CatSynth video: Cat Hypnosis (Buchla)

From spindizzyman on YouTube, via matrixsynth.

“Spacey Buchla Track”

CatSynth pic: Appliancide (mostly) DIY modular

From Appliancide, where you can read more about the project.

I ordered some knobs and switch covers for the Doepfer modules, so they will blend in with my DIY stuff better. I am working on a second case and the modules to fill it. I will try to do a start-to-finish pictorial on one the modules this coming year. We’ll see. I like to build slow and rock out to music. Taking pictures cramps my style.

Also on matrixsynth:

“Clockwise starting from the upper left:

Doepfer a-111 VCO, Dual CGS/Serge DUSG, Doepfer a-188-1 256 stage BBD, Doepfer a-188-1 4096 stage BBD, DIY manual gate/lag generator, Doepfer a-135 mixer, Doepfer a-101-2 LPG, DIY version of Fonitronik Attenuverting Mixer and Buchla 292C LPG clone using boards from Thomas White.”

Experi-MENTAL night at TheaterLab, New York

Today we look back at the second of my November performances in New York. This one took place at Theater Lab in Manhattan in one of the venue’s stark white studios that served as both performance venue and blank canvas. There were several now-familar faces from east coast shows, as well as new artists that I heard for the first time.

The show opened with an acoustic performance by PAS, featuring Robert L. Pepper, Amber Brien, Michael Durek and John “Vomit” Worthley with guest Carlo Altomare (one of the founders of TheaterLab) on piano. The acoustic instruments included a wide variety of percussion, strings and winds, as well as DIY combinations of objects (buckets, balloons, etc.) to produce other sounds. In this way, they played acoustic instruments as if they were synthesizers.


[PAS. (Click images to enlarge.)]

The performance moved between gradually evolving by strongly rhythmic material and more freeform noise textures, all expressive and performed with a wide dynamic range. At various times, the performers moved around the space, among the audience and up into the loft, which added a theatrical element as well as spatialization. You can see and hear for yourself in this video:

PAS live with Carlo Altomare at Experi-MENTAL Night at Theaterlab. November 26th, 2011 from PAS Music on Vimeo.

The particular combination of instruments and idiomatic playing gave portions of the performance an Asian feel (particularly at the beginning of the video), but even there the piano provides an avant-gard counterpoint and the overall texture moves to something more reminiscent of Henry Cowell before moving into a more experimental dramatic mode featuring Altomare soloing on piano and Pepper repeatedly chanting “Piano Man!” I like how they were able to move so easily between the different timbres and textures and rhythms without stopping, except of course for the silences that occurred in response to the instruction “Silence!” In all, a great set that set a confident tone for the entire evening.

Next was a duo featuring Richard Lainhart on a Buchla synthesizer and Lucio Menegon on strings and effects. They performed a live improvised set to a film by Scratch Film junkies.

The film was beautiful and mesmerizing, though I did find myself also watching the Buchla to see and hear what was happening. In general, the synth performance was subtle and blended well with the string sounds to produce an overall ambient texture, with occasional metallic and inharmonic swells. The eerie and slowly moving sound fit the abstract video, with frequently changing clips overlaid with digital effects that simulated paint and chemical treatment. At times, the harmonies and timbres seemed to approach an acoustic orchestra and choir, as one might hear in a science fiction film, while others seemed to channel the sounds of bowed metal and glass.

PAS presents Experi-MENTAL Night with a duo by Richard Lainhart and Lucio Menegon at Theaterlab from PAS Music on Vimeo.

This was followed by a trio featuring Jay Pluck on piano, Julia Violet on vocals, and Michael Durek returning, this time on theremin.


[Jay Pluck, Julia Violet, and Michael Durek. Photos by Michael Zelner. (Click to enlarge.)]

This was the most traditional and idiomatic of any set during the show. The songs were songs, quite lyrical and featuring traditional harmonies and melodic lines for voice and theremin. The introduction featured a theremin solo – Durek is quite good at getting standard pitching and phrasings from the instrument – set against gently rolling arpeggios of romantic chords on the piano. As Violet’s vocals enter, the music takes on a light cabaret feel, but the theremin backed with Mini-Kaoss Pad effects, continues to give it a somewhat otherworldly quality. The second song, which featured more major harmonies, had a bit of a 1960s rock quality to it, as if it was it was a song from a popular album rescored for piano and voice. Here the theremin had a bit of a darker tone.

