Fun with Highways: Philadelphia

Philadelphia has played an important role for us at CatSynth this year, musically, personally, and now politically. All eyes have been on this city the last few days, and this morning they delivered the crucial votes to call the presidential election.

Downtown Philadelphia lies between two rivers, the larger Delaware and the smaller Schuykill. It is further boxed in by three major freeways, I-95, I-76, and I-676 / US 30. Just south if I-676 (which enters the city from the east on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge from New Jersey) are the famous historic sites including Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution where written.

Independence Hall Clocktower in Philadelphia.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Independence_Hall_Clocktower_in_Philadelphia.jpg

But modern city is much more than these historic sites, revered as they are. It is one of the largest cities in the country and has its own unique culture. Great seafood, Italian food, and of course cheesesteaks. Also some important centers for modern art and architecture. There is the neo-classical Philadelphia Museum of Art (made famous by Rocky) but also the modernist Institute of Contemporary Art and the University of Pennsylvania.

Institute of Contemporary Art — Visit Philadelphia
https://www.visitphilly.com/things-to-do/attractions/institute-of-contemporary-art/

In addition to the facade of the museum, I like the modernist buildings nearby which are presumably part of the university. (Hey, didn’t someone supposedly graduate from Penn/ Wharton?).

And nestled among the tall buildings of downtown Philly is the Love sculpture by Robert Indiana. Originally part of the 1976 bicentennial celebrations in “the city of brotherly love”, it is now a permanent fixture in the city.

File:Philadelphia, The City of the Brotherly Love - USA - panoramio.jpg -  Wikimedia Commons
700https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Philadelphia,The_City_of_the_Brotherly_LoveUSA-_panoramio.jpg

Philadelphia is one of the larger and denser cities in the country, more akin to New York than to Los Angeles.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Philadelphia_from_South_Street_Bridge_July_2016_panorama_3b.jpg

One of the more famous skyscrapers is the PSFS building. Now a hotel, it was once a the headquarters of the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society. It is an official landmark.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PSFSBuilding1985.jpg

Of course, we would be remiss if we did not talk about the city’s music. In particular, I have a soft spot for Philly soul of the 1970s, as exemplified by the band MSFB.

They were the house band of Philadelphia Sigma Sound Studios, the seminal house for the city’s particular sound, heavy on strings and detailed production. In addition to MSFB, they spawned many important acts like the O’Jays, the Spinners, the Delfonics and Stylistics, many of whom worked with the great producer Philadelphia producer Thom Bell. The sound and musicians of the city also attracted so called “blue-eyed soul”, such as David Bowie’s Young Americans album, and Elton John’s hit Philadelphia Freedom which was recorded with MFSB. The latter truly seems like song for this moment of celebration.

Many great jazz and funk musicians also came out of Philadelphia and call the city their home. Among them is the drummer G Calvin Weston who worked with Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, James Blood Ulmer, the Lounge Lizards and more. And he is working with me on my latest musical project as well. You can hear about his history and many other musicians from Philadelphia in our extended interview with him from this summer.

He has been adding the “icing on the cake” to several tracks on my new album scheduled to release in early January, hopefully in time for change of power in our country. But for the moment, I would just like to say how proud I am of the city of Philadelphia and to call them my friends.

Wordless Wednesday: Sam Sam and Highway 58

Sam Sam in the studio with a California Highway 58 shield. Vintage modifications done in Adobe Lightroom.

Wordless Wednesday: Mendiburu (California City)

Intersection looking north towards the horizon in California City.

You can see our past Wordless Wednesdays here.

Wordless Wednesday: California 167

California Highway 167, a short route in the Eastern Sierra region that runs from US 395 near Mono Lake to the Nevada border in an almost perfectly straight line. The straightness, wide-open space, and desert landscape are something I am missing very much at the moment.

Wordless Wednesday: The Perfect Road (Death Valley)

There was something “perfect” about this stretch of road in Death Valley National Park. There is both a joy and a melancholy in looking back at it now.

Wordless Wednesday: Islais Creek

Islais Creek, San Francisco

A beautiful view of the still-industrial Islais Creek in San Francisco, with the double-decker I-280 in the background. Although so much in San Francisco has changed and industrial zones are disappearing, I am heartened to see the area still has some of the character the drew me to it several years ago.

I was nominally in the area that day to see artists and their work at Islais Creek Open Studios.

Wordless Wednesday: Tappan Zee Transition

Tappan Zee Bridge (new and old)

The new Tappan Zee Bridge in front the remaining sections of the old bridge, partially demolished, in late November, 2018.

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

Wordless Wednesday: Terminal Island Abstract

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

CatSynth TV Episode 99!

It’s the 99th Episode of CatSynth TV, and we have a special treat for all our readers and videos. It combines many of our interests: synthesizers, cats, experimental music and film, and highways.

Video shot along Highway 99 in California from Manteca through Stockton and heading towards Sacramento. Additional video and photography at CatSynth HQ in San Francisco.

Guest appearances by Sam Sam and Big Merp.

Original experimental synthesizer music by Amanda Chaudhary, based on melodies from “99 is not 100” by Moe! Staiano.

Synthesizers used:

  • Minimoog
  • Arturia MiniBrute 2S
  • Big Fish Audio John Cage Prepared Piano Sample Library (Kontakt)
  • Nord Stage EX
  • Mutable Instruments Plaits
  • Metasonix R-54 and R-53 2hp Cat module
  • 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator
  • Make Noise Echophon