It’s been a little while since we last checked in with Big Merp. He had been splitting his time indoors and outdoors in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, but as the cold and rain started pounding the region this winter, he has gladly made the transition to being a mostly indoor cat.
He is definitely loving the posh and comfy life in his new home.
He does like to go outside now and then, to patrol the neighborhood, and to check in on his lady friend Hissy. But most of the time he is content to stay inside. Sometimes, we open the door for him to go outside, and he just stands there, thinks and goes “nah” and heads back in. As someone who hates the cold, I think this is a wise choice.
Yesterday, we got him a catnip toy from our visit to Cat Town cafe and adoption center, and he has taken to it with aplomb.
We hope you are all enjoying a happy and fulfilling Sunday, whatever you are up to.
This weekend we check in on our feline pal in Oakland, Marlon. We have dubbed him “Big Merp” for his large size and vocalizations that sound like “merp“.
This the face of a cat who has lived life hard, and just wants to chill out in his older years. Fortunately, he is getting that opportunity as he has been spending more and more time indoors. This included getting to stay indoors during the worst of the smoke from the wildfires to our north last month.
As we have mentioned before, it is clear he was a pet cat at one point in his life. He enjoys the comforts of indoors, attention from humans, and food. Lots of food. His friend Hissy is not so sure about the indoor life and is still wary of humans, but she does come around for food and to hang out with Big Merp.
The two of them clearly share a connection, even though they don’t always have the same outlook on life. We hope Hissy does learn to trust people a bit more in the future.
We close with a reminder to readers to be kind to the cats – and other animals – that share our neighborhoods and spaces with us.
Today we visit with our feline friends in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland. First up is Marlon, formerly known as “Fluffy.”
Despite living outdoors, he is healthy and well-fed, and clearly has a past that includes life as a pet cat. He loves people and didn’t need much convincing to spend time indoors. Indeed, he is living it up with his indoor time, getting food and scritches and soft blankets to relax on.
He is a big fellow but has a tiny voice that sounds more like “merp” than “meow”. I don’t yet have any video of his vocals, but you can see him thoroughly enjoying himself in this Instagram video with the music of John Schott playing in the background.
You can hear more of John Schott and his Actual Trio in this CatSynth TV video. In the meantime, let’s check in with Sophia, formerly known as “Hissy.”
As one can see in this photo, she is a beautiful cat, with Siamese-like markings and a graceful bearing. We think she might have once been a pet as well, but she is still extremely skittish around people. I mostly just get a glimpse of her from a distance and she runs off at any attempts to get closer. But she usually remains hidden nearby when Marlon is around. The two of them seem to have a special bond, despite their divergent attitudes towards humans.
We hope all our human and feline friends have a lovely weekend.
We introduce two new kitty pals today: Fluffy and Hissy. They are outdoor kitties who live in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, California.
This is Fluffy. He is a big fellow, and quite friendly. As far as we know, he lives outdoors full time, but he is very comfortable around humans, especially when they provide food.
By contrast, Hissy is much more skittish around people, and it is quite difficult to photograph her.
Usually, Hissy backs away, but if one does get close, she lives up to her name.
Both Fluffy and Hissy seem to be healthy and well fed in comparison to some of the street cats I have encountered in the neighborhood, so they probably have a network of food and safety options, beyond our “satellite office” in the neighborhood.
We hope to get some better photographs of them soon.
A few years ago, I traveled California’s Highway 41 on my 41st birthday. I had hoped to make this a regular tradition, but various circumstances have kept me from following through, until this year, when I drove the southern half of CaliforniaHighway 45. It wasn’t exactly on my birthday, and I didn’t complete the route, but was still a fun and eccentric way to celebrate the conclusion of my 45th year of life. It was also a good excuse to try out the new travel-mapping feature in our Highway☆ mobile app.
