Outsound Music Summit: Touch The Gear Expo

Once again, the Outsound Music Summit opened with Touch The Gear Night this past Sunday, in which the public is invited to come and, well, “touch the gear” and interact directly with many of the festival artists who use technology in their music. “Technology” included software, electronic devices, DIY projects, and mechanical and sculptural instruments.

I attempted to both cover the event for CatSynth and demo some of my own gear, which made for a hectic but fun evening. I kept my demonstration relatively minimal, with my Monome 8×8, the Korg Kaoss Pad and the Dave Smith Evolver:

[click to enlarge]

Basically, this was a subset of the gear I used at the Quickening Moon Concert (which was part of Outsound’s regular Thursday series at the Luggage Store Gallery). The monome was driving a simple software synthesizer, which along with the Evolver was being processed by the Kaos pad. The monome in particular attracted a lot of attention with its clean geometry and texture, and mysterious nature. It’s just an array of lighting buttons with no marking whatsoever, which invites curiosity.

Travis Johns brought a highly portable version of his worms in compost, this time attached to an analog ring modulator and open-source software the implements Slow Scan Television.

[click to enlarge]

One could hear the noise generated by the worms (which was a low-level rumbling static sound) and see the corresponding image generated by the SSTV software projected onto a screen.

Walter Funk presented a variety of instruments and objects, including Phoenix, a metal music object created by Fred the Spaceman. It was attached via contacts to an effect processor and a speaker, and could be struck or shaken to produce a variety of sounds.

[click images to enlarge]

He also had an old Realistic (remember that brand?) variable-speed tape recorder that included a bucket-brigade (BBD) chip which could be used for a variety of pitch and time shift effects. It would be interesting to modify the unit to take live input in addition to recorded tape input, although the use of tape is part of the charm of such a device. Additionally, he had a small custom analog synthesizer made from inexpensive breadboards made by Elemco that were originally designed for test equipment.

Tom Duff demonstrated the Sound Labs Mini-Synth, a DIY synthesizer kit designed by Ray Wilson. It’s a basic subtractive analog synthesizer, a la a Minimoog. More intriguing were the two generations of Bleep Labs Thingamagoop and Thingamagoop 2. The Thingamagoop 2 includes the photocell-and-light control and analog sound-generation from the original, plus an Arduino for digital sound and control. I want one of these! It was also fun to put the two generations of Thingamagoops together to control one another.

Cheryl Leonard brought some musical objects from Antarctica, including flat stones, bones and limpet shells. The stones had a high but short sound when struck or rubbed against one another. These were used in her Antarctica: Music from the Ice project.

The limpet shells had a resonant sound with well defined pitches. I found myself playing a subset of three shells that together produced an interesting set of harmonies and intervals.

Bob Marsh demonstrated Silver Park, a beautiful instrument that started as a proposal for a park in Detroit with metal sculptures and structures.

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Marsh sometimes performs with Silver Park as part of his Mr. Mercury project. The instrument version features springs in addition to the original metal objects, which add to its timbre. In a quiet room (unlike the room we were in) it can be played acoustically, but it can also be played with microphones and electronic effects. Whenever I see pieces like this, I am inspired to create one of my own, but also reminded how much work it is to create sculptures with metal, adhesives, etc. I did get some tips on some “baby steps” to work with similar sounds without necessarily committing to a sculptural artifact.

Another visually powerful instrument was Dan Ake’s 12×13, a large box with 1/4″ metal rods and washers. When the box is spun, the washers slide and shake along the rods producing a metallic cacophony of sound and visual motion.

By spinning the box, or leaving it tilted at various angles, one can get the full effect of the falling washers, or freeze them in mid-fall to cut off the sound.

Philip Evert performed with an auto-harp processed by a large series of effects boxes. The control and sound of the effects chain was largely indeterminate, though the demo that I heard began with ring modulation before becoming a more complex mix.

Tom Nunn brought his Skatchboxes for visitors to try out. Here were see T.D. Skatchit demonstrating the main Skatchbox.

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He is a virtuoso on this instrument, and we have reviewed his collaborations with Nunn in previous performances.  The Outsound Summit included a demonstration and class on building your own Skatchbox, which sadly I was not able to attend.

Mark Soden (of phog masheeen) demonstrated a chain of effects processors including a Electrix Filter Queen that produced chaotic oscillations when driven with an appropriate sound source. He had a Roland SP-555 to drive the effects, but the more interesting demo was using a trumpet with contact microphones on its body. One could generate sound by blowing, tapping, or otherwise exciting the body of the trumpet which then drove the chaotic effects processing.

