μHausen (micro-Hausen) 2018

Today we look back at this year’s μHausen, a “micro-festival” of experimental electronics that takes place every summer deep at a secure undisclosed location in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  It was the subject of our most recent CatSynth TV episode.

As suggested in the video, I was thinking a lot about our natural surroundings as we made music with our thoroughly artificial electronic instruments.  The trees, the air, the light, all seemed to be of a piece with the music at times.  I also thought about the fact that I had not been able to attend the last three installments.  In 2015 and 2016 I had to cancel or decline because of medical issues, and I’m not sure what happened in 2017.  But I was back now and was great to see and hear everyone.

First up was Peter Elsea, recently retired from his longtime position as a professor of electronic music at UC Santa Cruz.  On this occasion, he performed with a small rig that included a modular synthesizer and an electronic wind instrument.

Peter Elsea

His set featured tones that were timbrally rich and often noisy, but still pitched.  This worked well with the wind controller which allowed the noisy tones to swell and fade musically.  But there were also some beautiful moments of quiet pure tones that evoked the natural surroundings.

Next up was Later Days, a project featuring Wayne Jackson with his iOS-based evolutionary synth  MendelTone, which allows patches to “breed” and evolve.

There was an urgent “machine-like” quality to the music, with low drones oms mixing with high swirls of sound and various percussive hits.  Wayne is also the founder of this event and often its leader, but this year he ceded organizing duties to R Duck (of the R Duck Show), who performed next.


[Photo by Later Days (Wayne Jackson)]

The first segment of his set featured beautiful drones of processed guitar. There were quick runs, but they were absorbed into the overall sound.  Over time, the tone and structure darkened, with more complex timbres and harmonies set against slow but anxious guitar riffs.  He also teamed up with Later Days to deliver his perennial incantation featuring chocolate.  (Did I mention that we at CatSynth love chocolate?)

Next up was synthesizer virtuoso Doug Lynner, who performed on a Eurorack-based Serge modular synthesizer.


[Photo by Later Days (Wayne Jackson)]

I have long come to expect very complex and intricate sounds from Doug, often set in a very sparse texture where one can clearly hear the details.  That was certainly the case in this performance, which opened with light sounds reminiscent of birds and whale songs.  It could have come from the surrounding woods rather than the synthesizer on stage (OK, the bird sounds could have, probably not the whale sounds).  After a period of rapid modulation, the music settled into a different pattern, with a contrapuntal texture of long ascending tones reminiscent of sirens.

Lynner was followed by Paul Nicholson who had a large Korg-centric rig that included both a Minilogue, an MS-20 and an SQ-1 sequencer among other instruments.

His opening piece was more traditionally harmonic compared to the preceding sets, with slowly changing harmonic patterns that evoked late-20th-century minimalism (think Steve Reich and John Adams).  The second portion of the set featured some harsher sounds and noise centered around Nicholson’s modular synth.

Then it was time for me to take the stage.  I brought a rig that included the large 9U modular, a Casio SK-1 and my trusty Moog Theremini.


[Photo by R Duck]

As with most of my recent solo work, I select one of my more formal compositions as a point of departure.  In this case, it was “White Wine”, with the melody set against one of the SK-1’s drum beats.  This them morphed into a broken and complex break of sound and eventually to a pure improvisation with the modular and theremin, though the beats never really disappeared.  As I was when listening to the other sets, I was thinking about the natural surroundings – in my case being the “city girl” mastering my place in space and sound, even if just for a few brief minutes.

The final set featured Lemon DeGeorge on harmonica and electronics.

Lemon DeGeorge

The harmonicas (like a true player of the instrument, he had more than one) added a unique dimension to the music, and the electronics followed with long breathy tones.  The sounds appeared to build up layers upon layers into something heavy and enveloping, but never overwhelming.  Compared to Nicholson’s sounds, DeGeorge’s lone tones and patterns were thoroughly inharmonic but no less beautiful or musical.

