NAMM 2018: Yudo KAMI-OTO and Neuman

We are always on the lookout for something (or someone) different at NAMM, especially in the deep dark depth of Hall E.  This year we found it in the booth of Yudo, a company out of Japan that presented prototypes for two radically different concepts.

The flagship Neuman synthesizer features a standard keyboard with an instrument-spanning touch screen.  It looks like an iPad stretched out to fit a full-sized keyboard.

The keyboard plays well, and there were standard sounds such as electric pianos, brass, etc.  The touchscreen controls for the patches were fascinating, but not particularly intuitive.  It was hard to see using it for sound design in its current incarnation.  But it is a prototype with an estimated two years or more of development ahead, so we will see where things go.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the KAMI-OTO, a small cardboard based keyboard controller to use with iPads.  It is a simple cardboard cutout that folds around a simple electronic main board and includes a stand for your tablet.  There are wired and Bluetooth models that go for $28 and $36, respectively via the company’s Kickstarter campaign.

We did have a chance to try it out.  It is adorable, and it does look like a fun and simple DIY project to assemble. And there is some delight in being able to decorate it in whatever manner one desires.  As a keyboard, however, the latency was extremely high, which would render it less than usable for us in a performance setting.  Nonetheless, for composing on the run, it could come in handy.

More info about both products can be found at https://www.yudo.jp/en/.

Grex and Two Aerials, Octopus Literary Salon

Last Thursday we at CatSynth returned to the Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland to hear two groups whose work we follow, Grex and Two Aerials.  The show was also the subject of our most recent CatSynth TV video, which can you see below.

There are similarities between in terms of style and songcraft, and they worked well in tandem.  Two Aerials, led by Mark Clifford (vibraphone) and Crystal Pascucci (cello, voice), had a jazzier vibe and more reminiscent of art-rock and prog of the early 1970s.  Clifford’s frenetic but luscious vibes are a lot of the reason for this, but solid backing from Brett Carson on keyboard and Jordan Glenn on drums added to the overall sound and structure.  There were sounds and textures reminiscent of Henry Cow, especially during the songs that featured Pascucci on voice.  There were also sections that reminded me of Frank Zappa’s best lineups from the early to mid-1970s.
 
 two aerials
 
Grex has gone through a few iterations of style and personnel in the time I have known them.  The current incarnation features principals Karl Evangelista on guitar and Rei Scampavia on keyboards, but they each take on additional musical duties with electronics, foot-driven percussion, and voice.
 
Grex
 
Musically, they also have a style that falls somewhere in the realm of art rock, but with a dreamier, more psychedelic feel.  They move effortlessly back and forth between very tender lyrical songs and frenetic pedal-heavy guitar solos from Evangelista, as well as space in between those poles.  We particularly enjoyed the quote of Princess Leia’s theme during their final song.
In all, it was a fun evening with friends and music.  And the Octopus Literary Salon is fast becoming a frequent destination for us for eclectic and intimate musical performances.  We look forward to more.

Dollar Days, Blackstar, and Luna

David Bowie, Blackstar

A lot has already been written about David Bowie’s final album Blackstar. But it seems particularly poignant in a personal way at this moment in my life.

I should start by saying it’s a great album. I would even assert that it was his best since the classic albums of the 1970s. it mixes complex and dark elements with some catchy hooks like on Low. The jazz and fusion elements on Blackstar, which features a band led by saxophonist Donny McCaslin, also take me back to another of my favorites, Station to Station, with its funky vibe. Indeed, some of the initial responses to the album that focused on his use of a jazz band seemed to leave out the connection to his funky bands of the mid 1970s. But coming back to the present moment, it’s the song “Dollar Days” on Blackstar that seems to stand out the moment. It is melancholy and its verses feature ballad-like chord structure, descending root notes resolving back on itself. The chorus has a simultaneously anxious and soaring quality. And the lyrics seem to be self-reflective and prescient of his coming death just two days after the album’s release, especially when coupled with the next track “I Can’t Give Everything Away.”

