Red Robot Show presents Vacuum Tree Head Live @ HSP2017!

The Red Robot Show and Vacuum Tree Head are back! This time Jason Berry brings footage from our March show at HSP2017, and is joined by Marlon Brando in this full-length episode.

The members of the band for this performance are:

Jason Bellenkes : Alto Saxophone and Clarinet
Jason Berry: Conductor
Amanda Chaudhary: Keyboards and Vocoder
Richard Corny: Electric Guitar
Michael de la Cuesta: Guitar, Synth, Vibraphone, Sitar, etc.
Richard Lesnik: Bass Clarinet
Justin Markovits: Drum Kit
Joshua Marshall: Soprano and Tenor Saxophones
John Shiurba: Bass Guitar

Video credits:
Cameras by Amanda Chaudhary and Jason Berry
Edited by Berry / Chaudhary
Audio Engineering by Amanda Chaudhary
Animated and Directed by Jason Berry

Special Thanks:
Mika Pontecorvo
Mark Pino

Brought to you by White Wine. Crisp. And Refreshing.

Alice-in-Wonderland-Themed Anti-Drug PSA with Synth Soundtrack

Via Dangerous Minds, we have this rather trippy PSA from 1971 using Alice in Wonderland as a frame for discussing the dangers of drugs.

The original was created by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (forerunner to the current Health and Human Services department) and can be found in the National Archives.

In hindsight, the video probably fails miserably at its mission – indeed, much of past decades’ anti-drug campaigns seem rather foolish in hindsight. But the imagery is gorgeous and quite captivating, as is the soundtrack. We at CatSynth in particular quite light the sparse synth music. And the cats, both the Cheshire Cat and the real-life cat that appears at the beginning and end 😺. Anyone care to identify the synth(s) used?

STILL, Pia Maria Martin, McLoughlin Gallery

Today we look at STILL, a solo exhibition of video and animation works by Pia Maria Martin at The McLoughlin Gallery in San Francisco. It is the first US solo media exhibition for Martin, who hails from Stuttgart, Germany. Martin’s work involves elaborate stop-motion films assembled meticulously from countless photographs. Stop-motion animation assembled from photographs is currently a strong interest of mine and an art-form that I have been exploring in my own recent work with silent video and live music, so I was quite excited to see this show and meet the artist. Upon entering the gallery, one is greeted by a large triptych featuring a procession of plastic red chairs.

The piece, entitled Zum Appell!, can be a little jarring with its inanimate objects marching in lock stop, but it is also playful for the exact same reason. I also like the mid-century modern chairs against the weathered concrete interior. The surreal animation of the chairs and design elements are both enhanced by the nearly life-size presentation.

[Pia Maria Martin, Zum Appell! Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

The elements of both play and unexpected animation are apparent in many of the other pieces as well. Für Olga tends towards the more abstract with mechanical and industrial elements that defy gravity, as do her most recent pieces such as Scherzo with brightly colored ribbons curling and “dancing” in a stark white industrial space.

[Pia Maria Martin, Scherzo. Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

Kalekeitos takes the animation of fish in a more playful (albeit morbid) direction.

[Pia Maria Martin, Kalekeitos. Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

As someone who tends to anthropomorphize animals, I found the dancing fish in Kalekeitos quite endearing. But of course the fish (which are in fact already dead) are ultimately dancing towards their destruction as part of a soup or stew. Death and decay appear as subjects in several of Martin’s animations, with natural elements falling apart or becoming reanimated. It also plays into her piece XI which features a house demolition in progress. The simple geometry and gray quality made it more captivating than a simple chronicle of demolition and gave it the more abstract quality found in some of the other pieces such as Scherzo. This particular work was also great example of pairing music with the silent animation. Music plays an important role in Martin’s work, not only as an accompaniment to the visuals but as an organizing principal. XI featured Arnold Schoenberg’s Die Jakabsleiter performed by Pierre Boulez and the BBC Orchestra and Singers, which reflected the geometric nature of the visuals. In Scherzo, the second movement of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 is used as a “non-audible score”, although the actual music is performed by the artist friends (as described here). Once again, my own artistic interest in the silent-animation medium intercedes as I would love to do a live musical performance to one of her films someday.

Pia Maria Martin was able to be in San Francisco for the opening. In addition to introducing her work, she participated in a more general discussion of video and animation.

The lively and far-ranging discussion included the artist’s techniques and inspiration, as well as more general topics such as what it means to “collect video art” in this day and age. On a practical level, the pieces in this and other video shows are authoritative limited editions, much like photographic prints. Some of them are also objects that include the means of display (e.g., a flat panel screen and DVD player). But for a local art collecting community that tends to be a bit more conservative in its acquisitions, the idea of an art piece to be displayed on a TV screen or projected onto a wall and which requires media intervention to perceive is a new one. But we hope video art continues to make its way into collections.

