NAMM 2017: Fabulous Silicon Paradigm

One of the fun things at NAMM is finding new and unexpected technologies for music. We found an intriguing example in the Paradigm synth from Fabulous Silicon.

The uniqueness of this analog synthesizer is on the inside. Its architecture is based on four Apex programmable analog chip by Anadigm Corporation. What this means is that parameter changes rather than simply changing the voltage running through a fixed circuit, the circuit itself is reorganized. Many of us working in experimental technologies at the turn of the century were familiar with FPGAs, reconfigurable digital gates, but the idea of reconfiguring analog circuits in a single chip is a step beyond our thinking from that moment. How much of that is technological or cultural I cannot say, given that compared to the turn of the century we are in the midst of a renaissance of analog electronics in music. To make this concrete for others familiar with analog modular synthesizers, consider turning a knob or switch and having the synthesizer re-patched on the fly, or even turned into a completely different set of modules in response to CV input.

The prototype was unfortunately not working at the time we visited the booth and spoke with the Paradigm’s creator Bryan Pape. But we came away quite interested in both the musical and intellectual possibilities of this “paradigm.” We look forward to seeing this instrument in action in the near future.

More information available at

Getting Ready for “Play Ball!”, Arc Gallery

“Play Ball!” at Arc Gallery and Studios is a multimedia show about women’s passion for baseball bringing together artists Amanda Chaudhary, Mido Lee and Priscilla Otani. The installation was a true collaboration brought together our respective talents in physical object making, electronics, software, sound, and photography.

One of the more challenging aspects was the interactive sound installation, which was to be installed a series of columns representing the bases on a standard baseball diamond. Four sound sets were composed based on field recordings made at Bay Area games and installed on an Arduino-based system for playback. The electronics included the Arduino itself, a Wave Shield from Adafruit for sound playback, and several motion sensors.


The sensors and main electronics package were installed in spheres made from baseball scorecards.


Programming the devices, installing them into the physical space, and then testing and debugging was an incremental, iterative, and at times grueling process. But through repeated efforts and understanding the interaction of sensors, wiring, and our software code we ultimately made it work.

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[Photos by Priscilla Otani]

Within the final installation, viewers can explore the bases and the surrounding life-size images representing the diversity of women at baseball games. As viewers pass by individual bases, different sounds will be triggered, creating an immersive sound, space, and visual experience.


“Play Ball!” opens at Arc Gallery and Studios on Friday, April 3. In keeping with the theme, traditional stadium fare (including hot dogs and peanuts) will be served.

Report from BPOW!!! Part 1: The Workshops

It’s been a little over a week since the Battery Powered Orchestra Workshop (BPOW!!!) occurred in Portland. Today we look back at the workshops, which were in many ways the central components of weekend.

During the Saturday morning session, I attended a workshop on electronic textiles hosted by Cat Poole of Cacophonous Creations. The skill was to learn how to use conductive thread to embed both light and controls into clothing for future performances. But for the workshop, the task was to simply sew an LED and its associated circuit onto a dinosaur patch:

BPOW electronic textiles

Of course, we at CatSynth approve of Cacophonous Creations’ chat noir logo! As for the task itself, the biggest challenges related to general sewing and laying out elements to properly fit (at least for someone with little sewing experience beyond repairing buttons). But I got through the threading of the circuit. It would be great to incorporate something like this into costuming for future performances.

In the afternoon, I attended a session presented by Steve Harmon of Synthrotek. It centered around DIY electronics and the ubiquitous 555 integrated circuit. But that then merely building an Atari Punk Console with a 555, we stepped it up with Synthrotek’s 4093 NAND Synthesizer.

4093 NAND Synth kit

The 4093 includes three square waves, based on a dual 556 integrated circuit. I was quite intent to complete it and be able to use it for my performance that evening. The soldering of the components went quite smoothly – it helps to both see other people soldering and to have access to a good iron. It was a quite a rewarding moment when the synth was complete and making sound.

Completed 4093 NAND Synth

My only disappointment was the pots not quite fitting and ending up a bit lopsided. But it worked great in the performance and will certainly be used again in the future. The additional confidence on soldering will also be valuable for future projects.

Additional workshops in the afternoon included an introduction and demonstration of modular synthesizers by Jeph Nor. He demystified modular for a general audience by presenting the fundaments (oscillators, filters, amplifiers) and adding additional elements.

Jeph Nor analog modular demo
[Image from the BPOW Facebook page.]

Attending all the workshops on Saturday would have been impossible, especially if one wanted to complete the associated tasks. In particular, I was also interested in the Raspberry Pi which was presented by Edward Sharp.

Sunday’s workshop sessions opened with a demonstration of “squishy circuits”. It turns out that homemade play-doh is quite a good conductor of electricity, and can be used to quickly prototype circuit ideas. It also serves as a very accessible medium for introducing principles of electronics to children.


We also got to see other non-traditional conductive media including ink and paint that can be used to integrate electronics into artwork without the use of wires.


Then everyone scattered for an electronics scavenger hunt to find electronic toys and various media to use in projects during the afternoon. The participants reconvened later in the day and got to work.


Our host Travis Feldman of Molecule Synth hacked the interior of an Atari console with both audio and video modifications, attaching it to a Moog pedal.

