Francisco. We at CatSynth were fortunate to have been in attendance for this event.

It was billed at as “The Meeting of the Spirits Tour”, and the two groups, officially Jimmy Herring & The Invisible Whip and John McLaughlin & The Fourth Dimension were far more connected musically than in many bills. This connection was established with the first song from Herring’s set, the Miles Davis composition “John McLaughlin.” There were other covers in the set as well, including a tune from The Allman Brothers Band and another Miles Davis tune “Black Satin.” But there were also several of Herring’s originals, including “Matt’s Funk” which I quite enjoyed. It was an extremely tight funky number, which harkened back both to the 1970s and to Herring’s own musical heritage from the jam band era of the 1980s and 1990s.

After a break, the maestro himself took the stage with the other members of The Fourth Dimension.

John McLaughlin
[John McLaughlin]

They played selections from their recent album Black Light but then launched into classics from Mahavishnu Orchestra to the delight of us at CatSynth and many others in the audience. In true “Mahavishnu” style, these were extended jams with everyone taking turns providing solos and rhythm-section work. And this led up to “Meeting of the Spirits” and bringing Herring and the members of The Invisible Whip back on stage for an extended third set.

Meeting of the Spirits
[Jimmy Herring & The Invisible Whip join John McLaughlin and The Fourth Dimension]

A “supergroup” set like this can be treacherous, even with master musicians. This is especially true when combining multiple bassists and drummers. But it worked, and worked well, as the two bands blended together into a Mahavishnu tribute. And the doubled bass and drums locked in together into something reminiscent of a live King Crimson set. (See our review of King Crimson at the Fox in Oakland from earlier this year.). I suspect this collaboration got better over time and coming near the end of the tour we probably got to hear one of the best versions.

Bronx Museum of the Arts: Gordon Matta-Clark, Susannah Ray, Angel Otero

I make a point of dropping in the Bronx Museum of the Arts when I’m back in New York. This most recent visit did not disappoint, with three strong exhibitions of arts with connections to the borough and New York City at large.

Gordon Matta-Clark: Anarchitect turns familiar notions of architecture upside-down with many projects featuring cuts, holes, and other modifications to derelict and abandoned buildings in New York and beyond. The Bronx of the 1970s was one of his main canvases and the point of departure for his practice. His series featuring the iconic graffiti of the borough’s subway trains and facades leads the exploration, with Matta-Clark observing the built environment as it is.

Gordon Matta-Clark Subway and Graffiti series

The next level of his work modifies the built environment by adding his own elements, or rather removing parts of existing architecture. In his Bronx Floor series, Matta-Clark removes a section of the floor of an abandoned building on Boston Road. This serves as a setting for installations and photography.

Gordon Matta-Clark, Bronx Floor
[Gordon Matta-Clark. Bronx Floor]

Like Matta-Clark, I find these spaces of the Bronx of the 1970s quite inspiring on an aesthetic level. My enjoyment of this often overlooked aesthetic is a bit tempered by the notion that these buildings ended up this way through a variety of bad circumstances: neglect (sometimes deliberate), poor city planning, rising inequality, etc.

From the foment of the South Bronx, Matta-Clark took his concept to Manhattan. In his 1975 project Day’s End, he cut large holes into the abandoned Pier 52 along the Hudson River (I remember the derelict piers that used to line the lower West Side all to well from the 1970s and 1980s).

Gordon Matta-Clark, Day's End
[Gordon Matta-Clark. Day’s End (Pier 52 in Manhattan)]

This served both as a sculpture and installation in its own right, but also as a performance an exhibition space. Interestingly, the authorities did not notice the initial work cutting out a piece of the building, but they did find out about the performances and happenings, and were none too pleased by this. Eventually, the city dropped charges while he was working on a project in Paris.

Gordon Matta-Clark, Conical Intersect
[Gordon Matta-Clark. Conical Intersection (Paris)]

Conical Intersect cuts out a section of a partially demolished mansion in the Les Halles district, adjacent to the still-under-construction Centre Georges Pompidou. This was the setting for film and still photography projects, as well as performances and happenings (including “including roasting 750 pounds of beef for passersby on the Pompidou plaza” [
[Susannah Ray. Hutchison River and Co-Op City, 2015.]

Seeing Ray and Matta-Clarks photographs in the same visit shows the evolution of the Bronx, and in particular how the natural spaces have improved since their nadirs in the early 1980s. The lower Bronx River was once a disaster but is returning to new natural-urban balance in recent years.

Susannah Ray.  Canoes, The Bronx River, 2013
[Susannah Ray. Canoes, The Bronx River, 2013]

You can read more about the revitalization of the lower Bronx River in this 2016 article. Again, we find beauty in these spaces and admire the work that Ray and others are doing to share it.


