CatSynth Pic: DSI Evolver

Handsome tabby cat with an Evolver from Dave Smith Instruments.  From anika_or on Instagram.

I will confess I haven’t been using my Evolver as much of late as I used to.  It’s probably time to take a fresh look at what it has to offer.

 

Preparing for tonight’s performance

I am busily getting ready for my next solo performance tonight.

Light A Fire: Amar Chaudhary, Zeina Nasr, Evangelista/Lowecki/Stuart
Monday, January 17 · 7:00pm – 10:00pm
Mama Buzz Cafe
2318 Telegraph Avenue
Oakland, CA

Please join us for creative music in three acts (incidentally the third Monday of the month)–featuring:

-Zeina Nasr
Emphatic, ethereal vocalisms

-Amar Chaudhary
(www.ptank.com/amar_music/)
Complex, articulate solo work with an electronic aesthetic

-Karl Evangelista/Shaun Lowecki/Doug Stuart Trio
(www.karlevangelista.com)
(www.shaunlowecki.com)
-Animated, explosive inside/outside music

Hope to see you!
-Friendly Neighborhood Light A Fire Committee

I am once again using a relatively minimal setup (or as minimal as I can make it for a solo show).  There is the iPad (and the iPhone), the MacBook with a monome, and the Evolver.  I also have a couple of percussion instruments, and the dotara, an Indian string instrument.

For the iPad, I will be using the Curtis for iPad (shown in the photo below), along with the from Smule, the 古筝 (Guzheng) app, and the KORG iMS-20, among others.

Based on feedback from my last performance at the Omega Sound Fix, I am going to try and use fewer elements, particularly in the live sampling/looping section. I will start with the dotara, and layer the Magic Fiddle and guzheng model on top of it. I will be reusing some of the other elements that I have been having fun with, such as the Count Basie Big Band Remote from the Blue Note in Chicago controlled via the monome.

Luna wants to help out with preparations, too:

Preparing for tonight’s performance

I have been busily preparing for tonight’s solo performance at the Luggage Store Gallery.

Because of all the other things going on in my life and the limited time to prepare, I had to scale back a bit and keep things simple.

On the bottom row is a custom analog noise synth with chaotic elements created by Travis Johns, the iPad running Smule Magic Piano, and the monome. Above this row, there is the Dave Smith Instruments Evolver, one of my Chinese metal bells, the iPhone running a looping app that I often use called TTW2, and the MacBook running “mlr2” and other programs with the monome. I am using a few other apps that are not in the photo, including the Smule Ocarina on the iPhone, and SoundThingy and a guzheng simulator on the iPad. This may still sound complex, but each device is small and self contained, and the interconnectivity is kept to a minimum. I can pick each one up and play it while others run independently.

I am organizing the set into three major pieces. The first mixes purely electronic sounds with an old NBC broadcast of Count Basie from the 1950s. The second features the guzheng simulator with some rhythmic elements and sample loops, set against the Indian string instruments (ektar and gopichand). The third mixes the Evolver with the Ocarina on the iPhone.

One thing that I have revived after not using them for a while is the “Big Band Remotes” recordings from the Internet Music Archive. I still have a recording project I want to finish that uses them, but it also “felt right” to incorporate them into this performance.

As she often does, Luna sat down on the beanbag chair to supervise the goings on.

At night, she tends to be even more camouflaged than usual. The beanbag chair seems to slowly roll over itself over the course of time in a geological manner. The label from the bottom is starting to show at the top.

For those in the area who wish to attend the show tonight, it is at 8PM at the Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street (near 6th) in San Francisco.

μHausen at Camp Happy

This morning I look back to μHausen (micro-Hausen) at Camp Happy in the Santa Cruz mountains. It was really a “tiny festival within a tiny festival”, as we took over Sunday afternoon with our esoteric and (mostly) electronic music.

I brought a relatively compact and self-contained setup:

[click to enlarge image]

A few “greatest hits”, such as the Evolver which I mix with live performance on prayer bowl; the monome controlling Max/MSP on the MacBook for live sampling and looping of Indian and Chinese folk instruments; the “trusty Kaoss Pad”; the iPhone running the Smule Ocarina (which I had just used two nights earlier at Instagon 543. I also added the iPad for the first time, using the Smule Magic Piano, Curtis granular synthesizer, and an app the simulates a Chinese guzheng.