Overall it was a fine afternoon of weird electronic music in the woods, and not just for the music itself but for the fellowship with friends who I don’t get to see that often.   I remained in the mind space of the show, the environment, and the sounds for a while on the drive back, at least until reaching I-880 and heading first into Oakland and later home to San Francisco, where I snapped back into my everyday urban life.

 

New Video Review of Solo: A Star Wars Story

Our latest CatSynth TV episode features a review of the latest offering in the Star Wars franchise, Solo: A Star Wars Story.

The video has some spoilers in it, so we advise waiting to watch it until you have seen the movie.  For now, here are some non-spoiler takeaways:

  • The movie continues to fill in the storyline between Episode III and Episode IV, along with the Rebels TV series and Rogue One.
  • Donald Glover is great as Lando Calressian!
  • Star Wars does a good job with its gangsters and bar and club scenes, going all the way back to the Mos Eisley cantina.  There is no shortage of such scenes in this movie.
  • It’s a smaller scale story than the main movies or even Rogue One.  And force-wielders are less prominent than in any other movie or series.
  • Sadly, no cats.

We do recommend it for Star Wars nerds like us, as well as casual viewers. 😺

#KSW45 and CatSynth: A Personal History

As Kearny Street Workshop gets ready to celebrate its 45th anniversary, we at CatSynth look back in the many ways our histories have intertwined in the past decade, from a shy outsider writing reviews to becoming Board President!

In August 2009, I attended a guided tour of the Present Tense Biennial, an exhibition co-curated by the Chinese Cultural Center and an intriguing-sounding organization named Kearny Street Workshop – it seemed an apt name for organization hosting an exhibition on Kearny Street.  I wrote an article about it which was seen by the folks at KSW including then-executive-director Ellen Oh, who invited me to cover their flagship program APAture the next month.

I did go to several of the APAture programs, including the opening night and visual-arts showcase and the music showcase, writing more articles, making new friends, and probably drinking a bit too much.  This was an entirely new community quite apart from the experimental-music and jazz circles in which I traveled, or the other contemporary visual artists I was meeting.  I went on to attend KSW’s rollicking SF Thomassons Performance Tour in January 2010, and also befriend Truong Tran (himself a former executive director) at the opening of his first solo exhibition Lost and Found.

It was during these and other events that I became more acquainted with the history of the organization beyond the art and artists it was currently supporting.  I learned about the Asian American movement, about the history of the neighborhood from which KSW derived its name and about the fall of the I Hotel.  Kearny Street Workshop was not simply an arts organization, or eventhe “oldest organization in the U.S. focused on Asian American artists”, but a multi-generational group dedicated to local activism and community through the arts.  I became a regular donor and continued to attend events, including A Sensory Feast, and continued to write and share reports.  But in many ways, I was still an outsider looking in.

That all changed in 2013 when APAture returned after a four-year break and I was a performing artist for the opening night.

I performed an experimental electronic set with tabletop and modular synths and a dotara (Indian folk stringed instrument) for a large and diverse audience.  I felt more connected to the KSW community, but that was about to become even more so as then program director (and later executive director) TJ Basa invited me to get more deeply involved, recruiting me to join program committees, including the ever-popular Dumpling Wars.  This led to joining the board of directors in 2014.

During this time, KSW was in a process of rebuilding from its board down to its individual programs and partnerships, and returning to its activist and community-focused routes.  Under TJ and new programming manager (now Artistic Director) Jason Bayani we began to focus programming in this direction, including the resurgent APAture festival (which I performed at again that year).

[2014 Kearny Street Workshop / Antoine Duong]

Later that year, I became Board President and Chair as we grew the board into its strongest and most active team in many years.  It was quite an unexpected turn that I would never have anticipated when I first started attending events five years earlier.  KSW became a family, and I was now about as much an “insider” as one could be.  I learned a lot about individual and institutional fundraising, forging relationships with other groups, and the herding of cats that is a small and scrappy but ambitious arts non-profit.  But I still found joy in participating directly in events and writing reviews, including for last year’s APAture festival.  It coincided with the launch of CatSynth TV, and we featured the opening night and book-arts showcase in two of our early episodes.