Cash girls suffer me, I’ve got no enemies
I’m walking down
It’s nothing to meet
It’s nothing to see
If I’ll never see the English evergreens I’m running to
It’s nothing to meet
It’s nothing to see

I’m dying too
Push their backs against the grain
And fool them all again and again
I’m trying to
We bitches tear our magazines
Those oligarchs with foaming mouths come now and then
Can’t believe I just run second, now I’m forgetting you
I’m trying to
I’m dying too

Dollar days ’til final checks, honest scratching tails, the necks, I’m falling down
It’s nothing to meet
It’s nothing to see
If I’ll never see the English evergreens I’m running to
It’s nothing to meet
It’s nothing to see

I’m dying too
Push their backs against the grain
And fool them all again and again
I’m trying to
It’s all gone wrong for on and on
The bitter nerve is never enough, I’m falling down
Don’t believe in just one second round for getting you
I’m trying to
I’m dying too

Specifically, that line “If I’ll never see the English evergreens I’m running to” hits home. Bowie died in New York and had probably not seen the English evergreens in a while, and was aware that he likely wouldn’t. One part of Luna’s decline that has affected me greatly is the realization that we won’t experience some of our favorite things together anymore. Some have already gone, such as playing with toys, clamoring for favorite treats, and running up and down the stairs at night. I have no way of imagining what this feels like to her, but it can’t be good. And that, too, is a painful realization. Sadly, cats don’t have the ability to express their feelings in words, let alone with the lyricism and eloquence of David Bowie. The sharing of his thoughts about his mortality is one of the gifts in Blackstar, along with the music itself.

Luna’s continued decline has good days and bad, and we are spending as much time together as we can, including sitting on the floor and listening to music, cuddling and purring.

Amanda Chaudhary Solo Set at Second Act, San Francisco

We pick up our reports from the epic musical month that was June.

Amanda Chaudhary at Second Act

On June 15, I performed a brand new solo set at Second Act in San Francisco, part of a monthly evening of experimental electronic music. It was a bringing together of my more experimental electronic work with the jazz and funk direction my music. The modular and Moog Theremini were featured heavily, but so were the Moog Sub Phatty as my “left hand” bass, and of course the Nord Stage, aka “The Big Red Keyboard”. I also used a Casio SK-1 extensively. You can hear the entire set in this video.

Amanda at Second Act June 2016 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I thought it went quite well musically. I like how the funk bass worked with the Sub Phatty and Phonogene on the modular. The venue was full, and I got an enthusiastic response from the audience. I don’t think they were expecting this level of jazz and funk, but seemed to really appreciate it. I will definitely continue working in this direction in future solo sets.


The concert began with a noise set by Passions Nouveau, who performed with synthesizers and sundry electronics.

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The set unfolded as a single continuous soundscape, with noise pads and drones, but occasional loud swells and complex details.

I was followed by bran(…)pos. It had been a few years since I shared a bill with him, but has excited to hear what he had come up with recently. As per his pervious appearances, he performed inside a tent onto which a mixture of live and processed video was projected.

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And once again the performance centered around the use of his face and voice visually and sonically. But the instrumental accompaniment was a new direction, mixing sounds from the turn of the 20th century with pitched synthesizers and beats. It was a very polished and complex sound overall, bringing a tightness to his unique style of performance and presentation.

Overall, it was a great performance, and I was happy to be a part of it. Performing at Second Act is always a great time, and I would like extend my thanks to the folks who continue to make this venue and series work for the musical community.

Trimpin, Center for New Music, San Francisco

The Window Gallery at the Center For New Music in San Francisco currently features a sound sculpture installation by the artist Trimpin. We at CatSynth were on hand for the opening.

Trimpin Kraut Kontrol

The installation called Kraut Kontrol featured several custom made guitars in resplendent purple hues and outfitted with a variety of actuators. All the elements are controlled by a computer which conducts the instruments as an ensemble. You can here a bit of installation in action in this video.

Trimpin installation in action!

A video posted by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on

Jimi Hendrix is of course fun to hear on this automated guitars, but it really only scratches the surface of what one can do with such instruments. I hope to hear some more abstract sounds that focus on the interplay between the different guitars.

As part of the opening reception, we were treated to a Q&A session with Trimpin himself. A fascinating but humble character who shuns some of the flair of the art world, he mostly delved into the details of the installation, its original version at the Orange County Museum of Art. He also spoke extensively about the larger automated-guitar installation he created for the Experience Music Project in Seattle, including a bit of behind-the-scenes of working with Paul Allen.

Trimpin’s Kraut Kontrol will be on display in the window gallery of the Center For New Music (55 Taylor Street, San Francisco) through June 30. I strongly recommend checking it out.

