Matzoh Man and Thoughts on Passover

Passover is, perhaps, the most “visible” Jewish holiday for me. After all, we have featured the Matzoh Man in many photos and short video clips here on CatSynth, and now twice in a row for CatSynth TV.

For this year’s episode, we took audio output from our mechanical friend via a contact mic and sent it into the KOMA Field Kit. We then split the signal into audio, which was run through our modular synthesizer – specifically, the Rossum Electro-music Morpheus – and the Field Kit’s own envelope follow and actuator section, ultimately driving the solenoid. It was a fun little demo both to make and to watch.

Matzoh Man joins the synthesizers in a ritual of devotion and irreverence.

I also included a little demo of the ritual diet, with matzoh, prepared horseradish, and Kedem grape juice. But beyond that, anything is fair game for me during Passover as long as there are no piggies or shellfish, or leavened bread. No beer allowed, but non-kosher wine and spirits are fine. It becomes a bit of a game to see if for eight days I can follow these simple rules. To someone more Orthodox, or even the least bit devout, this simple approach could be transgressive, or even blasphemous. But from my point of view, not only is it plenty but I also sometimes wonder why I both at all. It’s not like I believe in the literal truth of the Biblical story, or have any fear of or respect for any religious authorities.

Somehow, though, I still feel compelled to participate. And not just participate, flaunt it, reminding friends that I can’t share pastries or bread products over the week because I’m Jewish. That feels important to remind people of. And it sometimes makes its way into my music, through titles like Kislev and Donershtik (Yiddish for Thursday) or organizing structures in stories. It’s fun. It’s “cool”. But also it feels more urgent, as the world around us seems more anti-Semitic now than it did during my youth. I’m deeply bothered by the attacks that seem to be increasing against Jews, both verbal and violent. But I’m also concerned with an increasing religiosity and sense of obedience among many who identify as Jewish. If being Jewish is just about being religious, or being obedient to a text or patriarchal authorities, then it does truly become time to ask “why bother?”. But for now, we do our best to both persevere and enjoy.

Chag Pesach Semeach.

Farewell to 2018

Click to enlarge

The end-of-year colage has become a long-standing tradition here at CatSynth, and one that I particularly enjoy. It was a complex year, and the images reflect that. Our cats Sam Sam and “Big Merp” (who has pretty much become an indoor-outdoor cat at his new home in Oakland), some great shows including outstanding performances with CDP and Vacuum Tree Head, a wonderful and restorative visit back to New York. It was also dark and fiery at times, as when the Camp Fire leveled the town of Paradise and bathed our sky in smoke and ash – beautiful and tragic all at once.

Another New Year tradition at CatSynth is to share some stats from the past year. First, the basics:

  • 309 posts
  • 169 Cat-and-music posts
  • 78 episodes of CatSynth TV

Our top posts for the year, using the somewhat shaky measurements of Google Analytics:

  1. Wordless Wednesday: Windmill (Golden Gate Park)
  2. Aretha Franklin: Rock Steady
  3. Secret Chiefs 3 and Cleric play Zorn’s Masada
  4. Women’s March 2018 in San Francisco
  5. CatSynth Pic: White Cat and Modular, Vertical View

It was heartening to see such a diverse set of posts top the list. However, this belies the fact that blog readership is way down, and eclipsed by Facebook and YouTube / CatSynth TV. Most of our referrals to the blog come from these two sources; but most activity stays on Facebook and YouTube. On the plus side, CatSynth TV viewership has grown significantly. Here are the top videos for the year.

  1. NAMM 2018: Mellotron! [Episode 34]
  2. Arturia MiniBrute 2 Part 1
  3. Arturia MiniBrute 2 Sequencer [Episode 61]
  4. NAMM 2018: Rossum Electro Music Assimil8or [Episode 31]
  5. Volca FM: Deconstructed Electric Piano [Episode 53]

Clearly, the NAMM reviews and synth demos dominate the channel, though I am proud of the diversity of art, music, and culture topics shared there as well. Overall, we at CatSynth do see the writing on the wall, and the efforts in 2019 will probably accelerate the shift from blog to video in terms of time, energy and investment.

On a more personal and introspective note, 2018 was a year we accomplished a lot. At the same time, it ends feeling like I both did too much and didn’t do enough. There are still so many things going on, even as we tried to consolidate and focus. One of the challenges going into 2019 will be looking at how to stay organized and even more focused, without giving up on all that we do. Also, like birthdays, a new year is a reminder that time is passing, and we are getting a bit older. Taking care of myself will also be a priority.

Thank you all as always for sharing this past year with us, and wish wish everyone a Happy New Year!

CatSynth TV: Benjolin!

