RIP Bento, the Keyboard Cat

This is such heartbreaking news.  Bento, the Keyboard Cat has passed away 😿

His humans made this wonderful tribute to Bento and his legacy, including many classic clips; and a sweet story about how he was a source of inspiration for his human companion, Charlie Schmidt.

Bento was actually the second Keyboard Cat.  The original, Fatso, also lived with Schmidt but passed away in 1987, long before the age of internet memes.  You can read more about the story of Fatso, Bento, and Schmidt at the Keyboard Cat Wikipedia page. Like my cats, Bento was a shelter cat and became a public face for the Shelter Pet Project.  We saw him featured in billboards and bus stops here in San Francisco.

Keyboard Cat has always been a favorite of mine – how could it not, given the combination of interests.  We always had fun with the early “play him/her off” videos, and it became a frequent tag-line of mine to say “You have been played off by the Keyboard Cat”, especially when someone loses a political election.  I wish we had been able to cross paths in person.

We at CatSynth extend our sympathies to Charlie Schmidt and the rest of Bento’s family.  Rest in peace, Keyboard Cat, you have been played off. 💕

CatSynth Pic: Cat and “Blue-Eyed” Korg Polysix

We recently found this pic featuring a cute cat and a Korg Polysix on matrixsynth.

Cat and Korg Polysix

More from the matrixsynth post, where you can also see more photos:

via this auction

“Sadly, something has to give. Too much kit in my life!

This is a 1982 Korg Polysix in excellent condition. It’s been fully restored within the past two years, and is in really good cosmetic condition. If you’re looking here, you know the specifications already, so no need for copypasta here.

Work done:

Old NiCad battery replaced with a brand-new NiMH battery. Not a lithium cell. The CPU card was blissfully unharmed by the usual battery leak problems that these get – check the photos.
The power supply transformer has been replaced with a super quiet, efficient toroidal unit, capable of running at 220V as well as 110V.
One VCF chip – an SSM2044 – was replaced with a brand-new old stock item.
Synth was completely recalibrated and tuned and is working perfectly.
A Tauntek MIDI input board was fitted. This really enhances the machine by allowing MIDI note in, as well as syncing the arpeggiator clock over MIDI.

Yes, I changed out the LEDs for blue ones, while replacing some scratchy, worn pots. Series resistors were recalculated to dial back the intensity. It’s not as piercing as in the photos. Will take some more pics soon. I think they really match the panel decals well, by YMMV. I’m happy to change them back to generic red (or anything, really) for the lucky buyer.”

No, it does not appear that the cat is included.

Additionally, there is a sample of a bass line played on this synth.

“A rather familiar bass-line. I’m just testing a newly-repaired Korg Polysix. This is playing in unison mode, although with only five ganged voices. No effects other than a small amount of reverb.”

When I went synth shopping for the first time in the mid 1980s (right after a birthday), among the first I encountered was one of this instrument’s more modest successors, the Korg Poly 800 II. The Polysix was long gone from the catalogs by then, and it was the time when digital synths were eclipsing analog instruments. I was quickly pulled in the direction of the Yamaha synths that dominated that era.

CatSynth Pic: Miep and Roland JX8P

Miep returns to CatSynth, this time with a Roland JX-8P.   You can see some of Miep’s previous appearances via this tag.

The JX-8P was a follow-up to Roland’s popular JX-3P. Some more info on it from Vintage Synth Explorer:

Though it is far more advanced than its predecessor, the JX-3P, the JX-8P has its drawbacks. Hands-on programming is sacrificed and reduced to assigning the parameter you want to tweak to a data-slider near the pitch/mod bender. Enter the PG-800 controller which gives you total control of all the JX-8P’s editable parameters with hands-on traditional slider control. Membrane buttons dominate the front panel of the JX-8P providing access to the various preset and user patches and to page through and assign editable parameters.


Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam: Exploring the Modular and Roland JP-08

Sam Sam checking out the next studio setup

Sometimes Sam Sam ends up in CatSynth pics of her own, as when she recently got up to explore the redesigned studio space.  She is fascinated by the new decorative shelves as well as the narrow band between the video/office corner and the modular synth.

Perhaps she is picking up some scents on the modular case from our recent live performances.

