Solo Electronic Set and Johnston-Nelson-Wright Trio at Luggage Store Gallery, September 16

[Note: for Weekend Cat Blogging, please scroll down or click here.]

Today we look back at my solo performance at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco two weeks ago. This was part of the regular Outsound music series every Thursday, and on this night featured two very contrasting sets: my solo electronic work, and then an acoustic horn trio.

We being with a view of the setup:

My solo rig has slowly turned into a table from an Apple store, with an iPhone, iPad, and MacBook all in use. At the same time, I continue to blend old and new technology with the presence of the traditional Indian instruments, such as the ektar and gopichand, and Chinese instruments. I set up the monomer to mostly face the audience and provide interesting displays on the grid, unless I specifically needed to interact with it.

[Click image to enlarge]

From my perspective, as well as a couple of people I talked to in the audience, the most successful piece was the new string-centric piece that combined the guzheng model on the iPad with live sampling of the ektar and gopichand. This piece mixed traditional instruments of two cultures with advanced technology. In addition to the iPad, this piece used the mlr application with the monome for sample playback and looping. Most importantly, however, was how it came together musically with the harmonies and timbres of the instruments standing on their own to create a meditative soundscape.

The other piece that worked well was my update of the meditation with prayer bowl and DSI evolver, which also incorporated the Smule Ocarina on the iPhone. I used the feedback technique again where the iPhone is placed in front of a speaker and starts to play itself. Here is a video excerpt:

Overall, it was a good performance and provided an opportunity to try out new things. It was nowhere near as tight and polished as my set at the Quickening Moon Concert back in February, though (or as well attended).

I was followed on the program by the horn trio of Darren Johnston, Matt Nelson, and Cory Wright. Their improvised music moved back and forth freely between rhythmic avant-garde jazz, long drones and all-out skronking.

Although it was a completely different instrumentation and format, there were a few similarities between the trio and my set, particularly towards the beginning. The opened with a series of complex rhythms with pauses and odd time relations that reminded me a bit of the piece I did with the monome+mlr. Every so often, the rhythms came together into a uniform pattern and then into long notes that formed perfect intervals or occasional consonances with thirds. Then the drone broke apart. On the opposite end, there were noise elements, especially on the trumpet and more atonal harmonies. At one point, the sound was reduced to very soft breath noises, followed by a swell with staccato notes and warbles, getting ever busier and louder.

The next segment began with solo muted trumpet. While listening, I was thinking how muted trumpet always sounds “jazzy” no matter the style of music being played. The jazz feel was sustained as the other performers came in, building a texture that was both elaborate and nostalgic. The jazz feel gave way to more percussive sounds, such as rubbing the headjoint of the soxophone on the body of the instruments. The mutes themselves became percussion instruments, as did a beer bottle. The percussion sounds were loud and resonant, set against clarinet and saxophone headjoint.

The final piece opened with a nice strong baritone saxophone solo. At the same time, the other performers began dropping and throwing objects on the ground. Then everyone came in again on horns with fast and loud notes. The saxophone in particular kept the percussive quality going.

It was a short set, but overall quite good and kept my attention throughout.

Preparing for tonight’s performance

I have been busily preparing for tonight’s solo performance at the Luggage Store Gallery.

Because of all the other things going on in my life and the limited time to prepare, I had to scale back a bit and keep things simple.

On the bottom row is a custom analog noise synth with chaotic elements created by Travis Johns, the iPad running Smule Magic Piano, and the monome. Above this row, there is the Dave Smith Instruments Evolver, one of my Chinese metal bells, the iPhone running a looping app that I often use called TTW2, and the MacBook running “mlr2” and other programs with the monome. I am using a few other apps that are not in the photo, including the Smule Ocarina on the iPhone, and SoundThingy and a guzheng simulator on the iPad. This may still sound complex, but each device is small and self contained, and the interconnectivity is kept to a minimum. I can pick each one up and play it while others run independently.