Our latest video features the Benjolin, a module designed by Rob Hordijk and distributed by Epoch Modular.  From the official website:

The benjolin is a multifunction synthesizer designed by Rob Hordijk. The module consists of four separate function blocks: two VCOs, a state variable filter and an additional circuit, invented by Hordijk himself, called a rungler. This particular arrangement emerged from his efforts to design a synthesizer that was, as he puts it, “bent by design”. As such, the module functions according to principles of chaos theory, where short to long sputtering patterns spontaneously transform themselves, at times, gradually, at others, quite suddenly, morphing into new pattern doublings and bifurcations. ​

The rungler is what gives the module (and its predecessor the Blippo Box) its chaotic character.  It’s basically a shift register timed off the two oscillators which then fed as a control signal back to the oscillators, creating a nonlinear dynamic feedback system.  It’s a lot of fun to just play and explore, but I have also used it in both recordings and live performance.  It works particularly well with subtle control inputs, like the Theremini.

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. 😺

New CatSynth TV: Hidden Sub Phatty

We have a brand-new CatSynth TV!  This one demonstrates a couple of the hidden features of the Moog Sub Phatty synthesizer.

In particular, we look at filter-topology selection and Oscillator 2 beat frequencies.  The filter selection makes the instrument much more powerful, moving between the extra crunchy 1 and 2-pole filters to the smooth 4-pole that is “quintessentially Moog”.  The beat frequency is a bit more esoteric – it maintains beating frequencies across different pitches, leading to some odd detunings in different registers.  But it can add a new timbral-metric component to compositions – something to explore in more depth.

We also look at the Editor/Librarian software from Moog, which is really handy for accessing these features as well as saving patches.

If you have not yet subscribed to our YouTube channel, please do so 😻

Passover Synth Jam with the Matzoh Man

The Matzoh Man returns for Passover on CatSynth TV, this time accompanied by a Minimoog, Roland VP-03 vocoder and our trusty Nord Stage EX.

The Dayenu song is a tradition on Passover.  The word dayenu approximately translates to “it would have been sufficient” and is used as a phrase of gratitude for each of the miracles recounted in the Passover Hagaddah.

Chag Pesach Sameach!

#MarchForOurLives San Francisco

Yesterday, countless people joined March for Our Lives in communities all across the United States and internationally.  We at CatSynth attended our local rally and march here in San Francisco and created this video of the experience.

March for Our Lives is part of a larger movement protesting gun violence and gun safety, especially as it affects our youth.  This has been bubbling for a long time, but it erupted in a full-fledged movement after the tragic shooting at Stoneman-Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida.  The students who survived the shooting immediately spoke out forcefully against the seeming intransigence of leaders in the face of gun violence and have since been joined by countless other young people as well as those of us who are a bit older and support their message.  It culminated in the events yesterday, where hundreds of thousands participated.  There were a variety of opinions, from simple common-sense measures like banning specific devices and background checks to entirely abolishing the Second Amendment.  But what united them is the idea that continuing to do nothing is unacceptable and must change.  There was a modest success in Florida in the wake of the shooting, but it remains to be seen if more action comes from this.

We at CatSynth strongly believe that we need to do a lot more to reduce gun violence – and increase gun safety – in the U.S., and that cultural intransigence in some segments is no excuse.  But we will save a detailed opinion for another time.  For now, we leave you with the speech by Emma Gonzales, who with her fellow Parkland students have become the faces and consciences of this movement.


Modular Synthesizer Demo for Purim

Purim is the “most synthesizer-y” of Jewish holidays, given that one of it’s central rituals is noisemaking. This year we created a synthesizer demo running sounds from a gragger through several modules.

The demo uses a mixture of pre-recorded gragger on the QuBit Nebulae and live sound via the Mikrophonie and Make Noise Echophon. The full list of modules used in the Purim demo is:

  • Make Noise Echophon
  • Qu-Bit Nebulae (v1)
  • Rossum Electro-Music Morpheus
  • Mikrophonie
  • Make Noise Maths
  • Make Noise Tempi
  • Malekko Heavy Industry Noisering

I do wish I already had a Qu-bit Nebulae v2 for this project.  You can see our review of v2 from NAMM 2018 here.

Purim is a holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire from the king’s wicked advisor Haman, as told in the book of Esther. Traditionally, the gragger is used to mask the name of Haman when said out loud during readings.

An Afternoon with Sam Sam

Sam Sam stars in our latest CatSynth TV video.

You can hear her sweet but demanding voice, and see how our little girl spends a typical afternoon. It’s a pretty envious existence if I say so myself 😺. One can also see her rather unique way of walking up and down stairs.

CatSynth TV: Wicks Looper (with Korg Delay Monotron)

One of our CatSynth TV episodes this week featured a close-up demonstration of the Wicks Looper by Rarebeasts, a tiny musical instrument that can make beats, loops, and all sorts of noises.  We also added a Korg Delay Monotron for filtering and delay effects in the last portion of the demo.

The Wicks Looper is a fun instrument that I have used in several live performances, though less so lately.  Its audio jack is a bit fussy at times, but as long as I remember I know how to make it work reliably.  Both it and the Monotron should see more use again this year as I plan out new ideas for solo performances.  And we still love that cat logo that looks so much like our dear Luna.  But there is also a (non-black) Luna who lives with the human who created the instrument, a fact involved in our discovering it in the first place.

Rarebeasts has moved on to newer custom electronic instruments that are quite sculptural in nature.  You can see their work at their Etsy shop.