San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (SFEMF) Night 3

The 19th annual San Francisco Electronic Music Festival concluded yesterday, and we at CatSynth were on hand for the final concert. There were three sets, each showcasing different currents within electronic music, but they all shared a minimalist approach to their musical expression and presentation.

The evening opened with a set by Andy Puls, a composer, performer and designer of audio/visual instruments based out of Richmond, California. We had seen one of his latest inventions, the Melody Oracle, at Outsound’s Touch the Gear (you can see him demonstrating the instrument in our video from the event). For this concert, he brought the Melody Oracle into full force with additional sound and visuals that filled the stage with every changing light and sound.

Andy Puls

The performance started off very sparse and minimal, with simple tones corresponding to lights. Combining tones resulted in combining lights and the creation of colors from the original RGB sources. As the music grew increasingly complex, the light alternated between the solid colors and moving patterns.

Andy Pulse

I liked the sound and light truly seemed to go together, separate lines in a single musical phrase, and a glimpse of what music would be if it was done with light rather than sound.

OMMO, the duo of Julie Moon and Adria Otte brought an entirely different sound and presence to the stage.

OMMO

The performance explored the “complexities and histories of the Korean diaspora and their places within it.” And indeed, words and music moved freely back and forth between traditional and abstract sounds and Korean and English words. Moon’s voice was powerful and evocative, and quite versatile in range and she moved through these different ideas. The processing on her voice, including delays and more complex effects, was crisp and sounded like an extension of her presence. Otte performed on laptop and analog electronics, delivering a solid foundation and complex interplay. A truly dynamic and captivating performance.

The final set featured a solo performance Paris-based Kassel Jaeger, who recently became director of the prestigious Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM). Sitting behind a table on a darkened stage, with a laptop, guitar and additional electronics, he brought forth an eerie soundscape.

Kassek Jaeger

The music featured drone sounds, with bits of recognizable recorded material, as well as chords and sharp accents. The musique concrète influence was abundant but also subtle at times as any source material was often submerged in complex pads and clouds over which Jaeger performed improvisations.

It is sometimes difficult to describe these performances in words, though we at CatSynth try our best to do so. Fortunately, our friends at SFEMF shared some clips of each set in this Instagram post.

Much was also made of the fact that this was the 19th year of the festival. That is quite an achievement! And we look forward to what they bring forth for the 20th next year…

CatSynth Pic: Zelda the Gray in the Studio (Moog Semi-Modular Synths)

Zelda the Gray returns.  We see her napping in the studio beneath a Moog Mother-32, Subharmonicon, and sundry synthesizer modules.  From skaterdays on Instagram.

Studio session is closed for the night. The fuzzy assistant @zelda_the_greyneeds her beauty rest.

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: Industrial Music Electronics fka The Harvestman Presentation at Modular8

Hertz Donut

Cat with the latest version of the Hertz Donut module from Industrial Music Electronics (formerly known as The Harvestman).  Seen on matrixsynth.

“Modular 8 presents Scott Jaeger, Saturday August 25, 1-5 PM! He will be showing off the brand new Hertz Donut Mk. III AND lecturing on Chiptune Synthesis.

Regarding the Hertz Donut MK3 demo 8/25 – @harvestman will also give a talk on chiptune history!

“I will lead off with a presentation about chip music ~30 minutes, then it gets into philosophy of square wave stuff, then probably seamlessly transitions into the HD3 demo.”

Sadly, this event is in the past, so we at CatSynth were not on hand.  Hopefully, we will make it back up to Portland again soon…

CatSynth Pic: White Cat and Wires

A fluffy white cat has gotten tangled up in modular cables 😸

From chichi_response on Instagram.

I am the only real Source of Uncertainty

CatSynth TV: Benjolin!