I am organizing the set into three major pieces. The first mixes purely electronic sounds with an old NBC broadcast of Count Basie from the 1950s. The second features the guzheng simulator with some rhythmic elements and sample loops, set against the Indian string instruments (ektar and gopichand). The third mixes the Evolver with the Ocarina on the iPhone.

One thing that I have revived after not using them for a while is the “Big Band Remotes” recordings from the Internet Music Archive. I still have a recording project I want to finish that uses them, but it also “felt right” to incorporate them into this performance.

As she often does, Luna sat down on the beanbag chair to supervise the goings on.

At night, she tends to be even more camouflaged than usual. The beanbag chair seems to slowly roll over itself over the course of time in a geological manner. The label from the bottom is starting to show at the top.

For those in the area who wish to attend the show tonight, it is at 8PM at the Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street (near 6th) in San Francisco.

μHausen at Camp Happy

This morning I look back to μHausen (micro-Hausen) at Camp Happy in the Santa Cruz mountains. It was really a “tiny festival within a tiny festival”, as we took over Sunday afternoon with our esoteric and (mostly) electronic music.

I brought a relatively compact and self-contained setup:

[click to enlarge image]

A few “greatest hits”, such as the Evolver which I mix with live performance on prayer bowl; the monome controlling Max/MSP on the MacBook for live sampling and looping of Indian and Chinese folk instruments; the “trusty Kaoss Pad”; the iPhone running the Smule Ocarina (which I had just used two nights earlier at Instagon 543. I also added the iPad for the first time, using the Smule Magic Piano, Curtis granular synthesizer, and an app the simulates a Chinese guzheng.

I packed up and made the long trip from San Francisco to Boulder Creek. Unlike Santa Cruz, which is a straight shot, getting to Boulder Creek in the mountains is a bit of a challenge on winding mountain roads, some of which masquerade as state highways. Look for an upcoming “fun with highways” describing that part of the experience.

[click to enlarge image]

I arrived just in time for the performance. Respectable Citizen, the duo of Bruce Bennet and Michael Zbyszynski, performing keyboard+electronics and saxophone+electronics, respectively. Their set featured fast saxophone riffs and “watery” FM sounds, some loud oversaturated moments, a fast shuffle, urban-landscape sounds, and insect-like sounds, with lots of speed changes and signal processing (e.g., waveshaping).


[Click to enlarge image]

Luke Dahl performed a fun piece based on samples from Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Kontakte 2. It is one of my favorite recordings, and Luke’s samples featured one of my favorite moments from it (a sort of descending pulse sound that eventually slows down to become discrete percussive hits). He arranged short samples on a grid that could be triggered independently, to make “improvised Stockhausen.” I got a chance to try it out after his performance.

I was next on the program. I opened with the live sampling and playback controlled by the monome. The light patterns on the device still captured the attention of the audience even in the bright afternoon sun. I think they were also intrigued by my technique of putting the iPhone Ocarina in front of the speaker.

Next up was a live broadcast of the R Duck Show. The opened with the somewhat funky 1970s theme from Sanford and Son, which soon started to glitch and was eventually replaced by freeform noise along with keyboards and guitar. Eventually, a mellow beat emerged (I am pretty this was done with Ableton Live!). Oh, and the program’s host Albert brought chocolate. Really good dark chocolate infused with chilis. Quite tasty.

The program was rounded out with The Stochastics, a trio of Chris Cohn, Leaf Tine and Wayne Jackson.


[click to enlarge images]

The set opened with low rumbling noises, which served as a foundation for Wayne’s circuit bent instruments and Leaf’s vocalizations and performance on an instrument which seemed to be a didgeridoo with a trombone-like bell. Lots of interesting words and incantations and throat singing, and squeaks and squeals and rumbles from the circuit bent instruments. Here is a close-up of the impressive array of circuit bent toys.

[click to enlarge image]

One fun moment was Wayne attempting to create a sub-contra-contra-bass plucked string instrument by stringing duct tape between the microphone on one side of the stage and the speaker stand on the other.

