Fun with Highways: California 99 and 198

The ride back from NAMM is usually an uneventful straight shot up I-5 from Los Angeles towards San Francisco. But I found myself making good time, and in a mood for a bit of exploration – not to mention an opportunity to rack up more routes on my Highway☆ app – so I decided to try something different. I decided to follow California Highway 99 as it splits off from I-5.

CA 99 takes a more easterly route than I-5 and connects to the major towns and cities of the Central Valley. A stretch in the northern part of the Central Valley was featured in our recent CatSynth TV Episode 99, but the southern part largely remained unexplored outside the immediate vicinity of Bakersfield (where it intersects CA 58). So much of the highway was new.

That southernmost section was, to put it bluntly, rather sad. The road is narrow, bumpy, and crowded. The landscape was dotted with a mixture of fields, run-down housing developments, and strip malls. And the sky was smoggy with an unhealthy yellow hue. But the afterglow of our most successful NAMM show to date along with the spirit of exploration gave a level of joy to the experience. At Visalia, I decided to turn off and head west onto California Highway 198.

If 99 was a bit of a cluttered and bumpy mess, 198 was the opposite: a pair of smooth straight lines cutting through farmland with sparse development. It began as an expressway but soon turned into a full-on freeway in Kings County as we headed toward Hanford and then on to Lemoore, where we intersected with Highway 41 in a major interchange. A few years ago, I had seen it from the perspective of Highway 41 and mentioned it a post at that time.

There is something strangely fascinating about the island of small towns sitting at the northern edge of dry endorheic Lake Tulare. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it is strong enough to inspire a story line and possible writing project that I work through in my mind when I have trouble sleeping at night. We will see if anything comes of it.

Past Lemoore Naval Air Station, 198 narrows to a small two-lane route, and becomes significantly less interesting. My mind shifts to the story on the radio about people whose altruism goes to extreme lengths, including a man in India who founded and nurtured a growing community for people with leprosy while putting himself and his family (including two young children) at risk; and a couple who kept adopting more and more children while having less time and attention for their older biological and adopted children. These drives can be seen as incredibly caring and generous, but I also wondered if they were a bit pathological – indeed, the seeming lack of concern for others affected as they pursued their extreme altruism seemed to be mark of a sociopath.

Heading west on the narrow section of CA 198, we approach Interstate 5 again. This is, however, a spot infamous to north-south travelers for its offending aroma. It turns out the infamous small at the Coalinga junction of I-5 and CA 198 comes from the gigantic Harris ranch and feedlot. It only got worse after turning north onto I-5, but soon enough it was behind me and a not-too-long road to San Francisco remained ahead.

See more of California and many other fascinating places in our Highway☆ app, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Highway☆ on the Apple App Store
Highway☆ for Android

Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam: A Comfy Spot on the Bed

It’s been a busy – and cold – time at CatSynth HQ. So it’s not surprising that human and feline alike are seeking warmth and comfort. Sam Sam has taken to sitting on my side of the bed, even rushing to grab the warm spot when I get up.

In the photo above, we see her enjoying a bit of posh comfort on fluffed-up bedding. It’s good to be the cat!

She especially likes it when I leave dirty clothes there, as it adds my scent. I came home after a long day at work to find her curled up on top of them and quite contented.

I suspect she was a little lonely during the day, and perhaps a bit cold as well. It’s been a dreary February, as we have stated before. But it drawing to a close next week, and the skies are becoming a bit brighter. We at CatSynth look forward to the arrival of spring (honestly, it can’t come soon enough).

CatSynth Pic: Murder and Korg EMX2

Murder (we’re sure there must be an interesting story behind her name) gets ready to perform on a Korg EMX2 Groovebox. From Jackies Fridge via our Facebook page. Part of a series of posts on our page this week celebrating black cats.

(Mostly) Wordless Wednesday: NAMM Oasis

Scene featuring two art pieces in a niche at the Hilton Anaheim while running around between parties and other social gatherings on the last night of NAMM. It was a quiet and arresting tableau amidst the chaos and cacophony.

Some may be quick to deride “hotel art”, but these two pieces would look very much at home at CatSynth HQ regardless of provenance.

