CatSynth Video: Tom Hall’s Cat on MiniBrute 2S

From Orb Mag on Facebook.

Tom Hall’s Cat Knows the game  😺⚡️

We espy a MiniBrute 2S and RackBrute in use.  We are quite fond of our MinBrute 2 here at CatSynth HQ. 

CatSynth Pic: Gracie and Polymoog

Our feline pal Gracie certainly knows how to strike a pose.  Here we see her laying claim to a Polymoog that is in for repairs.  From Alsún Ní Chasaide (Alison Cassidy) via Facebook.

It’s only been here a few hours, and she’s claimed it as her own! #PolyMoog #PolyMew

The Polymoog is a rare and somewhat anomalous instrument from Moog Music’s lineup.  In addition to being polyphonic, it’s focused on a series of presets.  It was intended in many ways to complement for the classic Moog mono synths – the nice wide flat (and presumably warm) surface where Gracie is sitting was designed to accommodate a Model D or similar instrument.  They are also known to be rather temperamental and high-maintenance beasts.  From Vintage Synth Explorer:

Unique among Moog’s lineup, the Polymoog is not at all like the Minimoog or any of the other mono-synths Moog has become famous for. Instead, it was designed to complement Moog’s monophonic synthesizers. It’s a unique and finicky product, the brain child of David Luce instead of Dr. Bob Moog himself. But like all Moog products, this isn’t an ordinary instrument — it’s the Polymoog and it sounds fantastic for what it is.

Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam: The Neighbor Returns

Sam Sam is not amused.

Our feline neighbor is back and enjoying himself on one of the terraces behind CatSynth HQ.  You can see his face through the glass bricks, albeit in a Cubist sort of way.

Nothing wrong with his being there.  I for one love to see cats enjoying themselves.  But his presence brings out both Sam Sam’s curiosity and territorial instincts, and she was quickly back up on the ledge to investigate – and to assert her territorial claims.  We managed to capture a bit of it in this video.

It definitely makes a bit nervous to have Sam Sam up there, but there really is no stopping a determined cat.  It’s also a reminder that I need to replenish that wine rack.  The one bottle that remains is from Armida Winery, whom we featured in a CatSynth video back in June.

Club Foot Orchestra performs their Greatest Hits

Last weekend the Club Foot Orchestra teamed up with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, to perform some of their “greatest hits”, contemporary live performances to silent film classics.  A full day of live music by the venerable and indefatigable ensemble! 

The Club Foot Orchestra was started 25 years ago in 1983 by Richard Marriott (brass, winds), and still includes original member Beth Custer on woodwinds.  They were joined in this performance by Sheldon Brown (woodwinds), Will Bernard (guitar), Chris Grady (trumpet), Gino Robair (percussion), Kymry Esainko (piano/keyboard), Sascha Jacobsen (bass), Deirdre McClure (conductor), and Alisa Rose (violin).   They performed some of their most memorable scores, including interpretations of the German expressionist classics Metropolis and Nosferatu.  We at CatSynth were not able to attend Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s futurist masterpiece and a personal favorite of mine.  But we were on hand for Nosferatu, the iconic and controversial horror film directed by F. W. Murnau and starring Max Schreck as the eternally creepy Count Orlock.

The history of Nosferatu is as intriguing as the film itself.  It was an unauthorized adaptation from Bram Stoker’s original Dracula, and although the names and some details were changed, in many ways it conforms more closely to both the story and spirit of the original than many later interpretations.  Perhaps too closely, as the Stoker estate successfully sued Murnau’s production company and won a judgment that included an order to destroy all copies of the film.  Fortunately, some prints had already been distributed internationally and have been used for restorations of the original.  The version screened on this occasion was a beautiful restoration from the 2000s that included color tinting for various scenes.  The colors added an even more eerie and otherworldly quality to the film.  It worked particularly well for the Transylvanian scenes and those in and around Orlock’s castle.

The orchestra delivered a highly dynamic and varied performance paired with the images.  There were many sparse sections that fit with the tension of the film, and I particularly liked the spots that featured single lines, such as percussion hits, extended-technique winds, or synthesizer samples.  But the sections where the ensemble came together to deliver punchy and sensuous jazz lines were especially fun.  It added an element of humor and modernism, which is inevitable for a twenty-first-century viewing of a movie from nearly 100 years ago.  The mixture of noises and extended sounds with bits of Eastern European melody and harmony worked especially well for strangely colored Transylvanian scenes.

As a small group, each of the wind players had multiple instruments.  Richard Marriott had a quite an arsenal of flutes and lower brass, and both Beth Custer and Sheldon Brown had bass clarinets in addition to their other instruments.  Gino Robair also had in an impressive array of percussion instruments (though no electronics on this particular occasion).

It was a delightful evening of music and visuals that worked well together – a more concrete film-centered version of the discipline we had a seen a week earlier in Andy Puls’ abstract set at the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival.  And while I’m sorry to have missed Metropolis on this occasion, Nosferatu was probably even more of an “event” in the space of the Castro Theatre.  We look forward to hearing more of Club Foot Orchestra’s scores in the near future.

CatSynth Pic: Lil Bub

Today on CatSynth we feature the one and only Lil Bub!  She is playing on a vintage electric piano (Rhodes or Wurlitzer).  Regular readers know these classic instruments are among our favorites, and often used in our own 1970s funk/jazz/fusion-inspired music.

From Lil Bub’s Twitter.

songs in the key of BUB

Wordless Wednesday: Sutro Baths Graffiti and Cliff House

Sutro baths and Cliff House in the distance.