Amar and Polly duo at the Skronkathon

Tomorrow, Polly Moler and I will be performing a duo at the 10th Annual Skronkathon tomorrow.

This performance was somewhat inevitable, i.e., we “knew we HAD to do it”, once Polly found this “spamogrified” copy my review of last year’s Skronkathon. You can read the original here. The spamogrified version, which is probably translated from English to another language and then back to English, is quite amusing especially with its repeated use of the phrase “as a dominate”. Consider this section which incorporates portions of my original review describing Hanuman Zhang, Protea (Serena Toxicat) and David Leikam et al:

There were also some electronic circuit-bent toys, and a knick-knack piano (acoustic knick-knack piano being an contraption I am unqualifiedly fancying of). as a dominate As the toys came to the forefront, the beat began to accustom down and the structure more scarce. as a dominate Sporting a Hello Kitty tunic, Serena Toxicat gave an evocative display with vocals and dancing as a dominate.
From sonorous skronking and establish objects, we then had a plumb contrasting pursue from Protea, with Serena Toxicat and a “special caller thereminist” performing ambient electronic music. as a dominate The vocals and theremin both consisted of dream of tones that followed unwedded another without faithfully complementary. as a dominate Overall, there were two a penny harmonies, etherial textures, deliberate changes and a scintilla of stress. as a dominate
We then switched cater to in from ambient electronic to skronking (but it is unqualifiedly “skronking”?) with a free-improvisation pursue on z exasperate with David Leikam, Zachary Morris, Sheila Bosco and Craig Latta.

The performance will primarily feature my reciting the text in concert with Polly performing the “as a dominate”. In terms of instrumentation, I will keeping things rather simple, and rather light, focusing on a the monome controlling a Max/MSP patch on a laptop, and a granular-synthesis application called Curtis for the iPad:

I hope to be further slicing and dicing the text. I will probably also have the trusty Kaos Pad, along with some acoustic instruments.

The full program for the Skronkathon is listed below. The festivities start at 1PM at 21 Grand (416 25th St) in Oakland, and we go on at 6:25 PM. In the meantime, there is lots of good music, food on the grills (bringing your own is strongly encouraged), and quite a roster of Bay Area “new music” folks.

1:00-1:25 Amigo (Tim Flynn, gtr/David J Moore/bass)
1:25-1:50 Ann O’Rourke (perc) and special guests
1:50-2:15 Ed Christensen (solo elec)
2:15-2:40 Key West (Brian Pedersen/Jason Ricci/Dave Dupuis/
Mark Blatnick/Sung Kim)
2:40-3:05 Michael Guarino (solo prepared gtr, perc)
3:05-3:30 Rachel Wood-Rome (solo horn, voc)
3:30-3:55 Respectable Citizen (Michael Zbyszynski/Bruce Bennett)
3:55-4:20 T.F.F.W.’z (yacob/misha/eden)
4:20-4:45 Matt Davignon (drum machine)/Eric Glick Rieman (prepared elec pno)
4:45-5:10 blipvert (Will Northlich-Redmond, solo elec)
5:10-5:35 Blowout Preventer (Phillip Greenlief/Dan Plonsey/
Ceylan Yagmur/Michael Zelner)
5:35-6:00 Katt & Ron (Kattt Atchley/Ron Heglin)
6:00-6:25 Iron Triangle (Bob Marsh/C. J. Borosque/Sandra Yolles)
6:25-6:50 Amar Chaudhary (elec) & Polly Moller (fl, voc)
6:50-7:15 RTD3 (Doug Carroll/Tom Nunn/Ron Heglin)
7:15-7:40 Tom Scandura (perc)/Matt Ingalls (cl)/Tom Dumuzio (midi gtr)
7:40-8:05 Phillip Greenlief (tenor sax)/David Boyce (tenor sax)
8:05-8:30 G/J (Gino Robair (voltage made painful)/John Shiurba (gtr))
8:30-8:55 Wormses (Jacob Felix Heule/Tony Dryer/Bobby Adams)
8:55-9:20 Ghost in the House (Karen Stackpole/David Michalak/
Tom Nunn/Andrew Voigt)

Admission is free, but we will be accepting donations to benefit the Transbay Creative Music Calendar, which features announcements and information about the local “creative music” community (and also often features reviews from CatSynth).