I packed up and made the long trip from San Francisco to Boulder Creek. Unlike Santa Cruz, which is a straight shot, getting to Boulder Creek in the mountains is a bit of a challenge on winding mountain roads, some of which masquerade as state highways. Look for an upcoming “fun with highways” describing that part of the experience.

[click to enlarge image]

I arrived just in time for the performance. Respectable Citizen, the duo of Bruce Bennet and Michael Zbyszynski, performing keyboard+electronics and saxophone+electronics, respectively. Their set featured fast saxophone riffs and “watery” FM sounds, some loud oversaturated moments, a fast shuffle, urban-landscape sounds, and insect-like sounds, with lots of speed changes and signal processing (e.g., waveshaping).


[Click to enlarge image]

Luke Dahl performed a fun piece based on samples from Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Kontakte 2. It is one of my favorite recordings, and Luke’s samples featured one of my favorite moments from it (a sort of descending pulse sound that eventually slows down to become discrete percussive hits). He arranged short samples on a grid that could be triggered independently, to make “improvised Stockhausen.” I got a chance to try it out after his performance.

I was next on the program. I opened with the live sampling and playback controlled by the monome. The light patterns on the device still captured the attention of the audience even in the bright afternoon sun. I think they were also intrigued by my technique of putting the iPhone Ocarina in front of the speaker.

Next up was a live broadcast of the R Duck Show. The opened with the somewhat funky 1970s theme from Sanford and Son, which soon started to glitch and was eventually replaced by freeform noise along with keyboards and guitar. Eventually, a mellow beat emerged (I am pretty this was done with Ableton Live!). Oh, and the program’s host Albert brought chocolate. Really good dark chocolate infused with chilis. Quite tasty.

The program was rounded out with The Stochastics, a trio of Chris Cohn, Leaf Tine and Wayne Jackson.


[click to enlarge images]

The set opened with low rumbling noises, which served as a foundation for Wayne’s circuit bent instruments and Leaf’s vocalizations and performance on an instrument which seemed to be a didgeridoo with a trombone-like bell. Lots of interesting words and incantations and throat singing, and squeaks and squeals and rumbles from the circuit bent instruments. Here is a close-up of the impressive array of circuit bent toys.

[click to enlarge image]

One fun moment was Wayne attempting to create a sub-contra-contra-bass plucked string instrument by stringing duct tape between the microphone on one side of the stage and the speaker stand on the other.

Outsound Music Summit: MultiVox

Today we at CatSynth conclude our series from the recent Outsound Music Summit with my own report from the MultiVox program that featured Reconnaissance Fly, the Cornelius Cardew Choir, and Amy X Neuburg. We did feature a guest review by Joe McMahon last week, which covers the same show from an outside perspective. My own perspective is anything but outside, given that I was in two of the three groups performing at night.

This was a professional show, with formal load-ins, sound checks, and staging. Reconnaissance Fly features a full rhythm section, so we had a lot of equipment to set up:

[click image to enlarge]

On the left is Tim Walters’ bass and Macbook running SuperCollider. In the middle is Moe! Staiano’s drum set, and on the right is my own keyboard+electronics setup featuring the Nord Stage, the trusty Korg Kaoss Pad, and the little stuffed cat for good luck. Here is another perspective with more detail:

[click image to enlarge]

The Evolver was actually for the Cardew Choir, but I set up everything at once. One can also see Moe!’s toys and other support percussion instruments.

Onto the show itself. Here is the full band on stage, with myself, Polly Moller (flute/vocals), Tim Walters (bass), Moe! Staiano as our special guest “concussionist”.

[Photo by Michael Zelner.  Click image to enlarge.]

We performed a full nine-piece set from Flower Futures, our “spong cycle” featuring music set to spam poetry. The set now has an eclectic mix of styles, from experimental avant-garde to prog rock, along with latin and jazz influences. We as always with Small Chinese Gong and ended with An Empty Rectangle – we always like playing that last one, but it’s even better with Moe!’s drums! I particularly enjoyed playing the medley of Electric Rock Like a Cat and Sanse is Credenza – the end of the first piece, with free-improvisation on flute set against B-diminished chords, elides into an early 1970s jazz fusion jam on the same chord (think “Chameleon” from Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters album). This is a relatively high-energy and somewhat challenging piece, and while it was fun to play, it also felt good to then return to the relative calmness of Oh Goldfinch Cage, which featured samples of “human calls” for training birds to speak, with phrases like “Hello, how are you?” and “pretty bird”, processed with ring modulation and turntable effects.

