Cute cat with a modular system featuring Bug Brand and Serge-inspired modules. From Shadow Justice Crew on Instagram.
It’s been a little while since we last attended Church of Thee Super Serge at Robotspeak in San Francisco, but we made a point of going this past weekend. For those who have not been there or read our past reviews, it’s an almost-ever-month show on a Saturday afternoon with live hardware-synthesizer performances. As the name suggests, some acts do include Serge synthesizers, but it is not required, and a wide variety of instruments are used. All three sets are featured in our most recent CatSynth TV episode.
The first set featured Lx Rudis performing on an Oberheim Xpander, a somewhat underappreciated instrument from the 1980s.
At its heart, the Xpander is a 6 voice analog synthesizer, but with a complex array of digital controls that can be programmed and applied independently to each voice. Lx Rudis took full advantage of these, especially the LFOs and lag generators, to create subtle and minimal metric patterns. He constantly moved voices in and out, configuring them on the fly, in a way that was very expressive and musical. I particularly liked the sections which had staccato rhythmic textures against slowly moving timbres deliberately out of sync with one another.
Next up was Franck Martin, who performed a solo set on a modular synthesizer with several standalone instruments.
Martin’s setup included a Moog Subharmonicon, which he built while attending Moogfest this year (we at CatSynth are a bit envious), as well as a DFAM (Drummer From Another Mother). There were also additional voices provided by Braids and Plaits modules from Mutable Instruments that he could bring in and out using a touch-plate interface. The result was a slowly changing beat pattern with an eerie inharmonic voicing and gentle undulation.
The final set featured our friends Gino Robair and Tom Djll teaming up as the brilliantly named Unpopular Electronics.
They had a wide variety of gear, including Serge panels in addition to Eurorack modules and standalone instruments from Bugbrand and others. In addition, Gino had an interesting small case that included touchpads.
The music was frenetic and intense, an avalanche of pops and hits and loud cloudlike tone clusters. And there were trumpet sounds entering into the mix at various points. But there was an exquisite detail to the madness with changes among the different instruments and sounds, and musical pauses and rests before the pair dived back into the frenzy. There were also many moments of humor and not just Djll’s book about why there aren’t any Zeppelin-style airships in the United States.
In between sets, it’s fun to browse around Robotspeak and see what’s for sale, or on display in the big glass case.
It’s also quite dangerous, as I am often tempted to leave with another module or instrument. On this occasion, I exercised restraint, but probably not next time…
It’s been a busy season for Pitta of the Mind! We had three shows in the span of two months, beginning with our blue set at Pro Arts and culminating with ¡Voltage and Verse! at Adobe Books in San Francisco. You can get a taste for the show in our CatSynth TV video.
It was an honor to once again share a bill with ruth weiss. A Holocaust survivor and founding member of the San Francisco beat poet scene in the 1950s, she is still going strong, performing and supporting local institutions and artists.
We were glad to see that she is continuing her collaboration with our friend and synthesizer virtuoso Doug Lynner. Together with log percussionist Hal Davis, they performed a set of poetry and music that simultaneously evoked earlier eras and the latest electronic experiments. Davis’ log drum provided an expressive metronome, undulating between a trot and a gallop. Lynner’s synthesizer lines filled in the spaces, sometimes with rhythmic appeggios and at other moments with long eerie drones. The synthesizer timbres and phrases complemented the words in multiple ways, sometimes underpinning the narrative in the manner of a good film score, at other times emphasizing the rhythm of the words and making them into a musical whole.
Our Pitta of the Mind set was part of a month-long celebration for the release of Maw Shein Win’s new book of poetry Invisible Gifts. The book is divided into four sections based on different colors. This works perfectly for our use of color themes in our performances. For this night, we chose silver and performed selections from the silver section of the book. There were some familiar poems that we have performed before, and some that were new to me. There were a variety of styles and subjects in the words that inspired different musical backings, from jazzy electric piano (my favorite) to abstract synthesizer explorations. I was able to reuse some of the modular patches I had developed for my recent show in Portland and make them work with the rhythm of the texts.
Maw and I have performed together so many times now that it has become almost second nature to realize a new set; our three shows this season went off (nearly) flawlessly, and have been among the best we have done in our nearly seven years of collaboration! We have developed a toolset and pallete of instruments (including the Nord Stage and Prophet 12) and sounds that we can quickly turn to with each new text, which makes the process of learning new pieces both simple and fun. I certainly hope we can keep up the momentum in the remainder of the year, even as I turn my own attention to other musical projects.
In between our set and weiss/Lynner/Davis, we were treated to a presentation by Ramon Sender. Sender was a co-founder (along Morton Subotnick and Pauline Oliveros) of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the early 1960s, but on this evening he regaled us with stories of his time at the Morning Star and Wheeler ranches in Sonoma County in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Morningstar, founded by Lou Gottlieb, was a radical experiment in communal living, populated by an interesting cast of characters along with folks who “commuted” between San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and the ranch west of Sebastopol. It only existed in its communal form for a short period of time before being shut down by Sonoma County. Sender and others then moved to the nearby property of artist Bill Wheeler, who followed Gottlieb’s lead and opened his ranch as a commune open to all. I found myself fascinated by Sender’s stories, and would love to learn more about the history of the area and these communal experiments.