Outsound Dinner: Nava Dunkelman and Jordan Glenn Duo

As happens every year approximately one month before the Outsound New Music Summit, we gathered for the annual benefit dinner. This year the dinner took place at the Finnish Kaleva Hall in Berkeley, a location steeped in history of its own. There was a good company, delicious food provided by Slippery Fish Catering, and a performance by Nava Dunkelman and Jordan Glenn.

Outsound dinner: Nava Dunkelman and Jorden Glenn
[Photo: peterbkaars.com]

Both Dunkelman and Glenn and accomplished percussionists in the local music scene, but this was the first time they performed together as a duo. And the result was an exceptional performance filled with a variety of textures ranging from subtle to angry and aggressive. There were moments where the individual materials and timbres stood out in stark isolation, and others where the two worked together to form repeating rhythmic patterns (one might even say a “beat”). The two have contrasting styles that they brought from their other projects (I most often see Jorden Glenn as a drummer for bands, and Nava Dunkelman as a collaborator in improvised duos).

Nava Dunkelman
Jordan Glenn
[Photos: peterbkaars.com]

Overall, a great evening of music, food and friends. There were many familiar faces among Outsound’s supporters at the event, but also newcomers, which is always good to see.

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[Photo courtesy of Outsound Presents]

Now it is on to the Summit itself, which begins on Sunday, July 26 at the Community Music Center in San Francisco. Please visit Outsound New Music Summit website for a full roster of performances and events, information and tickets, and more on how to support the continuation of new and adventurous music in our community!

NAMM 2012 article round-up

I have consolidated all of the NAMM 2012 posts in the list below.  Lots of photos with our stuffed cat, and also a few videos.

At NAMM at last

NAMM: Waldorf Zarenbourg and Blofeld

Korg’s Little Instruments at NAMM

Battle of the iPad Docks at NAMM. Behringer iStudio and Alesis iO Dock

Moog Minitaur

Dave Smith Instruments Tempest and Mopho at NAMM

Arturia MiniBrute

Keith McMillen Instruments QuNeo (NAMM)

Dr. Lonnie Smith, Hammond Sk2 (NAMM)

Lunar Experience modular, Noisebug (NAMM)

Teenage Engineering OP-1 and Oplab

IK Multimedia iRig MIDI and iRig Cast (Good for OWS?)

Trash Audio party at NAMM and Matrixsynth “Wine Bar”

Malekko Heavy Industry at NAMM

Analog Haven at NAMM

There are also several items that were only covered via Twitter @catsynth with hashtag #NAMM.

Analog Haven at NAMM

I often find myself spending quite a bit of time at the booth of Analog Haven at NAMM. It is an opportunity to see quite a variety of analog instruments (and a few not-quite-analog), and meet several of the small independent makers. The visit took on added significance as I cautiously wade into adding analog modular to my own arsenal of musical instruments.

We big with KOMA Elektronic, who showed off a prototype of their new Kommander, an infrared motion controller with multiple axes of control. It joins their existing effects boxes in their product line:

We also had fun with the fact the industrial design, particularly the geometric black-and-white pattern, match my own aesthetics in terms of dress and decor.

Make Noise is known for their unique and complex modules for audio processing and control. They had several new offerings, including the Echophon whose sound I quite liked.


[Click to enlarge.]

The Echophon is a collaboration with Tom Erbe of SoundHack, and is a reverse of the usual trend in that digital character is re-imagined in the analog domain. Make Noise also presented their first oscillator, the DPO.

Another module that particularly caught my fancy was the Morphing Terrarium from Synthesis Technology. It is a wavetable VCO that contains numerous waveforms, but more significantly it has parameters for “morphing” or moving among the different wavetables. With the right self modulation, this can lead to very surprising and complex waveforms:

Another interesting new find was an analog modular video synthesizer from LZX Industries.

Like analog audio counterparts, the LZX modules generate, process and modulate analog video signals. Think of it as being the boxes that each do all the little pieces of an old TV studio but with creative routing and control. You can see a little bit of video below:

I did specifically ask about mixing audio modules with the video modules (LZX uses the standard Eurorack format), and was informed that yes, this can be done, though one would need to match the voltages between the two domains, and keep in mind that the frequency ranges of video are much higher.

Visual interest and catchy names are a big part of the inspiration in many of the small boutique offerings. These pedals from Audible Disease were quite creative.

Among the visual designs, this simple switcher caught my attention. It reminded me a bit of my visit to the Communist Propaganda Museum in Shanghai.

