Today we talk about Lake Merced, as well as the recent video we made featuring it.
Lake Merced is located in the southwestern corner of San Francisco, in the vicinity of the SF Zoo and SF State University.
Despite its odd shape and the fact that it borders three golf courses, it is actually a natural lake. It is fed primarily by an underground spring. In the 19th century, the lake briefly had an outlet to the ocean, approximately where the Great Highway breaks off from Skyline Boulevard, just south of the zoo. The outlet is long gone, but the lake’s ecosystem retains some of its saltwater heritage among the fish and other wildlife that inhabit it. Lake Merced and its surrounding park remain one of the last and largest natural spaces left in the city (in spite of the golf courses), and is home to a variety of plant and animal life. On the day I visited to shoot video, I encountered this egret.
But it is definitely an urban natural space, with sounds and sights from the surrounding city mixing with nature. I am particularly fond of this view looking east over the lake to some apartment buildings. It brings to mind Flushing Meadows in the New York City borough of Queens.
I have been spending more time in the western neighborhoods of San Francisco of late, and Lake Merced is one of the spots I revisit. This is what inspired me to make it the subject of a CatSynth TV video, complete with original synthesizer music.
Here is see the final post-production on the video in Pro Tools. Front and center is Tracktion’s BioTek software synthesizer, which I reviewed during NAMM 2016. It was among the primary instruments used in this video where I blended its mix of natural and traditional-synthesizer sounds with the sounds of the field video.
I also made extensive use of the 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator and Epoch Modular Benjolin (designed by Rob Hordjik). They both have very elemental sounds that resemble air and water. The Benjolin is chaotic by design, and a small turn of a knob can change it from liquidy to screeching, so it’s sometimes a challenge to get a good recording that fits the concept of the music. The SMR is a lot of fun to play, especially using alternate tunings and changing the spread and morph parameters. A clock is used to constantly shift the bands.
Rounding out the sound palette were the Arturia MiniBrute 2, Mimimoog Model D, and Metasonix R53 vacuum-tube waveshaper and ring modulator.
The Moog Model D, the MiniBrute and several of the modules make cameos during the video, as does Sam Sam. Watch the video all the way through to spot her 😺
This was a fun video to shoot and put together, something a bit more creative and abstract than our usual demos or live-show reports. I have more of these waiting in the queue to be made…
Cute cat playing a Minimoog Model D synthesizer. Submitted by Steve Peglar via our Facebook page.
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.
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…
Beautiful white cat Yoli is making a monophonic drone on a Moog Sub Phatty synthesizer. From yolanda.yolanda.yolanda on Instagram.
The Sub Phatty is perhaps the most under-appreciated member of Moog’s Phatty line of synthesizers, which includes the popular Sub37. We have one at CatSynth, and it has served us well both in the studio and in live performance. You can view my recent video on the hidden features of the instrument below.
It has been a frequent setting for CatSynth pics over the years featuring many different cats, including CatSynth Video: Moog Sub Phatty Purrs.
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.
Some new pictures from our friend The Synth Witch, this time featuring Otto sitting atop a Moog Sub 37.
He certainly is a handsome fellow, and clearly knows it.
Today we have Zook posing next to a Moog Sub 37 synthesizer and atop a Yamaha CP4 stage piano. Submitted by Scott Blasko via our Facebook page.
This is a beautiful photo, and the lighting and texture are incredible! We can see Zook’s black fur, expression, and silhouette even against the dark background and the dark surface of the keyboard. Well done!
We have a brand-new CatSynth TV! This one demonstrates a couple of the hidden features of the Moog Sub Phatty synthesizer.
In particular, we look at filter-topology selection and Oscillator 2 beat frequencies. The filter selection makes the instrument much more powerful, moving between the extra crunchy 1 and 2-pole filters to the smooth 4-pole that is “quintessentially Moog”. The beat frequency is a bit more esoteric – it maintains beating frequencies across different pitches, leading to some odd detunings in different registers. But it can add a new timbral-metric component to compositions – something to explore in more depth.
We also look at the Editor/Librarian software from Moog, which is really handy for accessing these features as well as saving patches.
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It seems like it is a week for Cats on Moogs, and in particular cats on Moog Sub 37. From Drew Millar via the Facebook group Synthesizer Freaks – part of the same thread that included Monday’s Cat-on-Sub-37 photo.