[Photo by Bill Wolter.  Click image to enlarge.]

Overall, it was a great performance with a lot of energy. It’s easy to lose sight of that in the midst of playing, where one focuses on mistakes and challenges – personally, I forgot to check that patches for the Nord were all queued up at the start of the performance, and the heat from the lighting and large crowd added unexpected challenges. But it was received well by the audience (a full house), and it seemed like they were asking us for an encore!

The Cornelius Cardew Choir was a stark contrast to Reconnaissance Fly in terms of form and energy. Our first piece, Joe Zitt’s “That Alphabet Thing” was a cappella with a freeform structure. Basically, it unfolds by each singer intoning the sounds of the letters of the alphabet, starting with A and gradually working his or her way to Z. Everyone moves at a separate pace but mindful of others not to get too far ahead or behind, and there were a lot of fun moments of interplay among different choir members, such as back-and-forth with “Hi!” for H-I or “why?” for Y.

[Photo by Michael Zelner.  Click image to enlarge.]

We wear white lab coats.

This was followed by “El Morro” by choir director and co-founder Tom Bickley. The piece was inspired by a trip to the El Morro monument in New Mexico and featured the text from inscriptions on a rock spanning carved messages from two centuries of Spanish, Mexican and American passers by, soldiers as well as other travelers. Each of us had a set of inscriptions to recite on a single pitch per inscription, set against an electronic background of rocks, birds of prey and highly processed vocal incantations. This was a rather complex piece conceptually, though not difficult to perform. Because we were so involved in the performance and the conceptual nature, it is hard to know how it was received in the audience.

The set concluded with a performance of Polly Moller’s Genesis. We had seen a previous performance of Genesis at the Quickening Moon Concert. The previous performance was entirely instrumental. This time, the parts of the spatial and higher dimensions were voice. I performed part of “universal time”, using the sequencer on the Evolver as the time-keeper and performed various modulations of the tempo and timbre. Polly played the role of the “new universe” with a flute solo featuring multiphonics and other techniques. Tom Bickley conducted the piece by walking around the stage and carrying chimes.

[Photo by Michael Zelner.  Click image to enlarge.]

This was a very meditative performance, with the chimes, the flute multiphonics, the ever changing electronic rhythm and timbre, and the vocalists singing their respective dimension numbers in different languages.

The final set of the evening featured Amy X Neuburg. As always, her “avant cabaret” set was very polished and spoke well to both her technical expertise with her instruments and her versatility as a performer. She employs several styles of singing, often in a single piece, moving from classical to cabaret/jazz to experimental vocalizations. Her synchronization with looping electronics is very tight, seemlessly adding and subtracting samples and recordings within the rhythms and phrasings of the song.

[click image to enlarge]

There were pieces familiar from past performances, such as “Life Stepped In” where she deftly mixes looping technology and theatrical vocals. She also did a few improvisational pieces, the first of which featured the Blippo Box. This is an instrument with chaotic oscillators that never quite sounds the same twice, but she always manages to control it quite well – in this performance she made it sound like a voice, to which she responded with her own voice. She also performed an improvisation with a Skatch Box which she made at the “build your own Skatch Box” presentation earlier in the week (and which I unfortunately missed). It’s hard to make a skatch box sound like a voice, but she could make her voice sound like the growls and scrapes that it produced.

[Photo by Michael Zelner.  Click image to enlarge.]

She ended her set with a tribute to Kim Flint, who was very active in the looping and electronic-music communities, and the founder of Loopers Delight, and who passed away after a tragic accident in Berkeley in June. He was someone I knew as well from both music and social events. Amy’s tribute was a performance of the first piece she ever created using the Echoplex, which he co-invented.

Quickening Moon Concert

Sometimes things linger undone for a quite a while. And that is the case with reviewing the Quickening Moon Concert, which I am finally getting around to doing as the next Full Moon concert is about to happen. Basically, the process goes like this. I wait a few weeks to look at the video of my own performance with a fresh perspective. I review the videos. Then post them online. Then a few more weeks pass as life intervenes. So here were are, finally getting to it many “moons” later. Memories of course fade over time, but even going by my own recollections, there is much to recall fondly. Bottom line is that it was a really good performance, in fact I would consider it one of my best solo electronic sets to date. This was in no small part to the advance preparation, but also to the audience, which filled to the Luggage Store Gallery to standing-room only capacity!