The final exhibition takes a decidedly inward turn compared to the explorations of Ray and Matta-Clark. In Elegies, artist Angel Otero explores the long history of painting. His large “deconstructed” paintings bring together traditional practice, abstraction, and collage.

Angel Otero.  The Day We Became People, 2017
[Angel Otero. The Day We Became People, 2017]

The exhibition is organized in relation to Robert Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic series and includes stark black-and-white pieces from Motherwell, sometimes with statements on art and painting.


[Robert Motherwell]

Otero’s work stands apart from Motherwell’s in its vibrant colors and relation to space, as well as its unique use of material. Although titled Elegies, the paintings are not really elegies at all – or at least not in the typical sense. There is an optimism in his work.

The paintings were all created specifically for this Bronx Museum exhibition.


Our visit to the Bronx Museum was also the subject of a recent CatSynth TV episode, which also took us a little further south to visit our friends at the Bronx Brewery in Port Morris.

Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi SPOILER Review

Our latest CatSynth TV focuses on The Last Jedi, the latest episode in the main Star Wars series. It doesn’t cover everything, but it does contain SPOILERS! Please enjoy responsibly.

Soundtracks at SFMOMA

Greetings, and happy third night of Hannukah! Today we look at the Soundtracks exhibition currently on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) through the end of the year. It is also the subject of our most recent CatSynth TV episode.

The exhibition explores the intersection of sound, visualization, and space, and features over 20 artists. There are a variety of interpretations and methods of making sound, from acoustic to mechanical to electronic. None of the sound installations are overpowering, but many do arrest ones attention. Upon arriving at the 7th floor for the exhibition, one is created by Anri Sala’s Moth in B-Flat, which features a mechanically triggered snare drum hanging inverted from the ceiling.

Anri Sala - Moth in B-Flat, 2015
[Anri Sala. Moth in B-Flat (2015_]

The electro-mechanical theme continues with O Grivo’s Cantilena, which includes several motorized sound-making sculptures primary made of wood.

O Grivo - Cantilena, 2017
[O Grivo. Cantilena (2017)]

These were fun to watch, and I found myself wanting to make one myself (we shall see if that actually occurs).

Simplicity reigned in Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s clinamen v.3. A large shallow pool of water contained floating ceramic bowls. The frequent collisions of the bowls created a music that was very captivating.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot - clinamen v.3, 2012–ongoing
[Céleste Boursier-Mougenot. clinamen v.3 (2012–ongoing)]

This piece was deeply calming, and I found myself zeroing in on groups of bowls as they collided and separated to form rhythms and harmonies.

Ambient soundscapes were also the heart of an installation by Brian Eno, New Urban Spaces Series #4: “Compact Forest Proposal,”, with a darker tone and more complex technology.

Brian Eno - New Urban Spaces Series #4: “Compact Forest Proposal,” 2001
[Brian Eno.New Urban Spaces Series #4: “Compact Forest Proposal” (2001)]

One is free to wander the darkened space amidst the moving columns of LED lights. Every once in a while, the light increases and one gets glimpses of shadowy figures on the wall. The sounds ranged from small percussive synth hits to trumpets to electronic noise.

Electronic noise was also at the heart of Christina Kubisch’s installation Cloud. Kubish’s work explores sonification of data and electricity. The mass of red electrical wires emits electromagnetic radiation, which was interpreted as sound using customized headphone devices.


[Christina Kubisch. Cloud (2011/2017)]

Of all the installations, this was the among the most challenging to take in sensually or to document. I love the concept, and I think it really needs an extended period of time alone to experience fully.

From the large to the small. We had fun with Sphere Packing by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, which featured several spherical speaker arrays made from those ubiquitous white Apple earbuds.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer - Sphere Packing, 2013 and 2014
[Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Sphere Packing (2013 and 2014)]

Each was playing a different selection of classical music from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, rearranged and diffused asynchronously through the speakers. Lozano-Hemmer also had an installation Last Breath that included a recording of breathing by the late Pauline Oliveros.

We conclude with another project visualized as a sphere. Lyota Yagi’s Sound sphere featured a sphere wrapped in cassette tape that freely rotated and revolved. Customized pickups rendered the sound from the tape, which is chopped, looped and distorted based on the chaotic motion of the sphere.

Lyota Yagi - Sound Sphere, 2011
[Lyota Yagi. Sound Sphere (2011)]

All of these pieces were inspiring for my own work, as I want to do more sound installation in the coming year. There were more in the main the exhibit and spread around the museum, but beyond what I can cover in this article. We do encourage you to check out our video to hear how some of these pieces sound. And if you are in the Bay Area, we strongly recommend checking the exhibition out before it closes on January 1, 2018.