It was a fun night of music and words that lived up to its billing, and I certainly hope to have a chance to perform with everyone again. And thanks to Benjamin Tinker and Adobe Books for hosting the event! Please support your local bookstores and performance spaces.
[Photos not marked “catsynth.com” in this article courtesy of Maw Shein Win.]
Today we look back at the final concert of the 2015 San Francisco Electronic Music Festival. The program featured artists – some familiar, some new – exploring different aspects of electronic music, both aurally and visually.
The evening opened with AQULAQUTAQU, a “fractal alien operetta” by Kevin Blechdom (aka Kristin Grace Erickson) in collaboration with Madison Heying, Matthew Galvin and David Kant.
The operetta, complete with visuals, costumes, and dance, follows the story of two scientists on the planet AQULAQUTAQU, whose discoveries run afoul of the theocratic rulers of the planet (at a level Earth’s contemporary theocrats could only dream of) and end up feeling the planet for Earth. During the story, one of the scientists presents the story of Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, a corruption of Little Red Riding Hood complete with images of vague homophones to the words of the story, and a larger-than-life wolf costume. The journey to Earth sets a very different tone from the sections on the homeworld, and the finale in which the arrivals on Earth have a dance party (with the wolf joining in) was fun and reminded me of 1960’s tropes where everyone comes out and dances in the middle or end of a show.
The next set was a solo performance by Doug Lynner on his original Serge modular synthesizer along with a Cyndustries Zeroscillator.
We have frequently chronicled Doug Lynner and his virtuosic performances here on CatSynth, and they are always impressive, sometimes quite subtle and intricate before breaking out into louder noisier sections. This one was a bit different, focusing more on beats and harmonies that approached traditional Western music, perhaps even a bit towards electronica. Of course it was all done with the same instrumentation as his more abstract performances – the Serge modulars tend to have simple functions like slopes that are combined into more complex signals, so it likely takes a bit to assemble something as rhythmic and harmonic as this performance was.
The final set featured a piece by Olivia Block titled Aberration of Light. Originally composed for a live cinema piece, it was presented here as a four-channel realization in a darkened hall. The one minimalist visual element was a single cone of light striking fog (emitted from a machine offstage).
The piece and the visual was meditative. One could focus on just the sounds and the interaction with the room, which forms another instrument of the piece, but I did find myself focused on the light cone as I am often drawn to minimalist visual elements. It also gave the performance a more mysterious quality than would have been present if the room was entirely dark.
Overall it was a solid show and thought Block’s piece was a great ending to the festival. Because of many circumstances beyond the scope of this article, this final show of SFEMF was the only one I was able to attend the year. I am glad I was able to make it, and looking forward to next year’s festival.
JoJo and Febbles return with some humor(?) about modular synthesizers. By J.B.
The third night of the Outsound New Music Summit featured three sets that spanned a wide range of electronic music history, from analog modular synthesizers to digital laptops and an eclectic mix of technologies in between.
First up was a “power trio” on Serge Modular synthesizers featuring LX Rudis, Doug Lynner and Dmitri SFC.
I have heard all three perform of Serge synthesizers before, but never together in this way. The result combined their very different performance styles, with intricate and meticulous musical details from Doug Lynner and driving beats from Dmitri SFC. There were also a variety of drones, noise hits and other sonic elements throughout the performance, which consisted of a single 40-minute improvisation.
Next up Instagon with edition 684 of Lob’s long-running project. This all-electronic mixer set featured Andrew Wayne, Tim White, Thomas Dimuzio, Marc Schneider, Mark Pino and Jack Hertz.
As with most Instagon mixer sets, each of the performed improvised freely in his instruments, with Lob conducting and sculpting the performance in real time on a mixer. The result is at times chaotic and cacophonic, but appropriately so and mixed with sparser moments where the details of a particular playing were brought out. One of the unifying elements was recorded text that appeared at various times before being obscured beneath the noise.
The final set was a digital laptop trio featuring Thea Farhadian, Aaron Oppenheim and Tim Perkis. This was an ensemble formed specifically for this concert.
For a while it was rather common to see musicians performing solo or in ensembles exclusively with laptops and digital-processing software. It seems to be less common at the moment with the resurgence of hardware synthesizers, and it is becoming more common to see electronic musicians including analog synthesizers like the classic Serge modulars from the first set. This transition is something I have myself participated in as a performing electronic musician. But the trio on this night reminded me of some of the unique sounds that digital systems can create, with access to samples, jumps, and signal processing that takes advantage of artifacts and computation, such as FM and granular synthesis. There was also more subtlety in the music for this set, with some very quiet moments. Unlike the previous sets, this one was broken up into a few distinct compositions.