Outsound Music Summit: Touch The Gear Expo

Once again, the Outsound Music Summit opened with Touch The Gear Night this past Sunday, in which the public is invited to come and, well, “touch the gear” and interact directly with many of the festival artists who use technology in their music. “Technology” included software, electronic devices, DIY projects, and mechanical and sculptural instruments.

I attempted to both cover the event for CatSynth and demo some of my own gear, which made for a hectic but fun evening. I kept my demonstration relatively minimal, with my Monome 8×8, the Korg Kaoss Pad and the Dave Smith Evolver:

[click to enlarge]

Basically, this was a subset of the gear I used at the Quickening Moon Concert (which was part of Outsound’s regular Thursday series at the Luggage Store Gallery). The monome was driving a simple software synthesizer, which along with the Evolver was being processed by the Kaos pad. The monome in particular attracted a lot of attention with its clean geometry and texture, and mysterious nature. It’s just an array of lighting buttons with no marking whatsoever, which invites curiosity.

Travis Johns brought a highly portable version of his worms in compost, this time attached to an analog ring modulator and open-source software the implements Slow Scan Television.

[click to enlarge]

One could hear the noise generated by the worms (which was a low-level rumbling static sound) and see the corresponding image generated by the SSTV software projected onto a screen.

Walter Funk presented a variety of instruments and objects, including Phoenix, a metal music object created by Fred the Spaceman. It was attached via contacts to an effect processor and a speaker, and could be struck or shaken to produce a variety of sounds.

[click images to enlarge]

He also had an old Realistic (remember that brand?) variable-speed tape recorder that included a bucket-brigade (BBD) chip which could be used for a variety of pitch and time shift effects. It would be interesting to modify the unit to take live input in addition to recorded tape input, although the use of tape is part of the charm of such a device. Additionally, he had a small custom analog synthesizer made from inexpensive breadboards made by Elemco that were originally designed for test equipment.

Tom Duff demonstrated the Sound Labs Mini-Synth, a DIY synthesizer kit designed by Ray Wilson. It’s a basic subtractive analog synthesizer, a la a Minimoog. More intriguing were the two generations of Bleep Labs Thingamagoop and Thingamagoop 2. The Thingamagoop 2 includes the photocell-and-light control and analog sound-generation from the original, plus an Arduino for digital sound and control. I want one of these! It was also fun to put the two generations of Thingamagoops together to control one another.

Cheryl Leonard brought some musical objects from Antarctica, including flat stones, bones and limpet shells. The stones had a high but short sound when struck or rubbed against one another. These were used in her Antarctica: Music from the Ice project.

The limpet shells had a resonant sound with well defined pitches. I found myself playing a subset of three shells that together produced an interesting set of harmonies and intervals.

Bob Marsh demonstrated Silver Park, a beautiful instrument that started as a proposal for a park in Detroit with metal sculptures and structures.

[click to enlarge]

Marsh sometimes performs with Silver Park as part of his Mr. Mercury project. The instrument version features springs in addition to the original metal objects, which add to its timbre. In a quiet room (unlike the room we were in) it can be played acoustically, but it can also be played with microphones and electronic effects. Whenever I see pieces like this, I am inspired to create one of my own, but also reminded how much work it is to create sculptures with metal, adhesives, etc. I did get some tips on some “baby steps” to work with similar sounds without necessarily committing to a sculptural artifact.

Another visually powerful instrument was Dan Ake’s 12×13, a large box with 1/4″ metal rods and washers. When the box is spun, the washers slide and shake along the rods producing a metallic cacophony of sound and visual motion.