Amy X Neuburg demonstrated the two instruments I have seen her use in her live sets. The Blippo Box produces chaotic signals that are compelling and very easy to play – the effect of turning knobs on the sound, even if it was unpredictable, was very smooth. Of course, the challenge is that the instrument is so chaotic that is very difficult to reproduce the same exact sound twice. She also showed her looping setup, which included a drum pad and an Echoplex.

Rick Walker demonstrated his new “Walker Manual Glitch pedal”. It featured both built-in sound generators and live input, and the ability to “glitch” or reply snippets of sound from any of the sources. This seems like it will be a powerful instrument, especially when combined with loops as input or a live improvised performance.

Thanks to Matt Davignon for organizing this event!  He was also a presenter and showed off his drum machines and effects boxes that he has used in many previous live shows.

Work completed: Flora Davis, For Luna

The piece I had commissioned from artist Flora Davis was completed in late June:

The metal surfaces of each box are glued and covered in a protective layer, and the sides are finished with a metallic paint.

The piece now also has a title: For Luna. It seems appropriate, as both Davis and I have cats named Luna. And of course it is a nice tribute.

You can see previous articles documenting the progress here and here.

It was exciting to see it complete and take it home. The final step will be to display the artwork. Combined with the companion cat painting Zeus, the five boxes can be arranged in any number of ways. Here are but a few examples:

I have yet to settle on a final arrangement.

Weekend Cat Blogging #265: Health and Creativity

The themes of this month here at CatSynth are health and creativity, and we reflect on those themes for Weekend Cat Blogging.

We have started a recent phase in our beginning yoga practice centered on opening up creativity, prosperity and opportunity.  It is of course also good exercise and helpful for health and well being.  Luna enjoys joining in, too:

Photography continues to be a central form of creative expression, even as I need to balance it with music, especially with several more shows coming up this month.  Luna obliged me earlier this week by posing in front of one of the patio sculptures on a warm afternoon:

I got several great photos from this session, one of them appeared earlier this week during Wordless Wednesday.  Here is a small version, but readers are encouraged to check out the larger version in the WW post.


Weekend Cat Blogging #265 will be hosted by Jules and Vincent. Because of the Independence Day holiday here in the U.S., the roundup will be up on July 5.

The Carnival of the Cats, will be up tomorrow, July 4, at Mind of Mog.

Nikita Cat will be hosting the monthly Bad Kitty Cats Festival of Chaos on July 4 as well.

And the Friday Ark is at the modulator.

Work in progress (Flora Davis) Part 2

Work continues on the art piece that I recently commissioned from local artist Flora Davis. Please refer to the first article in the series for more background about the commission and some images of the piece in its initial phases.

Since then, things have progressed. The metal surfaces are now cut to the appropriate sizes for each of the boxes and ready to be glued on:

Here they are after the surfaces were glued. The sides of the boxes have also been primed for painting.

It’s great seeing the boxes and the metal surfaces come together for the final piece. They do look like what I imagined. I have to admit, the stark white against the textured metal surfaces is a little jarring, but this is just an intermediate phase. The final paint on the sides will be metallic.

Work in progress: Flora Davis, newly commissioned artwork

This is the first of several articles showing the work in progress on a piece I recently commissioned from local artist Flora Davis. I had first met Davis at Open Studios in 2008. I purchased a small cat painting at the time but also reflected on how it might be interesting to combine it with her more recent work that explored abstract metallic surfaces, including series of metal boxes. When I met her again this spring, I proposed the idea of doing a series of metal boxes to be placed together with the cat painting Zeus, and we are now going ahead with it!

Part of the process was choosing the sizes for boxes and then the materials/textures for them. Here are the initial sized boxes along with the cat painting:

As one can see, they range in size from only a few inches to almost as large as the original painting.  In the final piece, they can placed in any number of arrangements around or near the painting, the idea being for one element to overwhelm the others, and to maintain a sense of straight lines and the square shapes without conforming to a single grid.

Next, it was time to select the exact squares from the various metallic surfaces:

The metal surfaces are quite complex and rich in color and texture.  This one with the turqoise/green patina was perhaps the most complex, and thus I wanted it for the smallest of the boxes.  Overall, the colors and textures of the various surfaces tended towards browns, greens and reds that picked up elements of the painting.

Here are some of the metal textures seen in place with the boxes and the cat:

With all the materials and dimensions now specified, the next step will be to cut the surfaces and adhere them to the boxes.    We will see the results in an upcoming article soon!

Art of Illusion, Driftwood Salon

On April 1, I attended the opening for the Art of Illusion exhibition at Driftwood Salon. The exhibition took it’s title from the date of the opening and its reference to illusion and trickery. “As artists, we strive to create aesthetically pleasing works of art, but sometimes we like to use that ability to trick the mind, and play with shapes, images and dept of field by pushing boundaries and defying gravity.”