I have been having a lot of fun in the studio lately, especially making videos and exploring our synthesizer collection in greater depth.  I really should be working on some more formal compositions, but it seems I am in more of experimenting and exploratory mood at the moment.  I have also, unfortunately, been battling insomnia.  It ebbs and flows, and on the worst night (about a week ago), I decided to sit up for a while and play with the Roland JP-08 boutique synth.

Sam Sam and the Roland JP-08

The size is actually ideal for playing in bed late at night.  I spent some time exploring the architecture (it’s basically a Jupiter 8 with a few extensions) and came up with some new and unusual patches.  We hope to share them with you in an upcoming CatSynth TV.


CatSynth Pic: Cat Mug and TTSH (Arp 2600 Clone)

Cat mug with a TTSH, a clone of the Arp 2600 synthesizer.  By Alexander Henriksson‎ on Facebook.

And another cat has found its 🏠

The TTSH is an Arp 2600 clone that can be built as a DIY project, as described by The Human Comparator.  San Pedro Labs builds full versions, including wood casings. (They used to be here in San Francisco, but have recently relocated to New Mexico.)


CatSynth Video: Charlotte and Circuit-Bent Big Mouth Billy Bass

Charlotte the cat contemplates the horror that is a circuit-bent Big Mouth Billy Bass.  From Ok Housecat on YouTube.

I was often sardonically amused by this fishy contraption since the commercials in the 1990s.  But now I am genuinely intrigued by its circuit-bending possibilities.  At the very least, it could make for a fun CatSynth TV episode.  I found at least one set of instructions here, but it might be even more fun to just take it aport and just explore with alligator cables.

The Horror…The Horror…

From Ok Housecat. Visit their website, where you can see an amazing array of circuit-bent and other custom electronic instruments. We at CatSynth are going to spend some more time exploring the video demos 😻

Pitta of the Mind, Usufruct, Alex Cruse, Murder Murder at Pro Arts

As we get ready for our next Pitta of the Mind show this Thursday, March 8, we look back at our recent show at Pro Arts in Oakland, where we were joined by Usufruct, Alex Cruse, and Murder Murder.  You can see a bit of all four groups in this recent CatSynth TV episode.

Pitta of the Mind’s color theme (we always have a color or pattern theme) for this evening was blue and featured blue-themed poems by Maw Shein Win, many from her new book Invisible Gifts.  

Pitta of the Mind
[Photo by Tom Scandura]

I used the Prophet 12 synthesizer, along with the modular system, my trusty Nord Stage, and some percussion instruments to create a musical interplay with the words as well as the space between them.

Amanda's Pitta of the Mind Setup with Prophet 12, Modular synth and Nord Stage EX

Even though we haven’t performed in a while and only had one rehearsal, I felt this was one of our strongest performances – and the feedback I got from the audience backed up that perception.  In particular, I think the poem “You Will Be With Me in a Town Called Paradise” came out particularly well, with a sultry vibe and jazzy accompaniment on electric piano.

After our set, Usufruct, the duo of Polly Moller Springhorn and Tim Walters took the stage.

[Photo by Tom Scandura]

As the word “usufruct” implies, they make use of materials for which they have usage rights beyond ownership, such as public-domain text sources.  Polly’s vocal interpretations of the texts are processed electronically by Tim using custom programs written in SuperCollider.  The end result is simultaneously dark and playful.  But beyond the text sections, I was particularly taken with the instrumental portion at the beginning, which featured bass flute live and electronically processed.

Alex Cruse brought a very different vibe and sensibility to the evening, with an electronic performance that focused on beats, loops, and hits.

There were many delightful sounds and many hard-edged industrial noise moments as well.  The vocals were deliberately obscured by heavy distortion and other processing but provided a percussive element that worked well with the rhythms.

The final set by Murder Murder was again something altogether different.  With two drummers, two horns, two electronic performers, and vocals, it was nonstop intensity from the first drum hit.

The intensity continued for several minutes and then came to a sudden close.  It was the musical equivalent of a tornado tearing through our calm evening of voice and electronics, but perhaps it was a fitting coda to the evening.

We thank Pro Arts and Sarah Lockhart for having us at this series, which has become quite a mainstay of the Oakland scene.  I hope to be back again soon with one of my other projects.  And of course, we are looking forward to our next Pitta of the Mind Show – where we will once again be joined by Usufruct – at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco on Thursday, March 8 at 8 PM.