After that it was time to take the stage. It was basically the same setup as a few nights earlier at the AvantElectroExpectroExtravaganza in Brooklyn, but with a few musical differences. I opened with a newly programmed piece that featured timbres based on the Bohlen 833 scale in which I could call up individual pitches and harmonics via the monome and iPad working together. The end result was a somewhat an ambient piece that was relaxed but with anxious undertones.

[Click to enlarge, if you must.]

I did reprise my Wicks Looper and Korg Monotron improvisation that had worked well at the previous performance, as well as another another piece featuring additive synthesis in which iPad-controlled tone clouds are set against short percussive tones. At the end of the set, I was joined by Robert L. Pepper from PAS for a duo improvisation featuring acoustic instruments and electronics. We started with a steady pattern on the dotara and large drum, gradually bringing in some electronic sounds controlled by the monome and other acoustic instruments and effects. Overall, we meshed very well musically despite this being our first time ever playing together! I particularly liked the moment where we were both playing string instruments, as it felt particular aligned and expressive. This gave way to a finale with dotara and drums that approached traditional folk music and a well-defined final note. You can hear the full solo and duo in this video:

Amar at TheaterLab, New York. from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The final set featured Richard Lainhart’s film The History of the Future with a live soundtrack performed by the “Orchestra of the Future”, an ad hoc ensemble featuring many of us who had performed in the previous four sets. The film featured clips and images from old educational and demonstration films featuring depictions of possible feature technologies. It’s a snapshot of “what the future used to be” in previous eras.

[Orchestra of the Future.]

The improvised soundtrack, which featured a variety of acoustic and electronic instruments, was rich in texture and dynamism and dramatic moments. Everyone did a good job of watching what was happening on the screen and listening to each other. There were moments where it seemed like the relative volumes of instruments were off, but that was a minor issue. It was a great way to end the evening (and a bit of a relief to be in the large ensemble after performing solo).

We had a decently sized audience for the show and a very positive response both during the event itself and in talking to people at the small reception afterwards. It was interesting that although this event was in New York, there were Bay Area connections both among the performers and the audience. This year has been a good one for bi-coastal collaboration and I look forward to more of it next year.

[Additional photos available at Michael Zelner’s flickr set. Additional videos available on vimeo by PAS Music and CatSynth.]

CatSynth video: IPad, TouchOSC, Buchla 200e demo.

From legionhwp on YouTube, via matrixsynth.

This is an instructional demo from the blog: Http://SynthandI.blogspot.com

The first half of this explains what is needed to connect an IPad running a midi controller App (in this case TouchOSC) to the Buchla 200e modular synthesizer. The second half of this video show a bit about the patch I made in TouchOSC and discussed the possibilities for further exploration.”

Watch for the cat at the beginning of the video.

CatSynth pic: Galaxy Laughs, Oscillators drift

That is one happy cat.  I probably would be, too, with, access to that many Buchla synths.

From Reed, via matrixsynth.

CatSynth pic: More Buchla and Fritz

Another from 7th Dan Sound, via matrixsynth.

Catsynth pic: Fritz and Buchla

From 7th Dan Sound, via matrixsynth:

A reminder that you, too, can submit your cat-and-synthesizer (or cat-and-music) pictures for future posts via facebook, twitter or our submission form.

Omega Sound Fix, Alfa Art Gallery

Today we look back the Omega Sound Fix Festival, which took place at the Alfa Art Gallery in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The festival spanned two days, Saturday, November 20 and Sunday, November 21, and I was myself scheduled to perform on the second night. (You can read an earlier article about my preparations for the event here.)

As with other events this year, I was live tweeting during the performance @catsynth, using the tag #omegasoundfix. Additionally, PAS has posted videos from the first night of the event, several of which are included below.