This was also one of the larger setups, featuring the Octave CAT vintage analog synthesizer, E-MU Proteus 2000, DSI Evolver, Korg Kaoss Pad, a Mac laptop running Open Sound World and Max/MSP, and the Monome controller, along with an array of my folk instruments from China and India. Even the iPhone made an appearance as an instrument.


[Click images to enlarge.]

Of course, the highlight of the set was the premier of 月伸1, featuring improvised electronic music set against a video of Luna. Musically, I focused on the Octave CAT (seemed appropriate) with the other electronic instruments in a supporting role. You can see a full video of the performance of this piece below:

The music was improvised live, with some prepared guidelines. In this way, it was reminiscent of the live music performances from old silent films. I kept the music relatively sparse and maintained the focus on the visual elements, which moved back and forth between clips of Luna and abstract visual elements (you can read more about the video production here). The audience clearly responded to the video of Luna and the music, and their laughter at very points reminded just how funny a piece this was. It was easy to lose sight of that in the hours of very detailed and very technical preparation, and one of the delights of playing in front of a live audience. I also heard from people that could tell they were able to sense the affection for Luna that came through in the video, though the long shots and the breaks in the otherwise silent video where her voice came through.

The balance of the set leading up to 月伸1 featured various combinations of electronic and acoustic instruments. The monome was my main controller in several of the other pieces, including the opener that focused and live sample loops and patterns from the folk instruments.

I played the instruments live, and then replayed the samples in various patterns on the monome to create complex timbral and rhythmic patterns. I also used the monome in a later piece to control some very simple but musically interesting sound synthesis, as can be seen in this video.

The lights on the monome are visually compelling, but also provide a link for the audience between the actions (which are really just button pressing) and the music.

Several of the pieces including strong rhythmic elements, which helped propel the set forward – I even saw at least one person “grooving out” to one piece.

I replayed several of the pieces (but not the video) in another performance a few days later at the Meridian Gallery. I certainly hope I will have an opportunity to the video again as well.


My performance was followed by the premier of Polly Moller’s Genesis. Genesis is “a musical experiment in which the M-theory of the 11-dimensional universe combines with the inward and outward spiral of the Western magical tradition.” The 11 member ensemble represent the 11 dimensions (which include Universal Time, the three spatial dimensions, and seven others) who combine to bring the “New Universe” into being, as portrayed by Matt Davignon on drum machines.


[Photo by Tom Djll.]

Polly Moller conducted the piece, not from the traditional podium in front of the ensemble, but rather by walking in an inward and outward spiral among the performers. As she walks by, wind chimes in hand, different performers enter or exit. As the New Universe comes into being, Matt Davignon’s electronic performance emerges, culminating in an extended solo as the 11 performers representing the “parent dimensions” fade out.

Quite fortuitously, someone turned my video camera to face the ensemble, so I was able to capture some video of the performance. In the clips below, one can see the conducting by walking in a spiral, as well as parts of the New Universe solo.

Preparing for Thursday’s performance: Luna’s video

Over the last few days, I have largely been absorbed by preparations for my next performance. This one includes a more ambitious element, a 10-minute video entitled 月神1 featuring clips of Luna as well as abstract elements reminiscent of experimental filmmakers such as Stanley Brakhage or Gerhard Richter. The video will serve as a backdrop for live electronic improvisation – it is mostly silent, though I did include some sound at various points so the audience could hear Luna’s voice.

Here are a few example frames from the video:



Some of the video clips of Luna were featured here on CatSynth in the past, including her chattering video, or playing with her blue fish toy. The abstract elements were done is a software package called Processing, a programming language for images, animation and interactions.

Musically, I will plan to focus on a mixture of the Evolver and the Octave CAT synthesizers, along with software on the iPhone and laptop. Indeed, this is the first time I will be using the CAT live, mostly because I am reluctant to move it too often.

Of course, this will only cover about one third of the full performance, so I will be drawing from my repertoire of electroacoustic improvisation to round out the remainder of the time. Although I reuse elements, there is always something new to discover in them.

For those in the Bay Area who may be interested in checking it out, the full information is below:

Full Moon Concert Series: Quickening Moon
Thursday, February 25, 8PM
Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street @ 6th Street, San Francisco.