Our latest video features the Benjolin, a module designed by Rob Hordijk and distributed by Epoch Modular.  From the official website:

The benjolin is a multifunction synthesizer designed by Rob Hordijk. The module consists of four separate function blocks: two VCOs, a state variable filter and an additional circuit, invented by Hordijk himself, called a rungler. This particular arrangement emerged from his efforts to design a synthesizer that was, as he puts it, “bent by design”. As such, the module functions according to principles of chaos theory, where short to long sputtering patterns spontaneously transform themselves, at times, gradually, at others, quite suddenly, morphing into new pattern doublings and bifurcations. ​

The rungler is what gives the module (and its predecessor the Blippo Box) its chaotic character.  It’s basically a shift register timed off the two oscillators which then fed as a control signal back to the oscillators, creating a nonlinear dynamic feedback system.  It’s a lot of fun to just play and explore, but I have also used it in both recordings and live performance.  It works particularly well with subtle control inputs, like the Theremini.

Happy Birthday Runkl!

Happy Birthday to our synth-cat friend Runkl in Portland!  From Jeph Nor:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO RUNKL!!! Our best little goofy cuddle ninja 

Jeph hosts the Volt Divers series that I played at in April.  If you are in Portland, I recommend checking it out.

See Runkl’s previous appearances on CatSynth.

CatSynth Pic: White Cat and Modular, Vertical View

A beautiful pic from Davor Gazde and his white feline companion.  It looks like the cat is inspecting the patch quite intently.

We are pretty sure this is the same Modcan modular synthesizer from their previous photos.  You can see all of their contributions via this link.

 

UnPopular Electronics (Robair + Djll), Lx Rudis, Franck Martin at Robotspeak

It’s been a little while since we last attended Church of Thee Super Serge at Robotspeak in San Francisco, but we made a point of going this past weekend.  For those who have not been there or read our past reviews, it’s an almost-ever-month show on a Saturday afternoon with live hardware-synthesizer performances.  As the name suggests, some acts do include Serge synthesizers, but it is not required, and a wide variety of instruments are used.  All three sets are featured in our most recent CatSynth TV episode.

The first set featured Lx Rudis performing on an Oberheim Xpander, a somewhat underappreciated instrument from the 1980s.

Lx Rudis on Oberheim Xpander

At its heart, the Xpander is a 6 voice analog synthesizer, but with a complex array of digital controls that can be programmed and applied independently to each voice.  Lx Rudis took full advantage of these, especially the LFOs and lag generators, to create subtle and minimal metric patterns.  He constantly moved voices in and out, configuring them on the fly, in a way that was very expressive and musical.  I particularly liked the sections which had staccato rhythmic textures against slowly moving timbres deliberately out of sync with one another.

Next up was Franck Martin, who performed a solo set on a modular synthesizer with several standalone instruments.

Franck Martin

Martin’s setup included a Moog Subharmonicon, which he built while attending Moogfest this year (we at CatSynth are a bit envious), as well as a DFAM (Drummer From Another Mother).  There were also additional voices provided by Braids and Plaits modules from Mutable Instruments that he could bring in and out using a touch-plate interface.  The result was a slowly changing beat pattern with an eerie inharmonic voicing and gentle undulation.

The final set featured our friends Gino Robair and Tom Djll teaming up as the brilliantly named Unpopular Electronics.

They had a wide variety of gear, including Serge panels in addition to Eurorack modules and standalone instruments from Bugbrand and others.  In addition, Gino had an interesting small case that included touchpads.

The music was frenetic and intense, an avalanche of pops and hits and loud cloudlike tone clusters.  And there were trumpet sounds entering into the mix at various points.  But there was an exquisite detail to the madness with changes among the different instruments and sounds, and musical pauses and rests before the pair dived back into the frenzy.  There were also many moments of humor and not just Djll’s book about why there aren’t any Zeppelin-style airships in the United States.

In between sets, it’s fun to browse around Robotspeak and see what’s for sale, or on display in the big glass case.

It’s also quite dangerous, as I am often tempted to leave with another module or instrument.  On this occasion, I exercised restraint, but probably not next time…

CatSynth Video: Cat listening to Modular

From brycepyne on Instagram.  What critters indeed?  I like the mixture of long tones and decorative details.