After a brief trip to lower Manhattan on Saturday, I headed across the river via the Lincoln Tunnel (which the iPhone assured me had the least traffic of any crossing) and south on the New Jersey Turnpike towards New Brunswick. It was comforting to finally arrive at Alfa Art Gallery after the long trip and come in out of the cold air to the abstract electronic sounds. I arrived in time to hear the second half of Richard Lainhart’s set (I wish I had arrived in time to hear the whole thing). You can see part of Lainhart’s performance below:

Richard Lainhart live at Alfa Art Gallery (Part II) for the Omega Sound Fix Festival from PAS on Vimeo.

I had not arrived in time to hear Lainhart’s introduction in which he explained that piece was by the renowned 20th Century composer Oliver Messaien – a 1937 piece Oraison that was was one of the early pieces written purely for electronic instruments. It was later adapted for acoustic instruments as part of Messaien’s “Quartet for the End of Time”, composed while he was in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1941. Lainhart’s arrangement of the piece uses the Haken Continuum with a Buchla synthesizer. The music starts out very quiet and melancholy, like a mournful piece of acoustic chamber music. But one can hear the timbral details, suble pitch changes and effects that make it unmistakably electronic. Every so often, there is strong feedback in the sound, but it remains very expressive within the context of the piece. The harmonies move between minor and very anxious augmented. It feels very much like piece of music for a dramatic film, set in forlorn ruins or a desert approaching dusk.

Lainhart then joined Philippe Petit for the next set. I would characterize Petit’s performance as “virtuosic experimental turntable”, as that was the primary instrument he was using (along with a laptop) to generate his sounds that were at once very natural and very constructed. The set began with Lainhart playing long bowed tones on the vibraphone set again Petit’s liquidy granular sounds, scratches, low rumbles and anxious harmonies. There was a strong contrast between the more ethereal and natural timbres, and the lower-frequency and louder machine noises. Petit’s sounds moved from more natural and machine towards snippets from other recordings with bits of distorted harmony, and urban city-like environments. It then changes over to turntable effects, pops and skips and speed changes, and gets noiser and more agressive. Lainhart’s bowed vibraphone provides a constant dreamlike quality against Petit’s changing textures.

Philippe Petit collaborates with Richard Lainhart live at Alfa Art Gallery for the Omega Sound Fix Festival from PAS on Vimeo.

At some point during the set, the duo were joined by a guitarist to form a trio. [Note if anyone can provide me the guitarist’s name, please let me know!] The trio with guitar began scratch and percussive, but became more tonal over time. There is a section which I referred to as the “thud march”, which electrical pops forming a march-like rhythm with other turntable effects filling in the space in between. The rhythm breaks apart after while, with the electronic pops continuing in a more chaotic pattern, and scratching and percussive effects on the guitar providing a counterpoint. Quiet inharmonic synthesizer pads can be heard in the background. The set drew to a large close, starting with a quiet turntable solo and then into a big finish, with loud howling wind-like sounds, and dark harmonies.

They were followed by PAS (Post Abortion Stress). Petit remained on stage and joined regular group members Michael Durek, Robert L Pepper and John “Vomit” Worthley and guest saxophonist Dave Tamura.


[Click image to enlarge.]

The set began with a very simple pentatonic sequence. On top of this, Worthley played a bowed waterphone waterphone, and Durek soon joined on thermin with a melodic line. Tamura’s saxophone provided a strong counterpoint to the other elements, alternating between very expressive jazz-like lines and a “skronking”. There were moments where the saxophone and thermin seemed to respond to each other, melodically and harmonically. At some point, the original pentatonic pattern cut out, and the music centered around saxophone, theremin and electronic violin. This was followed by a purely electronic section with dark analog sounds and driving electronic drums. Pepper repeatedly slammed his electronic violin against the table, while Tamura played fast runs on the saxophone. Another interesting moment was Pepper using a standard fishing rod as an instrument (perhaps the first time I have seen that), set against synthesizers, guitar and saxophone. Gradually the music gets louder and more insistent, with driving percussive guitar, loud saxophone, and synthesizer sweeps, howls and sound effects in the background. Below is a video of PAS’ entire performance.

PAS live at Alfa Art Gallery with Dave Tamura & Philippe Petit from PAS on Vimeo.