Highway 45 begins in the small town of Knight’s Landing in Yolo County, so I first had to schlep up there via Interstate 80 and then turn north on Highway 113 near U.C. Davis. 113 is a major freeway at this point, but a bit further north it narrows to a two-lane country road before reaching the junction with 45.
Knight’s Landing was actually a very small but cute town along the Sacramento River. Before embarking on the formal part of the trip, I stopped along the levee at Front Street to view the continuation of Highway 113 across the river. Front Street was rather beaten up compared to the rest of the town center, perhaps due to the nature of the levee or to discourage unnecessary driving, but it made for a nice little walk.
I then returned to the car and finally turned onto Highway 45, heading northwest out of town.
The highway zig-zagged on a grid between fields on the western side of the Sacramento River, but far enough for the river to mostly remain out of sight. But there were some lovely wide-open farmland vistas, made more dramatic by the bands of clouds in the sky marking what was a lovely day after a week of dreary weather.
It is when the landscape opened up that I was able to fully relax into the trip. There is always a point along the journey during which stresses, mundane or otherwise, start to melt away and the road, landscape, and solitude take over the mind. As Highway 45 is remarkably well signed, there was no ambiguity or uncertainty. The result is a sense of flow and well being that allows one to both think about other ideas, like music, while remaining fully engaged in the moment. It is something I have experienced many walking the streets of San Francisco, but not lately. I certainly hope it isn’t gone – as much as I enjoy these long excursions to other regions, I would love to return to the sense of external flow in my own community as well. Perhaps it is the familiarity or the many stresses and dramas, but I hope to regain it.
The highway turned due north in Colusa County, providing great views of the Sutter Buttes, considered to be one of the worlds smallest mountain rangers.
The Buttes are a small circle of volcanic lava domes that rise suddenly from the rather flat Sacramento Valley. The contrast is fascinating, and I would love to come back and explore the geology at a warmer time of year. Unfortunately, public access to the Buttes remains limited as far I can tell. (If any readers have any advice or new information about public access to the Sutter Buttes, please share in the comments.)
At this point, Highway 45 comes closer to the river, and between Grand Island and Grimes, comes right up against levees, before turning north again. It is not surprising to see such high levees, as the entire region seems like a giant flood waiting to happen.
Further north, we join with California Highway 20, a major east-west highway in this rural part of the state connecting to Yuba City to the east and to Lake County far to the west. The road became wider, smoother, and significantly busier as we continued on the duplex into the town of Colusa.
Colusa is a picturesque town on the river, with a small but nice town center and a quiet park along the levee and riverbank. It had warmed up considerably since I last got out in Knight’s Landing, so stopped for a bit to enjoy the sight and sound of the river. You can see a bit in this Instagram video.
Nearby I found The Tap Room, a small pub that had a large selection of beers including some local brews. I don’t think they had Sutter Butte Brewing, but they did have some selections from Berryessa brewing including this IPA.
In the enjoyment of the trip, I had completely forgotten that it was St. Patrick’s Day. But I was quickly reminded by the bartender who was decked in bright green regalia and informed me of the holiday pub crawl that would be happening that evening. This was the talk of the local patrons who started trickling in as the afternoon wore on. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, but a night of drinking was not going to be compatible with my plan to get back to the city safely at a reasonable hour. So I bid farewell and headed out on Highway 20 back to I-5 and I-505 to return to the Bay Area.
Tired but accomplished, I crossed the Bay Bridge back into San Francisco and home later that evening. That would usually be the end of the story, but after resting, we made the last-minute decision to go out again that night. So I found myself getting dressed up and heading back over the bridge for the third time to Oakland to see Chrome withHelios Creed. We met up with quite a few friends at the show and had a great time. You can see a bit of Chrome’s performance in this CatSynth TV.
