μHausen (micro-Hausen) 2018

Today we look back at this year’s μHausen, a “micro-festival” of experimental electronics that takes place every summer deep at a secure undisclosed location in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  It was the subject of our most recent CatSynth TV episode.

As suggested in the video, I was thinking a lot about our natural surroundings as we made music with our thoroughly artificial electronic instruments.  The trees, the air, the light, all seemed to be of a piece with the music at times.  I also thought about the fact that I had not been able to attend the last three installments.  In 2015 and 2016 I had to cancel or decline because of medical issues, and I’m not sure what happened in 2017.  But I was back now and was great to see and hear everyone.

First up was Peter Elsea, recently retired from his longtime position as a professor of electronic music at UC Santa Cruz.  On this occasion, he performed with a small rig that included a modular synthesizer and an electronic wind instrument.

Peter Elsea

His set featured tones that were timbrally rich and often noisy, but still pitched.  This worked well with the wind controller which allowed the noisy tones to swell and fade musically.  But there were also some beautiful moments of quiet pure tones that evoked the natural surroundings.

Next up was Later Days, a project featuring Wayne Jackson with his iOS-based evolutionary synth  MendelTone, which allows patches to “breed” and evolve.

There was an urgent “machine-like” quality to the music, with low drones oms mixing with high swirls of sound and various percussive hits.  Wayne is also the founder of this event and often its leader, but this year he ceded organizing duties to R Duck (of the R Duck Show), who performed next.


[Photo by Later Days (Wayne Jackson)]

The first segment of his set featured beautiful drones of processed guitar. There were quick runs, but they were absorbed into the overall sound.  Over time, the tone and structure darkened, with more complex timbres and harmonies set against slow but anxious guitar riffs.  He also teamed up with Later Days to deliver his perennial incantation featuring chocolate.  (Did I mention that we at CatSynth love chocolate?)

Next up was synthesizer virtuoso Doug Lynner, who performed on a Eurorack-based Serge modular synthesizer.


[Photo by Later Days (Wayne Jackson)]

I have long come to expect very complex and intricate sounds from Doug, often set in a very sparse texture where one can clearly hear the details.  That was certainly the case in this performance, which opened with light sounds reminiscent of birds and whale songs.  It could have come from the surrounding woods rather than the synthesizer on stage (OK, the bird sounds could have, probably not the whale sounds).  After a period of rapid modulation, the music settled into a different pattern, with a contrapuntal texture of long ascending tones reminiscent of sirens.

Lynner was followed by Paul Nicholson who had a large Korg-centric rig that included both a Minilogue, an MS-20 and an SQ-1 sequencer among other instruments.

His opening piece was more traditionally harmonic compared to the preceding sets, with slowly changing harmonic patterns that evoked late-20th-century minimalism (think Steve Reich and John Adams).  The second portion of the set featured some harsher sounds and noise centered around Nicholson’s modular synth.

Then it was time for me to take the stage.  I brought a rig that included the large 9U modular, a Casio SK-1 and my trusty Moog Theremini.


[Photo by R Duck]

As with most of my recent solo work, I select one of my more formal compositions as a point of departure.  In this case, it was “White Wine”, with the melody set against one of the SK-1’s drum beats.  This them morphed into a broken and complex break of sound and eventually to a pure improvisation with the modular and theremin, though the beats never really disappeared.  As I was when listening to the other sets, I was thinking about the natural surroundings – in my case being the “city girl” mastering my place in space and sound, even if just for a few brief minutes.

The final set featured Lemon DeGeorge on harmonica and electronics.

Lemon DeGeorge

The harmonicas (like a true player of the instrument, he had more than one) added a unique dimension to the music, and the electronics followed with long breathy tones.  The sounds appeared to build up layers upon layers into something heavy and enveloping, but never overwhelming.  Compared to Nicholson’s sounds, DeGeorge’s lone tones and patterns were thoroughly inharmonic but no less beautiful or musical.

Overall it was a fine afternoon of weird electronic music in the woods, and not just for the music itself but for the fellowship with friends who I don’t get to see that often.   I remained in the mind space of the show, the environment, and the sounds for a while on the drive back, at least until reaching I-880 and heading first into Oakland and later home to San Francisco, where I snapped back into my everyday urban life.

 

CatSynth Pic: Korg Minilogue

Cat and Korg Minilogue

Cute tabby cat with two Korg Minilogue synthesizers.  It looks like one of them is the special “sawed off” model 😹

Photo from flohrdumal on Instagram.  This human and feline pair hail from Decatur, Georgia.

CatSynth Pic: Cat and Korg MS-20

This cat seems rather curious about the Korg MS-20 😸

By Minim on Facebook.

Outsound New Music Summit: SO AR and X A M B U C A

The Outsound New Music Summit continued on Wednesday with a night featuring explorations of electroacoustics and noise.  Once again, the two acts were quite contrasting in their interpretations of the night’s theme.

