It’s been a little while since we last attended Church of Thee Super Sergeat 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.
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.
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…
It seems to be the week of the Elektron Octatrack, as we have two or three of them in today’s pic. Also featured are the adorable cat Lucy, and a large modular synthesizer system. I recognize a Make Noise Tempi and Rene on the bottom row – we have that pair here at CatSynth, too.
We espied this photo on the Facebook page of Robotspeak, our local synthesizer shop and informal gathering place for monthly shows here in San Francisco.
I have myself dropped quite a bit of hard-earned money there (but don’t regret any of it), and I have played there on a few occasions, including the Analog Ladies showcases. You can read about past visits to Robotspeak via this link.
Sometimes Sam Sam ends up in CatSynth pics of her own, as when she recently got up to explore the redesigned studio space. She is fascinated by the new decorative shelves as well as the narrow band between the video/office corner and the modular synth.
Perhaps she is picking up some scents on the modular case from our recent live performances.
I have been having a lot of fun in the studio lately, especially making videos and exploring our synthesizer collection in greater depth. I really should be working on some more formal compositions, but it seems I am in more of experimenting and exploratory mood at the moment. I have also, unfortunately, been battling insomnia. It ebbs and flows, and on the worst night (about a week ago), I decided to sit up for a while and play with the Roland JP-08 boutique synth.
The size is actually ideal for playing in bed late at night. I spent some time exploring the architecture (it’s basically a Jupiter 8 with a few extensions) and came up with some new and unusual patches. We hope to share them with you in an upcoming CatSynth TV.
As we get ready for our next Pitta of the Mind show this Thursday, March 8, we look back at our recent show at Pro Arts in Oakland, where we were joined by Usufruct, Alex Cruse, and Murder Murder. You can see a bit of all four groups in this recent CatSynth TV episode.
Pitta of the Mind’s color theme (we always have a color or pattern theme) for this evening was blue and featured blue-themed poems by Maw Shein Win, many from her new book Invisible Gifts.
[Photo by Tom Scandura]
I used the Prophet 12 synthesizer, along with the modular system, my trusty Nord Stage, and some percussion instruments to create a musical interplay with the words as well as the space between them.
Even though we haven’t performed in a while and only had one rehearsal, I felt this was one of our strongest performances – and the feedback I got from the audience backed up that perception. In particular, I think the poem “You Will Be With Me in a Town Called Paradise” came out particularly well, with a sultry vibe and jazzy accompaniment on electric piano.
After our set, Usufruct, the duo of Polly Moller Springhorn and Tim Walters took the stage.
[Photo by Tom Scandura]
As the word “usufruct” implies, they make use of materials for which they have usage rights beyond ownership, such as public-domain text sources. Polly’s vocal interpretations of the texts are processed electronically by Tim using custom programs written in SuperCollider. The end result is simultaneously dark and playful. But beyond the text sections, I was particularly taken with the instrumental portion at the beginning, which featured bass flute live and electronically processed.
Alex Cruse brought a very different vibe and sensibility to the evening, with an electronic performance that focused on beats, loops, and hits.
There were many delightful sounds and many hard-edged industrial noise moments as well. The vocals were deliberately obscured by heavy distortion and other processing but provided a percussive element that worked well with the rhythms.
The final set by Murder Murder was again something altogether different. With two drummers, two horns, two electronic performers, and vocals, it was nonstop intensity from the first drum hit.
The intensity continued for several minutes and then came to a sudden close. It was the musical equivalent of a tornado tearing through our calm evening of voice and electronics, but perhaps it was a fitting coda to the evening.
We thank Pro Arts and Sarah Lockhart for having us at this series, which has become quite a mainstay of the Oakland scene. I hope to be back again soon with one of my other projects. And of course, we are looking forward to our next Pitta of the Mind Show – where we will once again be joined by Usufruct – at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco on Thursday, March 8 at 8 PM.
Purim is the “most synthesizer-y” of Jewish holidays, given that one of it’s central rituals is noisemaking. This year we created a synthesizer demo running sounds from a gragger through several modules.
The demo uses a mixture of pre-recorded gragger on the QuBit Nebulae and live sound via the Mikrophonie and Make Noise Echophon. The full list of modules used in the Purim demo is:
Make Noise Echophon
Qu-Bit Nebulae (v1)
Rossum Electro-Music Morpheus
Make Noise Maths
Make Noise Tempi
Malekko Heavy Industry Noisering
I do wish I already had a Qu-bit Nebulae v2 for this project. You can see our review of v2 from NAMM 2018 here.
Purim is a holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire from the king’s wicked advisor Haman, as told in the book of Esther. Traditionally, the gragger is used to mask the name of Haman when said out loud during readings.
Our ginger feline friend Rufus returns, courtesy of iamshadowdancer on Instagram. He looks ready to serenade us with a new song.
He has a rather impressive modular setup! The upper case is by Goike. It contains a wide variety of modules – we see a classic Metasonix yellow, a Mordax DATA on the right, a Make Noise Maths, and many others that whose identification we leave as an exercise to the reader.