The exhibition will remain on display at The McLoughlin Gallery through May 30.

Other Cinema: Re-Tracked Animation, Artists’ Television Access

A couple of weeks ago I attended an evening of silent films and live music at Artists’ Television Access called “Re-Tracked Animation.” The program was part of the regular Other Cinema series that occurs at ATA most Saturdays.

As we arrived, there were old film clips (from the 1940s or earlier) playing with various soundtracks. The initial film featured a keyboard player wearing a turban (to look stereotypically “exotic”) set against something that sounded like the Chipmunks. The next short featured a more abstract grainy cartoon with figures made from simple geometry against a more electronic noise-based soundtrack – this one was quite interesting in itself. The final video, a very old Porky Pig cartoon, was played straight.

It was then time for the main features to begin. Jeremy Rourke presented several of his animated video pieces with live accompaniment on guitar, voice and percussion – specifically, singing bowls. His visuals combined found material, often with a “turn-of-the-20th-century” feel to it, with more contemporary video backgrounds and illustrations. You can see one of the videos, eyes hearing stars, in this clip below:

This one in particular featured some moments I referred to as “Monty Python meets Central Park” in that it reminded me a bit of Terry Gilliam’s animations, but the highly processed background of modern-day urban park video and abstract graphical elements give it a unique feel. Musically, the texture was sparse and worked in concert with the video rather than vying for attention away from the imagery, so the overall experience was quite captivating.

For his final piece, Rourke came on stage wearing all white and carrying an all-white guitar. It was clear that he and his instrument were going to be part of the screen for the next video, and that is indeed what happened.

The final video featured more live footage than his earlier animations, and the music was purely guitar-based.

After an intermission, the program resumed with a screening of the Brothers’ Quay In Absentia with music by Karlheinz Stockhausen. Regular readers know that Stockhausen is one of my musical heroes, so I was quite interested to see and hear this piece. The film, although done in 2000, feels like it is much older. The grainy images paint dark and dystopian visuals of ruined machinery against the main scenes of a woman in an asylum and her repetitive existence, writing notes on paper, placing them in envelopes and into a grandfather clock. The music, which is from Stockhausen’s piece “Zwei Paare”, predates the creation of the film, but they nonetheless work together well to create the overall haunting and eerie landscape.

The final set featured members of the ensemble Thomas Carnacki with Greg Scharpen, Jim Kaiser, Jesse Burson, and Gregory Hagan performing live audio tracks to two films. The first was Jan Svankmajer’s The Fall of the House of Usher, based on the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name. The Poe story was read live by Dean Santomieri along with the music. The visuals featured an empty and abandoned looking manner home, perhaps how the House of Usher would look after the fall. It was forlorn and sad, but rich with texture. And Santomieri’s voice is always captivating in live readings.

The final piece of the evening featured the ensemble performing live to Ladislas Starewicz’ strange but delightful stop-animation film The Mascot. The film, which was created in 1933, features a cast of puppet dogs, cats, dolls, skeletons and any number of other creatures.

It is amazing to think what Starewicz was able to do in the 1920s and 1930s with his creations, without the aid of 3D computer animation or even more modern model-making done at special-effects houses. Below is a still from the original film:

The film is available on the Internet Archive ( in its entirety, so I will be tempted to try my own hand at an audio accompaniment for it one of these days…

CatSynth video: The Scanimate

Moog Little Phatty and the Scanimate

From experimentalsynth on YouTube, via matrixsynth where you can read more and see more images. A cute black cat makes a cameo appearance during the video 🙂

“The first attempt at controlling analog video animation with control voltage created by a Moog synthesizer. Learn more at and”

“Scanimate is a 100% analog video animation system in use form the late 60s to early 80s. It was used on a number of popular films & TV shows including, Star Wars, Logan’s Run, Sesame Street & NBC Sports. Only eight were built and they originally sold for around $1,000,000.”

It’s interesting to consider in the context of the recently released LZX analog video modular synthesizer.

CatSynth pic and video: keyboard cat papercraft tribute.

From tubbypaws on YouTube, via matrixsynth:

From the video description:

This is the happy papercraft keyboard cat assembly instruction video. please watch the happy video for instructions and things to see and do and scary, please don’t blink.

(warning this video contains flashing imagery)

you can find the papercraft pattern here-

please enjoy ^-^

papercraft, artwork, animation, music and photography by tubbypaws”

[click to enlarge]

I’m going to try this out…or more specifically, at it to the queue of still-uncompleted DIY projects…

Art notes: SFMOMA, Kentridge, Shettar, First Thursday

This was a rather art-intensive weekend, even by our recent standards at CatSynth., spanning Thursday through Sunday. This article will only touch on a few items.