Graffiti on some ruins in the Sutro Baths.  The Cliff House restaurant is visible in the back.

You can see one of our previous photos from this Hipstamatic shoot in a previous Wordless Wednesday.

CatSynth Pic: Dog barking at CAT

Well, that’s quite an interesting pairing: dog sticker barking at The CAT – specifically, an Octave CAT synthesizer.  Seen on matrixsynth.

This one recently came in to Thesis Audio for restoration.

“We took in an Octave CAT for restoration the other day that had this sticker added to the back. I like it!”

Anyone know what the source of the sticker?

I believe this is only the second time we have featured a dog in a synth in over twelve years.

CatSynth Pic: Tabby Cat and Waldorf Blofeld

Adorable tabby cat resting next to a Waldorf Blofeld synthesizer.  From flohrdumal on Instagram.

Analog cat warming up the digital synth

Forced-Togetherness Fridays: Go Karts (and when team building goes wrong)

There is a flyer in the bathroom at work extolling the virtues of team-building activities and also listing some dos and don’ts, such as making sure it’s something that everyone can participate in, doesn’t cause difficulty or embarrassment for some members, etc. Reading this brought to mind an experience from over ten years ago that included the worst team-building event I have ever participated in.

At the time, I was a manager in a department with extremely high talent but low morale. There were many reasons for this, including workload, changing priorities, and toxic aspects of the company culture. In the midst of this, our director decided to hold a team-building event, an ostensibly fun outing at an indoor Go Kart track along US 101 in one of the towns south of San Francisco. For those who are not familiar with Go Karts, they are essentially mini cars that don’t have reverse, or even brakes just an accelerator and a steering wheel. They don’t reach particularly high speeds and drivers wear helmets and seat belts. So it’s generally a safe activity, but there is some element of risk. And it can get competitive very quickly.

Our own experience turned both highly competitive and somewhat risky rather quickly. After a few minutes of hanging out in the lounge and talking with colleagues, we were ushered into the car area for a quick orientation and safety drill, and then given our helmets and cars. And we were off and racing. It was a miserable experience from the start. The inability to use breaks, the clumsiness of the steering, and the inability to go into reverse after bumping into a track wall made it difficult and confusing. I decided it was just something to endure for as long as I needed to, and just proceed slowly and cautiously. Our race was the second, with the first one already confirming some of the worst competitive aspects of some members of our team. This included our department director, as well as some of the other “leaders” who engaged in macho trash talk and were clearly focused on winning. Not that some of the women weren’t having a great time: our team’s HR liaison was with us and she was clearly enjoying herself. And that’s all well and good, but none of it was team building.

I tried my best to be a good sport and play along, moving slowly and cautiously around the track as our more competitive members speed past. A screen announced the standings after each lap, and I was falling further and further behind. On one hand, I didn’t care. On the other, I was frustrated at the increased distance behind everyone else. This was a period of time where I was already feeling bullied and belittled by more aggressive colleagues and this experience was not helping. I decided to crank it up a notch, hit the accelerator, and give it one last good run.

I ran right into the wall at full speed. Actually, slightly under the wall, which was a rail with a large nerf-like baffle. My leg got wedged underneath. And remember, there is no reverse, so I had no way to back up and get out. Every attempt to get out only seemed to make things worse, as my leg got further stuck underneath. It was painful, and also terrifying. Finally, a worker made it out to the track and get me dislodged. Although in pain, I was able to walk and limped off the track, where I was severely chastised for going too fast.

Nothing was broken, but it was a small, deep, bloody gash. But it was painful. A bit of basic first aid and a bandage was all that was needed medically, and after about a week it mostly healed. But to this day, I have a small “depression” in my leg where the injury occurred.

gash in the leg

Fortunately, it’s not really visible to anyone who doesn’t know it’s there.

Back to the event itself. I was done for the rest of the day and wandered outside on the stoop of the building. The warm sunshine and the sound of traffic from 101 were emotionally soothing and a nice counterpoint to adrenaline-laced intensity and competition of the event. I also found two of my colleagues there who had opted out for various medical reasons. We struck up a nice and far-ranging conversation – I don’t remember what we talked about, but probably included music, theater, art, and technology. If there was any actual team building from this outing, it happened here next to parking lot with my colleagues who also were not participating in the main event. I would posit that there was no team building whatsoever from the main event. A few takeaways:

  • It was not something for everyone to participate in and enjoy. Some were left out for medical reasons, and some of us were clearly not going to enjoy it.
  • It was fiercely competitive. While competition can be fun – I certainly have a competitive streak myself – for many people it can be isolating.
  • It’s a risky-feeling adrenaline-rush activity, which is polarizing and isolating for those who do not thrive in such situations.
  • Team building should not leave a permanent scar, physically or emotionally.

A simple afternoon a bar or pub would have been much better from my perspective, or honestly anything else that made more of an effort to make everyone feel welcome and included.  I may not particularly enjoy karaoke, but can certainly have a good time and feel welcome.  Beyond these specifics on “team building”, the event sent to me and probably to others a really negative message about the company’s culture and values. Over the next year or so, these concerns were often borne out in the workplace, where bullying and competitiveness were not only tolerated but often rewarded. On the plus side, I did soon after this incident get a new director whose interest and temperament was much closer to my own 🙂

CatSynth Video: Training a cat to play the OP-1

From Andor Polgar on YouTube, via matrixsynth.

We have long been interested in the OP-1, although we won’t have one ourselves.  Maybe it would make a great instrument for Sam Sam 😸