Hacked Atari console

Other creations included a circuit-bent toy keytar and a tactile surface used to control audio and video on a laptop.

Overall, the workshops at BPOW were a rewarding experience. In addition to new inspiration and a few new skills, I liked seeing the wide variety of interests and disciplines that others brought to creative DIY electronics for music, video and performance art. If the event does recur next year, it will be interesting to see how technologies and the skills of participants have further evolved.

In addition to the workshops, BPOW also featured performances in the evening. We will look at those in a subsequent article.

The Edge of Dark: Lords of Outland, Vinny Golia and Mutual Aid Project

About a week ago I attended The Edge of Dark, a special Saturday-night performance in Outsound’s SIMM Series. This performance featured a live recording session of the Lords of Outland with special guest Vinny Golia, and an opening set by the Mutual Aid Project Trio.

On the Edge of Dark was a “series of new works inspired by the writings of Frank Herbert’s epic Dune series of books, Philip K. Dick’s ranting and H.P. Lovecraft’s darkest fears.” It was interesting to mix free jazz with allusions to classic science fiction (and I have actually read all six books in the Dune cycle). In addition to Vinny Golia on saxophones and other wind instruments, the performance featured CJ Borosque on no-input pedals and trumpet, Philip Everett on drums, Ray Schaeffer on electric bass, and Rent Romus on saxophones, voice and electronics.

The music itself moved back and forth between driving modern jazz rhythms and sections of atonal and arhythmic free movement, with very fast runs on the wind instruments supported by analog noise and strong drumming. The ensemble was very tight, and could stop on a single accented note together after various long runs and meanderings. Within the framework of the science-fiction inspired pieces, the music also did seem to have a narrative and dramatic feel to it.

Boroque’s electronics featured whistles and other longer slow-moving high-pitched tones that matched the saxophones quite well, where both the acoustic and electronic elements seemed to blend into a single horn trio. Another notable moment was a “double double-saxophone,” where both Romus and Golia each played two saxophones simultaneously.

As a bonus the third movement “Night Nova Into Dune” references Lovecraft’s Cats of Ulthar. (It is CatSynth, after all.) Indeed, in that particular piece, there was a section towards the end where the more intense ensemble music cut out briefly and a series of emotive horn and vocal squeaks and moans filled in the void.

This was a live recording session, so I would expect to see a version of it out sometime in the not-so-distant future.

The Lords of Outland were preceded by Mutual Aid Project Trio, a trio consisting of Trammel (drums), Tracy Hui (guitar/objects) and Nick Obando (tenor/alto saxophone). The set opened very quietly, with just tongue noises on the saxophone, moving flutter tonguing and whistle tones. Hui joined in with threaded metal bowls on top of his guitar. The overall effect was very computer-music like, even though no computers were involved, with the sound moving between very inharmonic metallic and major arpeggios. Gradually, the music moved to loud tonal notes on the saxophone and free sound picking on the guitar, and eventually the drums as well. There was a moment which reminded me a a lot of a version of Summertime from one an Elvin Jones CD that I have in my regular rotation (enough to mention it here). The music eventually become more active, moving into a more rhythmic jazz fell, even frenetic. Then back into a quiet section with just cymbals and saxophone.

The middle of the set featured a Haitian chant “for all families to come together”, a positive and supportive sentiment, particular for a country that has been through so much tragedy this year.

New Podcast: Remix of Ninjam sessions June 15/17, UCSC DANM exhibition.

Well, it's another Sunday, and another podcast for the CatSynth Channel.

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Tonight's podcast features some live internet improvisation using NINJAM, a system that allows people to share live audio in real time and thus jam together over the internet. To overcome network latency that has stymied most systems for online collaboration, NINJAM actually adds delay so that everyone's audio conforms to a particular meter and tempo, i.e., everyone's down beats are in sync though they may be a measure or two off from one another. This leads to either simple “groove” jams on one or two chords and a steady beat (think of the 70s jazz classic Chameleon), or freeform improvisation.

The particular sessions used in this remix were from June 15 and 17 featuring several performers live at the Digital Media Factory in Santa Cruz California as part of the MFA Exhibition for the Digital Art and New Media (DANM) program at UC Santa Cruz. Though I am not a student, one of my best friends is, and so I had the opportunity to perform in several of the jams with local musicians as well as others over the internet.

Out of several hours of material, I made a 30-minute “remix” of several of the jams. The feel ranges from free-form to driving funk/jazz rhythms to a relaxed fusion/lounge feel (this happened when most of the musicians turned out to be keyboard players) and more.

All recorded mixes from the NINJAM AutoSong Archive, which are the sources for this track, are released under the Attribution, Noncommercial, Share Alike Creative Commons License v2.5..

Collaborators on the various jams include synthany, mvollrath, dbkick, tbfx, Funkify, leftyf, Oubien_ke, ekinox, hotdog, and chazz. (Sorry if I missed anyone).

Synthany is Synthia Payne and friends at the DANM exhibition, where I played as well. For my parts, I used E-MU Emulator X2 on my PC laptop, doing keyboard/piano, rhythms (using TwistaLoop), and even some bass when it was needed.

As always, comments are welcome. I'm not sure my brief discription really did justice to the topic or this particular example of online music collaboration, so feel free to ask more about it, or research the topic for yourself. In the meantime, enjoy.