No, that’s not Sam Sam, but a similarly marked cat (at least from the back). She is inside her own “synth fortress” with w Korg Poly-800, and Yamaha CS01, DX100, and VSS-30 synthesizers. From thedigitalpurrgatory on Instagram.
thedigitalpurrgatory Her very own (almost) color-coded fortress of synths while the wooden cat watches her sleep. [Korg Poly-800, Yamaha CS01, Yamaha DX100, Yamaha VSS-30]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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.