Other offerings included the ARCHANGEL, an analog sequencer with touch plate controllers, from Detachment 3.

And these pedals from Lightfoot Labs:

The Goatkeeper 3 is a tremolo pedal with analog signal path, but with a variety of waveforms (including the ability to record your own), and a sequencer for even more complex modulation.

There was a lot more at the booth, more than I can do in one article. I hope to see more of these instrument makers as I personally explore analog synthesis in greater depth.

And

Korg’s Little Instruments at NAMM

As big established companies go, Korg is one of those that consistently has offerings that seem less generically commercial and appeal to those of us who like quirky instruments. The Monotron was a great example, as was the iMS-20 iPad app, both of which I regularly use in my own music. So amongst their more standard keyboard and guitar-support offerings, they had a new line of their little instruments.

The original Monotron is now joined by a few new variations, including this one that adds an analog-delay effect. They advertise it as a “Space Delay” and the case sorts of a retro-space like theme.

Playing it is as simple and compelling as the original. If the price-point is ultimately as reasonable, it might be fun to try chaining the different versions together sometime.

Korg also has new versions of the Mini Kaoss pads out, including a new Mini Kaossilator.

More than any of the new sounds, I noticed the new industrial design, which is more rounded and quite a bit more ergonomic. I’m not sure if I like it was much as the little boxy versions from a visual perspective, but it’s probably easier to handle.

I wasn’t able to try out these metallic Monotribes because they were inside a case.

The Bronx Museum

I always like to discover new places when I visit New York, and one of those on my most recent trip was the Bronx Museum.

From the D train, one alights at the 167th Street station along the Grand Concourse. Two blocks south is the museum’s impressive new building. The structure is a start metal facade with odd angles and geometric details that one often sees in contemporary buildings. But the repeating patterns also evoke the old narrow apartment buildings that used to cover this an many other sections of the Bronx. Inside the lobby, a large installation by Bronx-born conceptual artist Vito Acconci fills the space with airy undulating shapes that complement the exterior architecture.

It turns out this piece is made from Corian, which the artist uses to make solid but seemingly pliable forms. The numerous holes allow air and light to become part of the piece. I think the protrusions that look like seating are in fact seating for visitors, but I did not ask. (As an interesting side note, it turns out that Acconci has already been mentioned on this blog in this review closer to home.)

One gallery featured paintings and works on paper by the Cuban-American artist Emilio Sanchez, all depicting commercial buildings from the Hunts Point neighborhood. Hunts Point is at the southern edge of the Bronx, known for its huge produce market and concentration of auto-repair shops.

These colorful canvases strip the buildings and street down to essential elements, the rectilinear forms of the structures and lettering of the signs.

The sources for these paintings were images from the 1980s, a time when the Bronx had gone through a precipitous multi-decade decline that give the borough its reputation. None of the urban decay that was undoubtedly present on the streets at the time is present in these pieces. Indeed, the colorful palette and idealized shapes celebrate the neighborhood.

Also on display was a large exhibition entitled Muntadas: Information >> Space >> Control by the artist Antoni Muntadas. Through video, photographs and other media, the artist explores “the relationship between public and private space, the media, how information is conveyed, interpreted, and manipulated, and the way that public opinion is shaped.” One wall featured five photographs of scenes from the Bronx, with the opportunity for visitors to write the own responses. Among the photographs were the infamous Charlotte Street building facade from the late 1970s, and a more recent image of a girl interacting with a gorilla at the Bronx Zoo.

Both of these are familiar aspects of frequent visits to the Bronx as both a child and an adult, the bleak landscape of the 1970s and 1980s and the natural oasis and curiosity of the zoo. As such, this was the most personal aspect of the exhibition. The other pieces, which included videos, images and printed words taken out of their original context, was interesting, but not quite as resonant. Though I did enjoy seeing a clip from Goddard’s Alphaville among the images.

Although my visit was during the museum’s free Friday evening, it was almost empty. This gave the space a bit of a lonely feeling, but also complete freedom and peace to enjoy the galleries. Granted, it was the Friday after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year, and an exceptionally warm evening for late November in New York, so I hope the emptiness I saw was an exception. Nonetheless, I am glad I had the chance to finally visit, and it was great to see the positive changes that are happening in the area. I strongly recommend a trip north on the D line to check out the museum and its surroundings.