Tomorrow night is our 45th Anniversary Gala, to be held at the Chinese Cultural Center, where I first encountered KSW nine years earlier.  In a way, it is coming full circle.  But instead of writing a review, I am writing a speech to recognize the 45 years and multiple generations of history.  If you are in San Francisco tomorrow evening and wish to join us, there are still a few tickets available for the general program.

 

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NAMM 2018: Yudo KAMI-OTO and Neuman

We are always on the lookout for something (or someone) different at NAMM, especially in the deep dark depth of Hall E.  This year we found it in the booth of Yudo, a company out of Japan that presented prototypes for two radically different concepts.

The flagship Neuman synthesizer features a standard keyboard with an instrument-spanning touch screen.  It looks like an iPad stretched out to fit a full-sized keyboard.

The keyboard plays well, and there were standard sounds such as electric pianos, brass, etc.  The touchscreen controls for the patches were fascinating, but not particularly intuitive.  It was hard to see using it for sound design in its current incarnation.  But it is a prototype with an estimated two years or more of development ahead, so we will see where things go.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the KAMI-OTO, a small cardboard based keyboard controller to use with iPads.  It is a simple cardboard cutout that folds around a simple electronic main board and includes a stand for your tablet.  There are wired and Bluetooth models that go for $28 and $36, respectively via the company’s Kickstarter campaign.

We did have a chance to try it out.  It is adorable, and it does look like a fun and simple DIY project to assemble. And there is some delight in being able to decorate it in whatever manner one desires.  As a keyboard, however, the latency was extremely high, which would render it less than usable for us in a performance setting.  Nonetheless, for composing on the run, it could come in handy.

More info about both products can be found at https://www.yudo.jp/en/.

Grex and Two Aerials, Octopus Literary Salon

Last Thursday we at CatSynth returned to the Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland to hear two groups whose work we follow, Grex and Two Aerials.  The show was also the subject of our most recent CatSynth TV video, which can you see below.

There are similarities between in terms of style and songcraft, and they worked well in tandem.  Two Aerials, led by Mark Clifford (vibraphone) and Crystal Pascucci (cello, voice), had a jazzier vibe and more reminiscent of art-rock and prog of the early 1970s.  Clifford’s frenetic but luscious vibes are a lot of the reason for this, but solid backing from Brett Carson on keyboard and Jordan Glenn on drums added to the overall sound and structure.  There were sounds and textures reminiscent of Henry Cow, especially during the songs that featured Pascucci on voice.  There were also sections that reminded me of Frank Zappa’s best lineups from the early to mid-1970s.
 
 two aerials
 
Grex has gone through a few iterations of style and personnel in the time I have known them.  The current incarnation features principals Karl Evangelista on guitar and Rei Scampavia on keyboards, but they each take on additional musical duties with electronics, foot-driven percussion, and voice.
 
Grex
 
Musically, they also have a style that falls somewhere in the realm of art rock, but with a dreamier, more psychedelic feel.  They move effortlessly back and forth between very tender lyrical songs and frenetic pedal-heavy guitar solos from Evangelista, as well as space in between those poles.  We particularly enjoyed the quote of Princess Leia’s theme during their final song.
In all, it was a fun evening with friends and music.  And the Octopus Literary Salon is fast becoming a frequent destination for us for eclectic and intimate musical performances.  We look forward to more.

Dollar Days, Blackstar, and Luna

David Bowie, Blackstar

A lot has already been written about David Bowie’s final album Blackstar. But it seems particularly poignant in a personal way at this moment in my life.