The Sunday program began with blithe (doll). The performance combined acoustic drums as a foundation with live electronics and voice. I particularly liked the combination of loungy Latin rhythm and harmony in one piece with eerie electronic sounds and Phrygian vocal melodies that permeated much of the set. There were sections that were more “spacelike” with analog square waves and loud hits. Overall, the slow rhythms and melodies were reminiscent of goth or darker electronic club music.


[Click image to enlarge.]

This was a fun set to watch and listen too, and the band drew a relatively large crowd. I guess that should be surprising given that the band is local, and husband-and-wife duo of James and Lisa Woodley were well known from the previous band.

Blithe (doll) was followed by Borne (aka Scott Vizioli). He created a large dramatic and very visual soundscapes. Although his sounds included ambient, environmental and noise-based material, there was also a somewhat unsettling minor harmony that seemed to be just under the surface. Nonetheless the overall sound it was quite meditative, and easy to get lost in the soundspace. Over time, a beat emerged, very sparse and minimalist with metallic sounds. It gradually became stronger and more drum-like, with ethereal bell sounds in the background. I also recalled a single sample of a dishwasher (or something that sounded like a dishwasher) towards the end.

Next up was Octant, which could be described as a band consisting of one human and several robots. The electromechanical robots play acoustic instruments (drums, etc.) while the human member of the band, Matthew Steinke performs on lead vocals.

This was a unique set to watch. My focus was definitely on the robotic performance, but I was also listening to the music itself, which reminded of 1960s British rock with lots of chromatic chord changes. (@catsynth It’s not every day I see retro rock music performed by robots #omegasoundfix ). In order to get a rock rhythm feel, the timing among the robots needs to be well controlled – too much jitter or drift between machines and the musical quality is lost. Octant seems to have that down from a musical and technological perspective. Among the individual songs were “Bowl of Blood”, and another that was introduced by Steinke as being a “song about my cat.”


[Click image to enlarge.]
Octant was followed by Ezekiel Honig. As stated in the program notes, “He concentrates on his idiosyncratic brand of emotively warm electronic-acoustic music.” The set began with sounds that evoked water as well as machinery. I was able to hear that we was making extensive use of looping, although as he states he is “using the loop as more of a tool than a rule” and elements come and go freely outside the context of strict looping. A strong heartbeat sound emerged, and then later other elements joined to form a calm rolling pattern. At one point a strong major 7th harmony emerged. The beating changed sublty over time, as did the implied harmonies, which became more minor. Towards the end, the sounds seemed to focus on voices in the distance and other evidence of everyday human activity.

I had to begin setting up for my set after this, but I was able to part of Trinitron, the musical project of local artist Mark Weinberg. More so than Honig’s set, Trinitron’s performance was very focused on looping of processed electric guitar. Weinberg sat with his guitar in the middle of a circle of candles, and began to layer different lines and effects on top of one another. The resulting sounds from were alternately harmonic and gritty or noisy. Overall, his performance had an ambient dream-like quality to it.

Then it was time for me to play. I started the set with one of the “Big Band Remotes”, old radio broadcasts of big band shows made in the 1930s and 1940s. In particular, I used a recording of Count Basie and the Blue Note in Chicago, under the control of the monome so that I could start, stop and jump to different sections at will. I immediately segued from the final note to the Chinese prayer bowl and a similar metallic resonance on the Evolver synthesizer. After a while, I attempted to add the Smule Ocarina to the mix, though attempting to induce feedback from the speakers was a little more unstable than I had hoped. The second piece involved live sampling and looping of several of my Indian and Chinese folk instruments, including the newly acquired dotara, the gopichand, and Chinese temple blocks. Once again, this was under control of the monome. The piece transitioned to more electronic sounds, otherworldly crashing waves and loud resonances, and into a meditative solo using a guzheng app on the iPad. You can see a video of the first two pieces below:

Amar Chaudhary at Omega Sound Fix (Part 1) from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I then performed 月伸1, the video piece featuring Luna that I did at the Quickening Moon concert in February. In this instance, I did not have the Octave CAT synthesizer, but instead used the Smule Magic Fiddle and Korg iMS-20 on the iPad as the main electronic instruments, along with the Bebot app, a simple synthesizer on the laptop controlled by the monome, and the Evolver. I liked the new iPad apps for improvising against the video, it gave it a different musical quality from the premiere performance, though not as different as one might suspect. The video projection was a challenge – it covered the entire back wall, and I found myself standing “inside” the images, sometimes next to a gigantic projection of Luna. The effect of the projection against the artwork was also quite interesting visually. You can see this performance in the video below:

Amar Chaudhary at Omega Sound Fix (Part 2) from CatSynth on Vimeo.