Beyond that initial statement, the works in this show were quite diverse in terms of style and subject matter.

Along the wall, second from the left, is a piece by Rebecca Kerlin. I have seen (and reviewed) Rebecca Kerlin’s work before at Open Studios. Her work often involves highways, a frequent subject here at CatSynth, as well as other elements of the urban landscape and infrastructure. She takes familiar scenes, such as the freeway overpass near 4th Street and Bryant Street in San Francisco, and distorts the image through collage.

[Rebecca Kerlin, Underpass Under Construction In Blue #1.
Image courtesy of the artist.  Click to enlarge.]

One on hand, we see the whole image of the overpass and intersection, but at the same it is a series of separate images that are adjacent, overlapping or slightly out of alignment. Similar processes can be seen at work in Blossom Hill Road, San Jose, CA #2. It took me a moment to recognize the highway 85 freeway entrance sign.

Closeup of Untitled by Evan Nesbit. Image courtesy of Driftwood Salon. Click to enlarge.

While Kerlin’s pieces begin with familiar elements such as highways, Evan Nesbit’s contributions seemed based on pure abstract geometry, and primarily on straight lines and angles. In his large piece “the god effect”, lines are arranged in crossing diagonal patterns that lead to the illusion of curvature. This was an effect I learned myself as a young adult and repeated many times in images. In “Untitled”, the crisscrossing lines are used to mark out areas of solid color, which in turn form geometric shapes such as the central hexagon of the piece. However, these geometric elements can be seen to represent a door leading inside from a patio or walkway, an illusion heightened by the grass in the lower corner. Without the grass, one might not see the other shapes as a house at all.

Among the other work that caught my attention was Jose Daniel Rojales’ Ulua.

[Jose Daniel Rojales, Ulua.  Click to enlarge.]

It is on one level a representation in metal of an ulua, a popular Hawai’ian game fish. But the metal rectangles and geometric elements are quite distinct, particularly around the head, and in some ways stand out by themselves.

You can see more images from the show at the gallery website. The show will remain on display until May 2.

Truong Tran: the lost & found

Another review of art from the month that has past. In mid-February, I attended an artist talk with Truong Tran, part of a month-long exhibition of his work at Mina Dresden Gallery. The exhibition was presented by our friends at Kearny Street Workshop.

The gallery itself is a narrow and starkly white space. Upon entry, one is drawn first to the illuminated shapes and color fields that dot the walls. Moving closer to a particular artwork, one begins to see the meticulous detail and the variety of elements from which it is composed.

[Truong Tran.  Installation view.  Photo courtesy of the artist. (Click to enlarge.)]

As suggested by the title of exhibition the lost & found, the pieces are created primarily from found objects and materials. Tran is a self-described collector, indeed he admit, “I was a collector long before I was an artist.” This brought to mind the artist in residence program at the SF dump that I reviewed back in January. Far from a simple presentation of found objects, he constructs large-scale works from these constituent parts, placing them into boxes and the combining these boxes into larger structures. This process of found objects, containment and construction is perhaps most apparent in tower, the largest piece in the show:

[Truong Tran, tower.  Photo courtesy of the artist.  (Click to enlarge.)]

Tran cites Joseph Cornell and Donald Judd as influences, and one can see the combination of “things contained in boxes” and large minimal geometric elements reappearing in many of the works. There is also a certain polished quality to many of pieces, particularly the illuminated works that most caught my attention. For example, the piece broken and whole, shown below looks to be a very minimalist installation with lights, rectangles and solid colors. On closer inspection, one can see that each box contains bones, presumably part of a “collection.”

[Truong Tran, broken and whole. Photo courtesy of the artist. (click to enlarge)]

Truong Tran, a ladder to. Photo courtesy of the artist. (click to enlarge)

The use of found materials within a larger minimal pattern of boxes and solid colors appears in many of the works. The contained materials at times are provocative, such as the syringes that are placed in each box of a ladder to.

Tran is as established writer and author of several collections of poetry and a children’s book. With this exhibition, he is moving into a new medium of visual art and sculpture. However, his poetry is also very visual, as in his book within the margin where a single line of lower-case text is presented on each page. His other books published at Apogee Press have a similar visual quality to them. You can see some excerpts from a couple of the books here. Similarly, text enters into many of the visual pieces in the exhibition, such as the large letter “A” in tower. In both his written and visual works, there is a strong sense of things being “constructed”, and indeed he emphasized the concept of construction during his talk at the gallery.