The Full Moon Concert Series is an experimental music series offered by Outsound Presents, in partnership with the Luggage Store Gallery. Each concert explores the traditional lore of the Full Moon, and in January, the second annual “Quickening Moon” will feature new music springing to life. First up will be Amar Chaudhary in a solo electronica set (collaborating with his wonder-cat, Luna), followed by the world premiere of a new work for twelve improvisers by Polly Moller, entitled Genesis.

Ivy Room Experimental Improv Hootenany, November 16

Last Monday, I performed again the experimental improv “Hootenanny” at the Ivy Room in Albany, CA. This is always a fun series to participate in or attend. It starts a little later at 9PM, and is set in a rather plush bar that makes a great setting for drinks and experimental music.

Free Rein. Photo by Michael Zelner

The evening opened with Free Rein, consisting of Andrew Joron (percussion, theremin), Joseph Noble (woodwinds) and Brian Lucas (guitar).  They began with Joron playing a bowed metal percussion instrument and Noble on flute.  The bowed instrument had discrete pitches and the music was quite tonal and repetitive, almost hypnotic. They were joined after a while by Lucas on guitar, and together weaved between pentatonic and chromic sounds that were sometimes quite lush, and other times sparse. Joron switched the theremin at some point during the set, and there was a particularly interesting duo of theremin and pennywhistle.

Free Rein gave way to The Lords of Outland with CJ “Reaven” Borosque (electronics), Philip Everett (drums), Ray Scheaffer (bass), and Rent Romus (alto saxophone).  There sound was loud, fast, dramatic, with many of the standard idioms from free jazz, run of fast notes (particularly from Romus on sax), squeaks, and loud hits.  It was interesting to have the electronic noises set against the jazz sounds.

Lords of Outland.  Photo by Michael Zelner.

Lords of Outland. Photo by Michael Zelner.

The set was very energetic and seemed to go by fast, and I had to keep track of time lest I miss the start for the set that I was curating.  On cue, as they faded out, we began to fade in.

Photo by Michael Zelner

Photo by Michael Zelner

The set I curated included myself on electronics, Brandan Landis on prepared guitar, Beau Casey on violin and David Slusser on saxophone and the Slussomatic. As usual, I began by ringing one of my prayer bowls, which was answered by the metallic sounds of the prepared guitar and the violin, followed by the Kaos Pad and Evolver, and then the Slussomatic.  None of us have played together as a group before, but I was happy with the way we able to play off one another.  There were a couple of moments that particularly stood out for me, such as a rhythmic ostinato that emerged organically and I then reinforced; we went on with that pattern for a while, adding accents and syncopations; towards the end, the full ensemble played a series of loud and dramatic swells (anchored by a noise patch on the Evolver) that brought the set to a close…

Elizabeth Torres with Cansafis Foote. Photo by CatSynth.

…which segued to the next set featuring Elizabeth Torres on tenor sax, with Cansafis Foote on baritone sax and Mario Silva on trumpet.  The set began with Torres and Foote as a duo, moving between very synchronous playing in which the two saxophones acted as one instrument, and Torres’ improvising freely against a driving but ever-changing rhythm provided by Foote.    The duo was then joined by Silva, again moving back and forth between more free improvisation and rhythmic sections.

Thanks again to Lucio Menegon for hosting the series and Suki O’kane for being “virtual Lucio” on this particular night.

Preparing for Saturday performance

I am busy preparing for the first of three upcoming performances this week. That primarily involves hastily assembling a collection of gear and cables:

For this show, I will be using the Evolver, the Korg Kaos Pad, looping and effects software the MacBook, and several of my Chinese and Indian instruments, including the prayer bowl at the center of the photo. A challenge for readers: how many cats do you see in the photo above?

Meanwhile, Luna sits nearby. She seems to be accustomed enough to the odd sounds from my musical instruments to remain relaxed and even take a nap.


Appropriately enough, Weekend Cat Blogging #232 is being hosted by our audio-gear-savvy friends LB and breadchick at The Sour Dough.

The Carnival of the Cats will be up this Sunday at Artsy Catsy.

And of course the Friday Ark is at the modulator.

CatSynth pic: Sam Evolving

From Ran Kerlian on flickr, via matrixsynth:

“Sam, my 3 months kitty, dronning with the Mono Evolver Keyboard.”