I should start by saying it’s a great album. I would even assert that it was his best since the classic albums of the 1970s. it mixes complex and dark elements with some catchy hooks like on Low. The jazz and fusion elements on Blackstar, which features a band led by saxophonist Donny McCaslin, also take me back to another of my favorites, Station to Station, with its funky vibe. Indeed, some of the initial responses to the album that focused on his use of a jazz band seemed to leave out the connection to his funky bands of the mid 1970s. But coming back to the present moment, it’s the song “Dollar Days” on Blackstar that seems to stand out the moment. It is melancholy and its verses feature ballad-like chord structure, descending root notes resolving back on itself. The chorus has a simultaneously anxious and soaring quality. And the lyrics seem to be self-reflective and prescient of his coming death just two days after the album’s release, especially when coupled with the next track “I Can’t Give Everything Away.”

Cash girls suffer me, I’ve got no enemies
I’m walking down
It’s nothing to meet
It’s nothing to see
If I’ll never see the English evergreens I’m running to
It’s nothing to meet
It’s nothing to see

I’m dying too
Push their backs against the grain
And fool them all again and again
I’m trying to
We bitches tear our magazines
Those oligarchs with foaming mouths come now and then
Can’t believe I just run second, now I’m forgetting you
I’m trying to
I’m dying too

Dollar days ’til final checks, honest scratching tails, the necks, I’m falling down
It’s nothing to meet
It’s nothing to see
If I’ll never see the English evergreens I’m running to
It’s nothing to meet
It’s nothing to see

I’m dying too
Push their backs against the grain
And fool them all again and again
I’m trying to
It’s all gone wrong for on and on
The bitter nerve is never enough, I’m falling down
Don’t believe in just one second round for getting you
I’m trying to
I’m dying too

Specifically, that line “If I’ll never see the English evergreens I’m running to” hits home. Bowie died in New York and had probably not seen the English evergreens in a while, and was aware that he likely wouldn’t. One part of Luna’s decline that has affected me greatly is the realization that we won’t experience some of our favorite things together anymore. Some have already gone, such as playing with toys, clamoring for favorite treats, and running up and down the stairs at night. I have no way of imagining what this feels like to her, but it can’t be good. And that, too, is a painful realization. Sadly, cats don’t have the ability to express their feelings in words, let alone with the lyricism and eloquence of David Bowie. The sharing of his thoughts about his mortality is one of the gifts in Blackstar, along with the music itself.

Luna’s continued decline has good days and bad, and we are spending as much time together as we can, including sitting on the floor and listening to music, cuddling and purring.

Amanda Chaudhary Solo Set at Second Act, San Francisco

We pick up our reports from the epic musical month that was June.

Amanda Chaudhary at Second Act

On June 15, I performed a brand new solo set at Second Act in San Francisco, part of a monthly evening of experimental electronic music. It was a bringing together of my more experimental electronic work with the jazz and funk direction my music. The modular and Moog Theremini were featured heavily, but so were the Moog Sub Phatty as my “left hand” bass, and of course the Nord Stage, aka “The Big Red Keyboard”. I also used a Casio SK-1 extensively. You can hear the entire set in this video.

Amanda at Second Act June 2016 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I thought it went quite well musically. I like how the funk bass worked with the Sub Phatty and Phonogene on the modular. The venue was full, and I got an enthusiastic response from the audience. I don’t think they were expecting this level of jazz and funk, but seemed to really appreciate it. I will definitely continue working in this direction in future solo sets.


The concert began with a noise set by Passions Nouveau, who performed with synthesizers and sundry electronics.

20160615-IMG_0359

The set unfolded as a single continuous soundscape, with noise pads and drones, but occasional loud swells and complex details.

I was followed by bran(…)pos. It had been a few years since I shared a bill with him, but has excited to hear what he had come up with recently. As per his pervious appearances, he performed inside a tent onto which a mixture of live and processed video was projected.

20160615-IMG_0429

And once again the performance centered around the use of his face and voice visually and sonically. But the instrumental accompaniment was a new direction, mixing sounds from the turn of the 20th century with pitched synthesizers and beats. It was a very polished and complex sound overall, bringing a tightness to his unique style of performance and presentation.