By spinning the box, or leaving it tilted at various angles, one can get the full effect of the falling washers, or freeze them in mid-fall to cut off the sound.

Philip Evert performed with an auto-harp processed by a large series of effects boxes. The control and sound of the effects chain was largely indeterminate, though the demo that I heard began with ring modulation before becoming a more complex mix.

Tom Nunn brought his Skatchboxes for visitors to try out. Here were see T.D. Skatchit demonstrating the main Skatchbox.

[click to enlarge]

He is a virtuoso on this instrument, and we have reviewed his collaborations with Nunn in previous performances.  The Outsound Summit included a demonstration and class on building your own Skatchbox, which sadly I was not able to attend.

Mark Soden (of phog masheeen) demonstrated a chain of effects processors including a Electrix Filter Queen that produced chaotic oscillations when driven with an appropriate sound source. He had a Roland SP-555 to drive the effects, but the more interesting demo was using a trumpet with contact microphones on its body. One could generate sound by blowing, tapping, or otherwise exciting the body of the trumpet which then drove the chaotic effects processing.

Amy X Neuburg demonstrated the two instruments I have seen her use in her live sets. The Blippo Box produces chaotic signals that are compelling and very easy to play – the effect of turning knobs on the sound, even if it was unpredictable, was very smooth. Of course, the challenge is that the instrument is so chaotic that is very difficult to reproduce the same exact sound twice. She also showed her looping setup, which included a drum pad and an Echoplex.

Rick Walker demonstrated his new “Walker Manual Glitch pedal”. It featured both built-in sound generators and live input, and the ability to “glitch” or reply snippets of sound from any of the sources. This seems like it will be a powerful instrument, especially when combined with loops as input or a live improvised performance.

Thanks to Matt Davignon for organizing this event!  He was also a presenter and showed off his drum machines and effects boxes that he has used in many previous live shows.

Quickening Moon Concert

Sometimes things linger undone for a quite a while. And that is the case with reviewing the Quickening Moon Concert, which I am finally getting around to doing as the next Full Moon concert is about to happen. Basically, the process goes like this. I wait a few weeks to look at the video of my own performance with a fresh perspective. I review the videos. Then post them online. Then a few more weeks pass as life intervenes. So here were are, finally getting to it many “moons” later. Memories of course fade over time, but even going by my own recollections, there is much to recall fondly. Bottom line is that it was a really good performance, in fact I would consider it one of my best solo electronic sets to date. This was in no small part to the advance preparation, but also to the audience, which filled to the Luggage Store Gallery to standing-room only capacity!

This was also one of the larger setups, featuring the Octave CAT vintage analog synthesizer, E-MU Proteus 2000, DSI Evolver, Korg Kaoss Pad, a Mac laptop running Open Sound World and Max/MSP, and the Monome controller, along with an array of my folk instruments from China and India. Even the iPhone made an appearance as an instrument.


[Click images to enlarge.]

Of course, the highlight of the set was the premier of 月伸1, featuring improvised electronic music set against a video of Luna. Musically, I focused on the Octave CAT (seemed appropriate) with the other electronic instruments in a supporting role. You can see a full video of the performance of this piece below:

The music was improvised live, with some prepared guidelines. In this way, it was reminiscent of the live music performances from old silent films. I kept the music relatively sparse and maintained the focus on the visual elements, which moved back and forth between clips of Luna and abstract visual elements (you can read more about the video production here). The audience clearly responded to the video of Luna and the music, and their laughter at very points reminded just how funny a piece this was. It was easy to lose sight of that in the hours of very detailed and very technical preparation, and one of the delights of playing in front of a live audience. I also heard from people that could tell they were able to sense the affection for Luna that came through in the video, though the long shots and the breaks in the otherwise silent video where her voice came through.