My performance was the last of the evening, and of the festival. Overall, I thought it was a great experience, both as a performer and audience-member. Thanks to Michael Durek and Mark Weinberg for organizing this event, and to the Alfa Art Gallery for hosting.

Buchla Experiments by recoilsun

Via matrixsynth, where you can see more photos:

Also, check out recoilsun’s bandcamp, featuring music with this Buchla setup. Interesting and meditative. Not sure if the cat assisted.

2010 San Francisco Electronic Music Festival

A few weeks ago I attended two performances at the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival. I did live tweets at the time, and now present a more detailed and reflective account.

The performances took place at the Brava Theater in the Mission District. There was also a satellite event at the de Young Museum which unfortunately I was not able to attend.

The festival opened with a piece by Benjamin Bracken. The stage was set with a series of guitars each facing its own amplifier. The guitars were excited (i.e., made to resonate) by “a process of using feedback of specific sets of harmonic partials.”

[Benjamin Bracken. Piece for Unplayed Guitars.]

The piece began with a low rumble and drones. The sound grew denser, sometimes forming a minor harmony, and other times distinct beating patterns were audible between the long tones. Later on, the drones became higher in pitch and more “anxious” sounding and were mixed with other sounds, including something that sounded like metal objects being rubbed against one another, or bowed strings. The sound gradually became louder and more all encompassing, sometimes resolving back into a single harmony or pitch, and sometimes into a series of perfect intervals, along with some more more metallic and bowed sounds.

[John Chowning.  Photo by Michael Zelner.  (Click to enlarge)]

Bracken was immediately followed by John Chowning, who came out to talk to the audience before his set began. Many readers are undoubtedly familiar with Chowning as a pioneer in sound synthesis,and his invention of modern FM synthesis. But Chowning is also an accomplished composer and his pieces are quite beautiful. Turenas made extensive use of both FM synthesis and his early work moving sound sources in 360-degree sound space. Indeed the piece seemed to be composed of tiny particles of sound that seemed both natural and synthetic at the same time, and which were moving very strongly around in space.

[John Chowning’s stria.  Photo by Michael Zelner.  (Click to enlarge)]

Chowning’s second piece stria was originally composed and presented in 1977 at IRCAM in Paris. It is based on the golden ratio, which plays a strong role in mathematics, visual art and also how we perceive narrative in music as well as storytelling. Chowning took this a step further by basing the ratios of frequencies in the sounds themselves on the golden ratio, and using a 13-note scale to express the resulting timbres. While this results in sounds that seem inharmonic (or “clangorous” as the program notes describe it), it also provides a certain order to the piece. The music was accompanied by a visual that should the spectral composition of the piece, as well as the golden section in the temporal development (bringing it back to its traditional application in narrative.)

[Maureen Chowning in Voices v.2. Photo by Michael Zelner. (Click to enlarge)]

The third piece was a more recent composition Voices v.2, and featured soprano Maureen Chowning on voice. Pitches from her voice were tracked by a program written in Max/MSP and used to control FM synthesized sounds that are then remixer the voice and spatialized into the auditorium.

As Maureen Chowning was singing the piece, the Max/MSP program plus the score were projected onto the screen behind her, where the audience could see the efforts of John Chowning cajoling the program into behaving itself in real time.

The final set featured another pioneer in synthesis, Don Buchla, who continues to mahis Buchla analog synthesizers to this day. He was joined by Alessandro Cortini (aka “blindoldfreak”), who may be familiar to readers for his sonoio project.