Overall, it was a great performance, and I was happy to be a part of it. Performing at Second Act is always a great time, and I would like extend my thanks to the folks who continue to make this venue and series work for the musical community.

Trimpin, Center for New Music, San Francisco

The Window Gallery at the Center For New Music in San Francisco currently features a sound sculpture installation by the artist Trimpin. We at CatSynth were on hand for the opening.

Trimpin Kraut Kontrol

The installation called Kraut Kontrol featured several custom made guitars in resplendent purple hues and outfitted with a variety of actuators. All the elements are controlled by a computer which conducts the instruments as an ensemble. You can here a bit of installation in action in this video.

Trimpin installation in action!

A video posted by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on

Jimi Hendrix is of course fun to hear on this automated guitars, but it really only scratches the surface of what one can do with such instruments. I hope to hear some more abstract sounds that focus on the interplay between the different guitars.

As part of the opening reception, we were treated to a Q&A session with Trimpin himself. A fascinating but humble character who shuns some of the flair of the art world, he mostly delved into the details of the installation, its original version at the Orange County Museum of Art. He also spoke extensively about the larger automated-guitar installation he created for the Experience Music Project in Seattle, including a bit of behind-the-scenes of working with Paul Allen.

Trimpin’s Kraut Kontrol will be on display in the window gallery of the Center For New Music (55 Taylor Street, San Francisco) through June 30. I strongly recommend checking it out.

Outsound Dinner: Nava Dunkelman and Jordan Glenn Duo

As happens every year approximately one month before the Outsound New Music Summit, we gathered for the annual benefit dinner. This year the dinner took place at the Finnish Kaleva Hall in Berkeley, a location steeped in history of its own. There was a good company, delicious food provided by Slippery Fish Catering, and a performance by Nava Dunkelman and Jordan Glenn.

Outsound dinner: Nava Dunkelman and Jorden Glenn
[Photo: peterbkaars.com]

Both Dunkelman and Glenn and accomplished percussionists in the local music scene, but this was the first time they performed together as a duo. And the result was an exceptional performance filled with a variety of textures ranging from subtle to angry and aggressive. There were moments where the individual materials and timbres stood out in stark isolation, and others where the two worked together to form repeating rhythmic patterns (one might even say a “beat”). The two have contrasting styles that they brought from their other projects (I most often see Jorden Glenn as a drummer for bands, and Nava Dunkelman as a collaborator in improvised duos).

Nava Dunkelman
Jordan Glenn
[Photos: peterbkaars.com]

Overall, a great evening of music, food and friends. There were many familiar faces among Outsound’s supporters at the event, but also newcomers, which is always good to see.

20150703-11027462_896646423710494_3122390015389515199_o
[Photo courtesy of Outsound Presents]

Now it is on to the Summit itself, which begins on Sunday, July 26 at the Community Music Center in San Francisco. Please visit Outsound New Music Summit website for a full roster of performances and events, information and tickets, and more on how to support the continuation of new and adventurous music in our community!

NAMM 2012 article round-up

I have consolidated all of the NAMM 2012 posts in the list below.  Lots of photos with our stuffed cat, and also a few videos.

At NAMM at last

NAMM: Waldorf Zarenbourg and Blofeld

Korg’s Little Instruments at NAMM

Battle of the iPad Docks at NAMM. Behringer iStudio and Alesis iO Dock

Moog Minitaur

Dave Smith Instruments Tempest and Mopho at NAMM

Arturia MiniBrute

Keith McMillen Instruments QuNeo (NAMM)

Dr. Lonnie Smith, Hammond Sk2 (NAMM)

Lunar Experience modular, Noisebug (NAMM)

Teenage Engineering OP-1 and Oplab

IK Multimedia iRig MIDI and iRig Cast (Good for OWS?)

Trash Audio party at NAMM and Matrixsynth “Wine Bar”

Malekko Heavy Industry at NAMM

Analog Haven at NAMM

There are also several items that were only covered via Twitter @catsynth with hashtag #NAMM.