One work that did not get mentioned during the talk but which drew my attention the invisible city. Once again, found materials (in this case, multicolored golf tees and thread) were arranged into a repeated rectangular pattern, but this time set against an image of a city skyline. While many of the pieces have an architectural quality to them (i.e., as “constructions”), this was only one where the image contained within was itself architectural.

[Truong Tran, invisible city. Photo courtesy of the artist. (click to enlarge)]

However, there is another level of containment, as each of the buildings contains a pornographic image – I believe they are all images of men. This is another recurring theme in many of the pieces, perhaps best exemplified via boy with butterflies which at a distance appears to be a flock of hundreds of colored butterflies frozen in mid motion. Upon closer inspection, one sees that the butterflies are cut from pornographic magazines, and it is the sections of the male bodies in these images that give the butterflies their colors and patterns.

You can see some more photos of other works from the exhibition at The Lost and Found, a visual blog created by Tran. You can also see photos from the well-attended opening at KSW’s blog.

SF Recology Artists in Residence

Last Friday, I attended an exhibition for the Artist in Residence program at Recology San Francisco (formerly known as, SF Recycling & Disposal, Inc.). Yes, this was an art opening at the SF dump. The program has been around for almost twenty years, and provides space and support for artists who work with materials from the city’s waste stream, including recycled wood, paint and metal. Pretty much anything the artists can scavenge. This exhibition marked the end of the residency for artists Erik Otto and Christina Mazza.

We first enter the gallery through an anteroom, with some smaller works including Erik Otto’s Rebuild, featuring the title word cut into scrap paper (including a musical score and furniture assembly instructions) and illuminated by a recycled light box.

Erik Otto. Rebuild, 2010. (Click to enlarge.)

The title and the materials of this piece set the tone for the show. In addition to my standing interest in text as a visual element, I liked the inclusion of music as part of its texture.

Moving into the main room, one immediately sees Otto’s Road of Prosperity (The Start of a New Beginning), with over one hundred small wooden houses suspended from the ceiling on fishing line, forming a chaotic spiral that descends towards the ground.

[Erik Otto.  Road of Prosperity (The Start of a New Beginning), 2010.  (Click each image to enlarge.)]

The houses, made of recycled wood, all have a similar iconic shape. Stepping back, one can see the the wooden frame at the base is itself another house. Indeed, the houses reappear throughout Otto’s work, either as central or peripheral elements, in his paintings and mixed media pieces and even in a video installation featuring recycled television sets:

Erik Otto. In the Abundance of Water, We Are Still Thirsty. (Click to enlarge.)

I am drawn to recurring icons in a series of work. So what is the significance of the houses? Certainly, they are a symbol of our current economic crisis, and a very visible part of natural and human-made disasters. Otto’s own words are informative:

My work is a narrative told by the recurring characters/elements I use often in my artwork. The house is a physical embodiment of our spiritual being. Inspired by the notion that being home is “knowing” – knowing your mind, knowing your heart – that if we know ourselves, we are always “home”, anywhere. It is often depicted in chaotic landscapes and is found seeking safety from a storm and/or rising water levels, which refer to our current social and economic climate.

His paintings, which also prominently feature the houses, include other elements such as found text, such as the “OPEN” sign in the large painting Moment of Reflection. Devotion 5 features a house (perched on stilts above a body of water) painted over book covers and a Scrabble board – certainly a powerful symbol of out-of-context text.

Erik Otto. Moment of Reflection. (Click to enlarge.)

Erik Otto. Devotion 5. (Click to enlarge.)

While Erik Otto’s work seemed to focus on discrete elements, icons and text, Christina Mazza’s pieces were about more continuous textures. Many of her finely detailed drawings feature entanglements of string or rubber bands or rope.

Christina Mazza. Construction. (Click to enlarge.)

She takes this theme of complex tangles to a larger scale with this wall piece made of shredded packing paper.

Christina Mazza. (Click to enlarge)

Mazza presents a very different texture with Redemption: SF Dump, which features a video inset in a wall made of brightly colored wood panels. Up close, one can see the imperfections, nails and slightly off angles of the the recycled wood. From a distance, it can seem a texture of precisely generated color rectangles with a moving image at the center.

Christina Mazza. Redemption:SF Dump. (Click to enlarge)

Mazza found inspiration in the discoveries she made at the dump, and documents her adventures on her blog. Looking through the images, I can see piles of discarded items that served as “subjects” for her drawings. One image which I found interesting but was not reflected in the pieces at the show was a discarded Chinese paper frame .

Christina Mazza. Chinese paper frame.

I find this image a fitting conclusion as I turn my attention to other recently visited exhibits and my own upcoming projects.

Thanks to Recology SF for providing many of the photos for this article. You can see more pieces from this exhibition and previous artists in residence at their flickr site.