SO AR (formerly Ze Bib) is the collaboration of electronic musician and cellist Shanna Sordahl and percussionist Robert Lopez.  We had the chance to meet with them ahead of the summit and shared our encounter in this video:

The set unfolded as a series of conversations between Sordahl – first on cello alone and then with electronics – and Lopez.  The ups and downs in the pitches, rhythms, and intensities seemed to imply spoken language at times.  This was especially true during the more staccato and percussive sections at the beginning and end of the set.

Shanna Sordahl
[Shanna Sordahl]

The long tone sections brought in more of the electronics – Sordahl’s rig featured a Korg MS-20 and iPad.  The percussion once again seemed to match the longer tones, with extended rolls, long drum tones, and additional percussion.  But there were also moments where the texture diverged, between long electronic tones and rhythmic percussion runs.

Robert Lopez
[Robert Lopez]

Even at its most intense, there was a quiet quality to the music that seemed fit with the starkness of their stage presence and the darkened hall.  Even at low volume, the moments of silence stood out, with a bit of tension in the air.  Space and breath are an important part of how the duo approaches their music, and this comes out strongest in the quietest sections.

X A M B U C A is a solo electronic project by Chandra Shukla.  We had the opportunity to first see him perform last year with Hans-Joachim Roedellius at The Chapel in San Francisco; we were glad to see him join the lineup for this year’s Summit.

X A M B U C A
[X A M B U C A]

On a completely darkened stage, X A M B U C A delivered a set that was simultaneously rich and minimalist.  There were segments of long drones cut with high-pitched sweeps, and sections of fast drum-machine runs.  The styles of various sections (which segued from one to the next continuously) included fragmented dance-music patterns, elements of rock, and noise.  It is, of course, hard for me not to consider electronic music without also considering the instruments used.

Shukla’s rig was anchored by an Elektron Analog Keys, along with a Korg Electribe, a Stylophone, and sundry pedals.  Looking at these instruments, I can better understand how he was able to move so freely from drum patterns and hits to long tones and dense pads to distortion and noise.  It was quite a dynamic performance, showing the more “experimental side” of X A M B U C A compared to what we had experienced previously.

It was a solid night, and perhaps the most “out” of the Outsound Summit shows this year, as subsequent nights embraced more idiomatic forms of musical expression.  We hope to bring you those reviews over the next few days.

 

CatSynth Pic: Korg Poly-800 and “Time-and-space” effects pedals

Little cat sitting on the corner of a Korg Poly-800 synthesizer.  Submitted by thedigitalpurrgatory (Anton Largoza-Maza) via Instagram.

A cat on a synthesizer with time-and-space effects pedals. [Korg Poly-800, Malekko Ekko 616, GFI System Specular Tempus, Eventide TimeFactor]

 

 

CatSynth Pic: Charlotte and Arturia MiniBrute, Roland SH-101, and Korg MS-2000

Charlotte returns and shows off her Arturia MiniBrute, Roland SH-101 and Korg MS-2000 synthesizers.  Submitted by Lee Tizzard via our Facebook page.

CatSynth Pic: Ok Housecat

ok housecat

Today’s pic comes from Ok Housecat on Facebook.

This effect makes your music smell like cat litter 🆗🏠🐈

Please visit their page for more custom-electronics fun 😺

Please visit their page for more custom-electronics fun 😺

CatSynth Pic: Dave, microKORG, and Mini Kaoss Pad

Dave sitting on microKORG

Dave (we’re pretty sure it’s Dave), sitting on top of a microKORG synthesizer.  Actually, two microKORGs!   That expression is priceless 😸

From Karl Lee Avery via Facebook.

We also espy a familiar red Korg Mini Kaoss Pad.  We have one of those around here somewhere.

CatSynth Pic: Gracie, Moog, PPG Wave, and More

Gracie returns!  This time we see her testing out one of her Moog synthesizers (a Sub37 or Subsequent 37).  We also see a Korg vocoder below, and an Oberheim in the back.  In the background, we see a PPG Wave, a rare DK Synergy below it, and a few other synths that we leave as exercises to the reader.  Gracie always has such an impressive collection 😸

From Alsún Ní Chasaide via Facebook.

Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam: The Blanket (and Volca FM)

Those who follow our Instagram are regularly treated to photos and videos of Sam Sam and her adventures around CatSynth HQ.  For those who don’t, we can assure you that she is doing well and is being spoiled rotten.

Sam Sam getting pet

Sam Sam has made this blanket one of her favorite spots for napping and relaxing.  It is quite warm and soft.  In this video, we see her kneading it and purring up a storm.

Biscuits 😺 #catsofinstagram

A post shared by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on


It’s good to be the cat!

Here we see her posing with our Korg Volca FM sytnhesizer.

This photo was taken while preparing for our recent video on the Volca FM, which you can check out on YouTube.  One of the nice things about these small battery-powered synths like the Korg Volcas and the Roland Boutiques is that we play them on the bed.  And if I’m there playing a synth, reading, or napping, Sam Sam is likely to follow.

We hope you have a fun weekend, however you define it.  And if you are Instagram, please do follow us 😻.