It was a great day of diverse geography and experiences, albeit a long one. Not every day can or should be like this, but hope there are more to come this year…
See more Northern California in our Highway☆ app, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
As we get ready for our next Pitta of the Mind show this Thursday, March 8, we look back at our recent show at Pro Arts in Oakland, where we were joined by Usufruct, Alex Cruse, and Murder Murder. You can see a bit of all four groups in this recent CatSynth TV episode.
Pitta of the Mind’s color theme (we always have a color or pattern theme) for this evening was blue and featured blue-themed poems by Maw Shein Win, many from her new book Invisible Gifts.
[Photo by Tom Scandura]
I used the Prophet 12 synthesizer, along with the modular system, my trusty Nord Stage, and some percussion instruments to create a musical interplay with the words as well as the space between them.
Even though we haven’t performed in a while and only had one rehearsal, I felt this was one of our strongest performances – and the feedback I got from the audience backed up that perception. In particular, I think the poem “You Will Be With Me in a Town Called Paradise” came out particularly well, with a sultry vibe and jazzy accompaniment on electric piano.
After our set, Usufruct, the duo of Polly Moller Springhorn and Tim Walters took the stage.
[Photo by Tom Scandura]
As the word “usufruct” implies, they make use of materials for which they have usage rights beyond ownership, such as public-domain text sources. Polly’s vocal interpretations of the texts are processed electronically by Tim using custom programs written in SuperCollider. The end result is simultaneously dark and playful. But beyond the text sections, I was particularly taken with the instrumental portion at the beginning, which featured bass flute live and electronically processed.
Alex Cruse brought a very different vibe and sensibility to the evening, with an electronic performance that focused on beats, loops, and hits.
There were many delightful sounds and many hard-edged industrial noise moments as well. The vocals were deliberately obscured by heavy distortion and other processing but provided a percussive element that worked well with the rhythms.
The final set by Murder Murder was again something altogether different. With two drummers, two horns, two electronic performers, and vocals, it was nonstop intensity from the first drum hit.
The intensity continued for several minutes and then came to a sudden close. It was the musical equivalent of a tornado tearing through our calm evening of voice and electronics, but perhaps it was a fitting coda to the evening.
We thank Pro Arts and Sarah Lockhart for having us at this series, which has become quite a mainstay of the Oakland scene. I hope to be back again soon with one of my other projects. And of course, we are looking forward to our next Pitta of the Mind Show – where we will once again be joined by Usufruct – at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco on Thursday, March 8 at 8 PM.
Last Thursday we at CatSynth returned to the Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland to hear two groups whose work we follow, Grex and Two Aerials. The show was also the subject of our most recent CatSynth TV video, which can you see below.
There are similarities between in terms of style and songcraft, and they worked well in tandem. Two Aerials, led by Mark Clifford (vibraphone) and Crystal Pascucci (cello, voice), had a jazzier vibe and more reminiscent of art-rock and prog of the early 1970s. Clifford’s frenetic but luscious vibes are a lot of the reason for this, but solid backing from Brett Carson on keyboard and Jordan Glenn on drums added to the overall sound and structure. There were sounds and textures reminiscent of Henry Cow, especially during the songs that featured Pascucci on voice. There were also sections that reminded me of Frank Zappa’s best lineups from the early to mid-1970s.
Grex has gone through a few iterations of style and personnel in the time I have known them. The current incarnation features principals Karl Evangelista on guitar and Rei Scampavia on keyboards, but they each take on additional musical duties with electronics, foot-driven percussion, and voice.
Musically, they also have a style that falls somewhere in the realm of art rock, but with a dreamier, more psychedelic feel. They move effortlessly back and forth between very tender lyrical songs and frenetic pedal-heavy guitar solos from Evangelista, as well as space in between those poles. We particularly enjoyed the quote of Princess Leia’s theme during their final song.
In all, it was a fun evening with friends and music. And the Octopus Literary Salon is fast becoming a frequent destination for us for eclectic and intimate musical performances. We look forward to more.