At an unplanned visit to SFMOMA, I encountered for the first time work of William Kentridge. Kentridge is a South African artist working with stop-motion films, multimedia, dance and theatre. His work spans from whimsical to overtly political, often dealing with themes from both South Africa and the region. My initial impression of Kentridge’s work from the exhibition ads and the first passing glance at the gallery were mixed. The figures in his earlier animations, such as Soho and Felix are caricatures, with squat bodies and exaggerated features, are usually not that inviting to me. But one can quickly see the immense time and skill that went into these works, which are made from a sequence of charcoal drawings. And having seen the craft, I started to notice the art, and able to step away from the figures themselves to see the mixture of film, animation and music at a more abstract level. His later works, such as 7 Fragments for Georges Méliès, Journey to the Moon, and Day for Night, allow for a more abstract viewing, and also introduce his self portraits and self-deprecating sense of humor. Set on six screens, I moved between abstract animations of star and insect movements, and the artist spilling coffee onto his blank paper.

Probably the most interesting was his newest piece, I am not me, the horse is not mine, 2008, loosely based on Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose. There was of course a partly live-acted, partly animated nose as the “star”, but also other elements depicting the demise of the Russian avant-garde under Soviet rule, and elements mixing abstraction and Soviet-style realism, with muted color fields, geometry and text. There was also an interlude of South African choral music for good measure. I wish I had been in town for the performance and lecture last month.

The final works, based on Mozart’s The Magic Flute, were the most elaborate, with video projects based on archival film, animations and stills projected into wooden stages with live mechanized shadow puppets. It was clear that the audience was transfixed in a way I usually don’t see for multimedia and video presentations in an art gallery.

This is probably worth going back to see in more detail. I simply did not have the time to stay and watch every video and animation.

Also at SFMOMA were some exhibitions I had seen but not written about previously, including the portrait photography exhibit Face of Our Time. I usually don’t go for straight-out portrait work, but these mostly large images worked in the context of the other exhibits at the museum.

I did take note of the abstract and whimsical sculpture of Ranjani Shettar. Her work combines modern technologies and traditional Indian craft techniques, but with none of the nostalgia or adherence to cultural stereotypes that often dominates Indian art, at least as it is presented in this country. Her sculptures do have a very naturalistic quality, reminiscent of much contemporary work in the western U.S.

Last Thursday was also the First Thursday open galleries in downtown San Francisco for April (this year is going by so fast, isn’t it?). I should first recognize Trevor Paglen, who was showing both at SFMOMA as a SECA Art Award recipient, and at the Altman Siegel Gallery. It is quite a coincidence to see the same artist at two venues in a single week.

Perhaps my favorite show was Ema H Sintamarian at the Jack Fischer Gallery. Her drawings/paintings consisted of surreal, curving architectural elements, with an almost cartoonish quality. Bright colors and shapes against a white background.

The show by South African artist Lyndi Sales was intricate and very meticulous, work digital cuttings of found and printed objects – it was also a poignant tribute to her father’s death in the Hederberg crash.

Portraits seem to sneak their way into many of my experiences this week, with Gao Yuan’s “12 Moons”, a series of photographs with a Chinese take on the “Madonna and Child” theme. She was featured at MOCA Shanghai last year in 2008 (MOCA was of course closed the main weekend I was there).

Susan Grossman presented chalk and pastel drawings of photographs, that quickly revealed themselves to be familiar scenes of San Francisco. The black-and-white coloring and soft edges also serve as a fitting close to an article that begin with the soft charcoal drawings of William Kentridge, even if the subject matter could not be more different. and friends

This video came via our friend synthmonger. It was part of something called, basically a custom video-channel application the web that plays a selection of syndicated material from YouTube, Google Video, and elsewhere. Synthmonger was actually calling attention this particular video featuring pjtoro's musical suit appearing on a Russian or Eastern European TV show. The suit appears to be a series of synthesizers controlled by body sensors. Pretty cool. The feline-themed models are a nice touch, too (hey, this is “CatSynth”).

More detail can be found at pjtoro's site, including design information, more images/videos and even an interactive flash simulation.

Back on, I found a few other interesting videos. Most intriguiging to me was the a work called Sixes Last by 1st Ave Machine, a design and animation house located (surprise) on 1st Avenue in New York. They did an amazing job of blending natural elements with surreal biology. You have to think about it for a few moments to decide whether it's real, completely animated or manipulated in some fashion.

It's really not hard to create ones own syndicated channel like this with Flash, dynamic HTML/Javascript and the APIs provided by YouTube and other video sites. What interests me more are a few of the videos themselves, such as the work by 1st Ave Machine and others, which remind me that I still want to do more experimental video and animation work to complement my music. I've been spending much time back exclusively with music and sound (and trying to sell the CD lately), but there are some upcoming video opportunities I might want to consider…