For more “wordless” fun, please check out our completely wordless latest video.

CatSynth Pic: Black Cat and MiniMoog

Black cat checking out the wonder that is the MiniMoog Model D. From James Johnson‎ via Facebook.

“Finally! My turn…needs more sawtooth.”

One can never have too much sawtooth.

Extended Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam and Big Merp

It’s a three-day weekend here in the U.S., and our cats demonstrate how to best enjoy it.

Sam Sam in front of the E-MU modules

Sam Sam is a cat who knows how to relax. In addition to the blankets, one of her favorite spots of late has been the patch in front of our (mostly de-commissioned) E-MU 1U modules.

Sam Sam in front of the E-MU modules

But she also knows how to have fun, as in this Instagram where she makes a game of playing with her new toy, washing, and finishing up with a scratch’n’roll.

We’ve been busy, too, doing another video with an original soundtrack featuring both hardware and software synths (including the new MOK Waverazor virtual instruments). And of course our little cat buddy makes a cameo.

Video scoring with MOK Waverazor in Pro Tools

On the other side of the bay, Big Merp is enjoying his extended weekend, too.

Big Merp!

This portrait brings out the character and soul in his face. He has had a great many experiences in life. But he loves his home comforts.

Big Merp resting after an outdoor adventure

The tears around his eye seem to happen when he goes out for one of his multi-hour outdoor adventures. It clears up fairly soon after coming back indoors. We are figuring that it is some sort of allergy.

We hope you are all enjoying your three-day weekend, or your Monday wherever you are.

CatSynth Pic: Meiko and Prophet 08

The adorable Meiko with a Sequential (Dave Smith) Prophet ’08 synthesizer. From Charles Whiley via Facebook.

Wordless Wednesday: Terminal Island Abstract

Abstract photo from Terminal Island near the Port of Long Beach, California. Taken using the iPhone Hipstamatic app.

CatSynth Pic: Bonnie in the Studio

Bonnie has definitely found a nice napping spot in this studio. Submitted by David Lemur via our Facebook page.

Bonnie says: ‘More of John Cage’s 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence please Donny’.

We see an Arturia Keystep, Roland TR-8, a TB-303 clone, a vintage Korg sequencer, and even a bit of Buchla in the upper-left corner.

NAMM 2019: Arturia MicroFreak (First Look)

One of the most talked-about releases at NAMM (at least within our circles) was the new MicroFreak from Arturia. So, of course, we at CatSynth had to check it out.

It is a unique-looking instrument. The panel is etched with a variety of iconography; and then there is the flat PCB in place of the traditional keyboard. No moving parts here. But it is quite expressive, including polyphonic aftertouch.

Beyond its looks and keyboard, the main feature of the MicroFreak is its digital oscillator. There are several different “types” for the oscillator, including wavetable, sampling, physical modeling, virtual analog, and something called “texturizer”. Within each there are selections for parameters labeled wave, timbre, and shape, that do different things in different types. These can be selected in real time via the knobs, and wave and timbre can also be destinations for modulation.

The digital oscillator followed in the signal chain by an analog filter, specifically an Oberheim SEM-style filter, which sounds quite good when the oscillator is set to a rich source. There also the usual array of modulators, including envelope (one-shot and cycled), LFO, and arpeggiator. The sequencer includes a bunch of compositional functions with cute names like “Spice” and “Dice” to help build and modify patterns, which then can be routed via the modulation matrix.

It is quite a powerful instrument, but attempting to play it was a bit intimidating at first. Unlike the MiniBrute (analog) or even the Sequential Prophet 12 (hybrid), the knobs weren’t quite as intuitive for someone used to a lot of subtractive or semi-modular synthesizers, especially the oscillator with its various modes and the composition functions. I suspect it was an easier first-experience for those who use beat and sample boxes like those from Elektron. Indeed, I was able to get more out of it by turning on the arpeggiator and then turning knobs. You can see a bit of my initial attempts in our recent video.

In order to really understand what this little beast has to offer, a deep dive in the studio would be required. We at CatSynth hope to be able to arrange that in the not-to-distant future, and will report back here and on CatSynth TV.