Today we look back at the December show at the Starline Social Club featuring the Fred Frith Trio, IMA, and Watkins / Peacock. It was the subject of a recent episode of CatSynth TV.
In addition to giving a great interview, Zachary Watkins performed a great set with collaborator Ross Peacock, featuring a large array of electronic gear, with interesting rhythms, harmonies, and timbres throughout. The largely improvised set included several patterns and patches from Watkins as well as solo work by Peacock on a vintage Korg MS-20.
IMA, the duo of Nava Dunkelman and Jeanie Aprille Tang (aka Amma Ateria) provided a very different sound and style combining percussion and electronics.
The timbres of Nava Dunkelman’s percussion and Tang’s electronics complement each other, with the electronics weaving between the frequency ranges and timbres of the percussion. This worked especially well with the metallic sounds. Having played together as a unit for a while now, IMA’s improvised sounds have a tight structure and narrative quality.
Then it was time for the Fred Frith Trio to take the stage. In addition to Frith, the trio features Jason Hoopes on bass and Jordan Glenn on drums.
Like IMA, the trio locked in even in more free-form improvised sections to maintain a rhythmic and virtuosic quality. They have developed a musical language among the three of them that allows them to converse and also listen during “monologues”, like Frith’s solos or Hoopes’ dramatic bass patterns.
We had a great time at this show – the Starline is a good place to see live music. The stage lighting was almost a performer in its own right, constantly changing and adapting to the music. The fog could have been a bit lighter, though.
Recently, John Lee, the creator of bayimproviser.com donated a portion of his extensive record collection to Outsound. And our friends at VAMP are helping us sell them to fund our continuing mission of promoting new music in the Bay Area and beyond. To launch this effort, Outsound held a benefit concert at VAMP on December 1.
I performed a solo set with my trusty Nord Stage EX, modular synth, and Casio SK-1.
As with most of my current solo performances, I try to combine both idiomatic jazz and funk elements with more experimental electronics. I opened with White Wine (instrumental) with the extended solo section morphing into a more free-form electro-acoustic improvisation that also included the garrahand drum. It moved from sections of disco and bossa nova rhythms to noise to complex harmonies from the drum and Make Noise Echopon module. It was a fun set with an appreciative audience of both attendees and record-store patrons.
After my set, Tri-Cornered Tent Show took stage. Anchored by bandleader Philip Everett on clarinet and electronics and Ray Schaeffer on bass, the band explored a variety of sounds and styles from noisy electronics and percussion to R&B grooves to psychedelic serenades featuring Valentina O on vocals. Anthony Flores rounded out the band on drums.
It was interesting to see how both sets explored the intersection of avant-garde electronic and acoustic sounds with more familiar idioms. Soul, funk, and R&B were present in both sets, but then we each veered off in different directions. Between us, we might have covered many of the genres in VAMP’s record bins!
It was a fine night of music and fellowship, and it’s great to see an independent (and idiosyncratic) store like VAMP flourishing in downtown Oakland. You can find out more about them here. And please visit Outsound’s website to find out about upcoming programs and how you can help support our work bring new music to our community.
Today we look back at the recent art and fashion show featuring the work of Serena Toxicat. I was fortunate to be a part of this show as a model, and it was featured in Episode 9 of CatSynth TV.
Serena Toxicat is a multi-disciplinary artist, working as a writer, visual artist, musician, and now a fashion designer – longtime readers may recognize her via our reviews of her band Protea. Her paintings were featured on the walls of Farley’s East in Oakland as the fashion show took place in the lobby. She also had her music, books, and cat-themed tarot cards on hand.
One sees themes that repeat throughout her work in various media. There are of course the cats – I particularly liked the painting featuring manuls or Pallas cats – and felines reminiscent of Egyptian iconography. But there are themes running through as well with the bright high-contrast colors and dreamlike arrangements of forms. The feline, color, whimsy and spiritual dimensions are all of a piece and come together in her life experience as well as her outward creativity.