Overall, it was interesting to hear the different strains of disciplines within electronic music juxtaposed as they were on this evening. Perhaps an interesting follow up would be to pair a modular synth performer with a digital laptop performer in a future concert.
Today we look back at the recent Analog Ladies edition of the Church of the Superserge that took place in late June at Robotspeak in San Francisco.
The Analog Ladies show featured solo performances by five women on analog synthesizers (along with some additional items). It was a diverse cross-section of musical and performance styles, with each artist being different focus to her set. First up was series regular Elise Gargalikis performing on a Serge Modular synthesizer with along with vocal samples and loops.
Gargalikis, who often performs as part of the duo, Slope114, has a mellifluous voice that rises above some of the noise sounds from the modular synth, while blending as a high note in longer drones.
Next up was Miss Moist, an Oakland-based electronic musician who describes her music as “electro candy pop // tropical kitsch”. She combined analog electronics with a Korg Electribe and Mini-Kaoss Pad.
[Photo by Tom Djll.]
The result was a blend of rhythms and sweet tones that did indeed match the description, but also moments of harsh glitching and moderate noise hits before returning back to the main patterns.
The next set featured Jill Fraser performing on her vintage Serge modular synthesizer.
Jill Fraser’s set featured fully formed compositions ranging over different parts of her career all the way to very recent. Some were very abstract, but with intricately detailed sound design on the Serge. I’ve always been impressed with the woodwind-like sounds that some musicians have been able to get from this instrument. There were also some melodic and rhythmic pieces as well, reflective of her career in film and TV.
Next up was Mint Park, who performed with an analog modular synthesizer made composed primarily of TipTop Audio modules along with a laptop running Ableton Live!
Her performance was intense. A strong set of beats with punctuated breaks was feed through the modular with hard grating noise that worked well in context. She kept up the energy for the entire duration of the set.
Then it was time to take the stage as the final act of show.
[Photo by Dmitri SFC]
For this set, I brought the full analog modular system, including some recent acquisitions such as the Hexinverter.net Mutant-Hijats – I opened the set with the Hihats controlled by the Make Noise Rene and the Moog Theremini. The Theremini, used exclusively as a CV controller for the modular synth, was the centerpiece of the set as it enabled full embodied performance. I also brought along the Garrahand drum, which works well fed into the Make Noise Echophon.
You can here my full performance in this video.
I always try to make sure there is a variety of textures and energy-levels and weave together a narrative structure even within improvisation. Overall, I was very pleased with this set and the response from the large crowd.
[Photo by Tom Djll.]
Indeed, all the artists were well received by the overflowing crowd at Robotspeak – it’s not a large place, but it was filled with synth enthusiasts and those who enjoy more adventurous music. This was the first Analog Ladies edition of the Church of the Super Serge, but I certainly hope it won’t be the last.
[Photo courtesy of Robotspeak.]
We have covered several of the Church of the Superserge shows at Robotspeak over the past year or so. And now I will be performing in one as part of a special Analog Ladies edition. It will be an afternoon of analog synthesizer madness featuring several of instrument’s most talented women: Jill Fraser, Mint Park, Amanda Chaudhary, Miss Moist, and 7H1NG2. It’s a casual BYOB event, so if you’re in San Francisco (or anywhere on the Bay Area transit grid) and free tomorrow afternoon, please drop by Robotspeak (589 1/2 Haight Street in SF) to hear us.
I will performing on my analog modular plus Moog Theremini, and probably wearing something with a feline theme. Here is a photo of the modular as I start to set up the initial patch for tomorrow’s set.
Things will be a little less chaotic visually by show time tomorrow. Sonically, there might be some chaos, but that is completely intentional 🙂
From our friends Elise and Dmitri of Slope114.
Yesterday, I attended the Church of the Superserge at Robotspeak here in San Francisco. It is a monthly gathering for electronic music and synth geekery hosted by the same folks who produced the big Serge Modular 40-year Reunion Concert.
There is always an impressive array of gear on hand. Here we see Robotspeak’s Steve Taormina warming things up before the show with a tower of modules. Also note the Prophet 2, Moog pedals and more in front.
This is a casual, BYOB affair, so I stopped at a bodega across the street to grab a beverage. I encountered this rather stoic cat sitting next to the door.
The music began with an ambient set by Clarke Robinson. There was an ever changing cloud of sound, sometimes quite tonal. There was also a bit of textural detail added by that small box in front of his modular.
Next up was Elise Gargalikis, performing on a very compact suitcase rig featuring Serge modules and a looper. Her performance was more abstract and detailed than the previous, and featured her captivating voice as an integral sound source for the electronics.
JD Northrup rouded out the afternoon with a decided techno set featuring strong patterns and arpeggios atop a four-on-the-floor beat. The rhythm remained fairly constant throughout the set (which was longer than the others), but the timbres from his setup featuring Make Noise modules along with a few others was continuously changing.
A few of us were compelled to dance in place at points; and eventually Robotspeak’s own disco lighting came up.
All in all, it was a fun afternoon. I look forward to more of these events in the coming months.