The balance of the set leading up to 月伸1 featured various combinations of electronic and acoustic instruments. The monome was my main controller in several of the other pieces, including the opener that focused and live sample loops and patterns from the folk instruments.

I played the instruments live, and then replayed the samples in various patterns on the monome to create complex timbral and rhythmic patterns. I also used the monome in a later piece to control some very simple but musically interesting sound synthesis, as can be seen in this video.

The lights on the monome are visually compelling, but also provide a link for the audience between the actions (which are really just button pressing) and the music.

Several of the pieces including strong rhythmic elements, which helped propel the set forward – I even saw at least one person “grooving out” to one piece.

I replayed several of the pieces (but not the video) in another performance a few days later at the Meridian Gallery. I certainly hope I will have an opportunity to the video again as well.


My performance was followed by the premier of Polly Moller’s Genesis. Genesis is “a musical experiment in which the M-theory of the 11-dimensional universe combines with the inward and outward spiral of the Western magical tradition.” The 11 member ensemble represent the 11 dimensions (which include Universal Time, the three spatial dimensions, and seven others) who combine to bring the “New Universe” into being, as portrayed by Matt Davignon on drum machines.


[Photo by Tom Djll.]

Polly Moller conducted the piece, not from the traditional podium in front of the ensemble, but rather by walking in an inward and outward spiral among the performers. As she walks by, wind chimes in hand, different performers enter or exit. As the New Universe comes into being, Matt Davignon’s electronic performance emerges, culminating in an extended solo as the 11 performers representing the “parent dimensions” fade out.

Quite fortuitously, someone turned my video camera to face the ensemble, so I was able to capture some video of the performance. In the clips below, one can see the conducting by walking in a spiral, as well as parts of the New Universe solo.

Moldover, Celeste Lear and Nonagon at Control Freq

Last Wednesday I attended Control Freq at the Hotel Utah here in San Francisco. Of course, that is a fantastic name for a show, being a play on words for electronic music controllers, audio signal processing, and the tendency of many of us to be in fact “control freaks.” The overall theme among the three groups who performed was use of Ableton Live! with various controllers.

The evening opened with Celeste Lear (guitar, vocals, electronics) and her band, including Adam Willis (drums) and Ian Montgomery (bass).

Lear has quite a pedigree in music and audio, and her music and band is quite technologically sophisticated (I did see the iPhone as a controller on the bassist’s strap). Nonetheless, they manage to combine technology with popular music idioms. I heard various funk, house, and reggae influences in her music – I had a soft spot for the final song which sounded like a classic house/disco track in a minor key. Though most of the music was very rhythmic, there were some free-form moments as well with guitar effects, etc. For much of the set, they were joined by trumpeter John Gibbons.

Celeste Lear was followed by Nonagon [along with guests]. The group had an impressive array of gear, arranged as multiple stations with laptops and controllers, including offerings from Akai and Albeton+Novation and of course a Monome. There were also two glowing globes in between the performers that emitted an ever changing color of light. Musically, the set began with complex ambient sounds, quite different of the Celeste Lear Band. Gradually, beats and recognizable chords emerged, with the beats eventually becoming quite strong and pronounced. Over the course of the set, they seamlessly moved through various beat-based soundscapes, with various resonances, vocal pads, pianos and other sounds filling in.

Moldover concluded the evening with a very impressive, high-paced and virtuosic performance with his Mojo controller, guitar and voice. We had last seem Moldover at LoveTech.

His performance on the controller was strong and rhythmically tight and fun to watch. He played the various buttons and sliders as if he was playing guitar or drums. Even though the Mojo was being used to bring in out various loops, recordings and processed sounds, the end result were new rhythms, chords and even melodies. This can be best seen in a video clip rather than in words:

Max/MSP for Live! and Monome

Check out more info at Cycling ’74 and Ableton. Also monome.

CatSynth video: Press Cafe

YouTube from stretta, via matrixsynth:

A demostration of a quick monome 256 music application I wrote.

Don't miss the cat at the end.