[Don Buchla and Alessandro Cortini.  Photos by Michael Zelner.  (Click to enlarge)]

They began the set with a piece for “dueling Buchlas” by Cortini entitled Everything Ends Here. It opened with low notes and filtered analog drones, followed by sounds that were more windy and wispy before becoming more defined. There was a pattern with suspending major harmonies, then loud noises, moments of massive distortion, and then very low “sub bass” tones.

The next piece, Buchla’s En Plein Vol began as a standard piece for percussionist (Joel Davel) with a marimba, cymbals, temple blocks, gongs and other conventional instruments. At some point during the performance, Cortini wandered onto the stage. He lingered nearby, and then very conspicuously walked off with one of the temple blocks. He and Nannick Bonnel continued to come by and remove instruments. However, as each item was pilfered, Davel continued to play the same sound in the empty space, as if it was still there. This trick was likely accomplished by using synthesized sounds controlled by a Buchla Lightning. The piece continued in comical fashion until all the instruments and eventually the performer himself were removed from the stage.

Buchla and Cortini returned to the stage in full Carnaval attire. Buchla set in motion a pattern with a frantic jumping rhythm and an out-of-tune sequence of soft analog waves. Gradually, the music became more percussive and rhythmic, and on the screen were scenes of Carnaval percussionists. A parade of masked performers began to descend into the theater from the back, often stopping to “play” with the audience (I’m pretty certain it was Gino Robair who had a little fun with me as I attempted to “live tweet” what was unfolding). The music became a combination of synthetic drumming sounds, whistles and noisemakers. After a few rounds that did truly resemble a mini Carnaval parade, the performers ascended to the stage and formed a large semi-circle for the final piece Parabolic Trajectories.

The performers all donned large comical sunglasses – which did elicit a bit of laughter from the audience. Buchla then started up the main instrument for this piece, an old fashioned popcorn maker. As the performance drew to a close, randomized percussive sound (and mildly burnt odor) of the popcorn filled the theater.


I also attended the Saturday performance, this time as a volunteer usher. In between my ushering duties (which mostly consisted of holding a really cool flashlight and occasionally asking someone not to bring their food or drink into the theater), I was able to see and hear the full show.

Joseph Hammer opened the program with Road Less Traveled, An improvisation-based composition featuring sound loops and other found sonic material. The intention was to build in a senepse motion and narrative with the changing sound palette, a “journey with uncertainty as thr goal.” Musically, the loops at the beginning were more folk-rock samples (which in a tweet I suggested required the medical gloves that Hammer was wearing.) Over time, the source material incorporated more funk and classic R&B, which worked better for me.

Stephan Mathieu performed an extended version of Alvin Lucier’s Music with Magnetic Strings, in which the strings of an Ottavino Virginal, a small Renaissance clavier, were set into vibration by five electromagnets. The result was a sound image that was at once very Tarkington and simple, but also full of complex details such as beating patterns between sustained tones. There were also plucked strong sounds (at least as far I was able to discern) and also an ebow placed on top of the strings at one point in the piece. The very minimal structure and sound of this set may have been a challenge for some listeners. For me, I think I was in just the right mood to be receptive to something like this where I could completely defocus.

The final performance of the evening and of the festival was by Caroliner Rainbow.  The group describes itself as “an Industrial Bluegrass/Experimental/Noise conceptual art Costume Rock band.”  I am still not entirely sure what “industral bluegrass” is, but the aural and visual experience is certainly unique.  The first thing one notices is the large and elaborate stage set.

[Caroliner Rainbow]

The colors, shapes and textures seemed to be somewhere between psychedelic and urban graffiti, with bright fluorescent hues. For some of the performers, it was challenging to tell where the set ended and the costumes began, until one saw the performers’ motions, which ranged from standard performance gestures (e.g., guitars, drums) to odd back-and-forth rocking. The performers and stage did seem to function as a single entity.

Musically, the performance was something between noise and experimental punk rock, with big flourishes of piano, organ, drums, guitar and electronic noises. These seemed to come in bursts rather than as a single long phrase. Some friends of mine had seen them perform years ago, with one of the more memorable moments between a squeaking fiddle – this was present in this performance in between some of the other sounds and gestures.

After the festival concluded, there was still the challenge of dismantling such a large set. We close with a few of the staff and volunteers getting started:

[Post SFEMF.  (Click image to enlarge)]