Word Performances and The Nunnery

After a couple of months away from live performance, I found myself playing two shows in one weekend, both in the Mission District of San Francisco. They were an exercise in contrasts artistically, but both were delightful in different ways.

Word Performances is a “variety show” of poets, musicians, and dancers produced by Cybele Zufolo Siegel and Todd Siegel. The latest incarnation took place at the Lost Church, a favorite venue of mine for its cozy theater and visual vibe reminiscent of David Lynch.

Like any good variety show, it features a staple of regular players that includes both Cybele and Todd, but also Pitta of the Mind as a recurring act. There were of course new participants as well, especially among the poets. You can see a bit of everyone in our video from the evening.

As is clear from the short excerpts, there was a diversity of styles and subject-matter. There were the spartan settings of the readings by Rose Heredia, Jon Sindell, Crystal Jo Reiss, and William Taylor, Jr. Todd and Cybele also gave readings, but with violin accompaniment provided by Hannah Glass. And flamenco Dancer Damian Alvarez stole the show with his tightly choreographed dance to the music of James Brown.

For Pitta of the Mind – myself and poet Maw Shein Win – we performed a brand new set with new poems, and a new color theme of green. The instruments were the same as for our previous performances, combining the Nord Stage, Prophet 12, and modular synthesizers. The consistency in structure and instrumentation helps in our ability to quickly come up with a new set.

Other than my psychedelic lights not working as expected, it was a solid set overall, and we are always happy to be part of the Word Performances shows.


If Word Performances provided a diversity of styles and media, the show later that weekend was very focused on invented instruments, unusual sounds, and the birthday of our friend David Michalak. You can see a bit of everyone in our CatSynth TV video (with David giving the valedictory tag).

This was the first time I performed as a duo with Scott Looney, but I was quite happy with the results. We are both skilled improvisers and were able to blend our sounds and ideas together seamlessly, with my performing on an Arturia MiniBrute 2 and Scott on a custom string instrument with various preparations.

Our set as well as the one that followed us featuring Tom Nunn, David Michalak, and Aurora Josephson had a similar texture: a lot of wisps, scrapes, and staccato elements. It was interesting to see how much musically David could get out of a flat piece of cardboard! The opening set with Tom Nunn on skatchbox and Ron Heglin on voice also had a very pointed and sparse texture.

The final set featuring Ghost in the House had a softer, longer, and more liquidy quality. This time David Michalak was performing with a processed harmonica and lap steel guitar, with long tones matched by Polly Moller Springhorn on bass flute and Cindy Webster on musical saw – and this was no ordinary musical saw, it seemed built specifically for music.

Overall, it was a fun show, and of high quality musically. It’s a shame more people weren’t able to hear it live – it was a private event – but the video captures much of the experience in a compact form.

CatSynth Pic: Cat, Moog Voyager, and Nord

Cat playing a Nord keyboard and checking out the current patch on a Moog Voyager. From Zoltan Pinkola via our Facebook page.

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.

CatSynth Pic: Quasimidi Sirius

Cat with Quasimidi Sirius sytnhesizer.

Orange cat showing of a rare Quasimidi Sirius synthesizer. Via this listing on Reverb, and also seen on matrixsynth.

“Amazing 90’s “groove-synth”/workstation with:
Fast and fun sound design: plenty of knobs, including ADSR macros for Amp and Filter envelope. Modulation wheel can map up to 5 knobs.
DTE (“difficult to explain”) synthesis somewhere between virtual-analog and rompler sounds.”

“28 voice polyphony across 7 tracks: kick, snare, hi-hat (2 voice), percussion (12-voice kits), and 3 parts for mono- or poly-synths.
expressive 11-band Vocoder, allowing any combination of internal or external parts to be carrier and/or modulator
Quick Pattern-based system, stores 16 songs, where each song has 8 Parts (as wells as 4 Fills and 4 Variations) that assign programs and pattern motifs across to the 7 tracks. Mix and match for quick variety.
2 assignable FX busses: apply any track to either effect, including choruses, flangers, reverbs, and delays. Mix and match for wild ambiances.
Tons of sounds: 3 banks of 96 Rom, and 1 bank of 96 User Patches (for EACH Track-type), divided neatly into 6 categories 16 patches with nice direct-jumping between patches. Also has 1-touch Patch Randomizer for endless inspiration. 
Pattern sequencer allows creating custom patterns by step or real-time recording, with random remixing of new sounds and motifs.”

I will admit, I am curious about this – more the synth than the sequencer/pattern part. I am most intrigued by the vocoder, as I have become a bit of a connoisseur of the instruments. The listing is local only for the Philadelphia area, so if I anyone from the city of brotherly love acquires this instrument, I would love to get a report.

CatSynth Pic: Moog Minitaur

Lovely Persian cat with a Moog Minitaur synthesizer. From khy_wasp via Instagram.

khy_wasp
🎶”What’s this? What’s this? There’s color everywhere…”🎶

CatSynth Video: Cat on a Piano

Cute cat sitting behind the keys of a piano and clearly enjoying the jazz/bluey music. Via Classic FM on Facebook.

This piano is purrfect 😻

We at CatSynth agree. And for anyone who protests that a piano is not a synth: yes, this is true, but we recommend just chilling and enjoying the music like this cat.

CatSynth Pic: Sequential in Saskatchewan

Cat in a studio featuring a vintage Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 along with a more recent Sequential instrument, the Tempest. From barrettmross in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan via Instagram.

barrettmross
Helping produce my cats debut album. #sequentialcircuits #roland#synthesizer #catsynth #vintagesynth#prophet5

CatSynth Pic: Pompey

From ghorgo on Instagram.

ghorgo_
Pompey 🎶🎹
#catsynth #catsofinstagram #catstudio#synth #ghorgo

CatSynth Pic: Mr. Maximillion on a Stump

Mr. Maximillion holds court on a stump in Charles Whiley’s studio.

Pow! It’s Mr. Maximillion 💖

CatSynth Pic: Access Virus and Roland SH-101

Beautiful cat in a home studio with Roland SH-101 and Access Virus synthesizers. By victor boni via Instagram.

victor_bomi
Ore 9:30 Clouseau mi ricorda che ho un album da iniziare. ❤️