Happy Gotcha Day Big Merp!

It was two years ago that Marlon, aka “Big Merp” came to live with us at CatSynth HQ! We had already known him for a while, but circumstances arose where he needed to find a new permanent home, and we were more than happy to oblige.

We first met him in 2018. He was living on the street in the Temescal section of Oakland, California.

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Life on the streets can be rough, and it showed on his face. But he was incredibly friendly and loved people, and enjoyed coming indoors to hang out. He was clearly a former house cat, likely abandoned. We’re glad we found him and gave him a home. The posh indoor life has been good to him.

Big Merp is a “synth cat” – he loves to get up on the main instrument desk to be close to the action. There is the iconic photo lounging with the Novation LaunchPad Pro and Arturia MicroFreak above, as well as many others.

Although he bonded with the humans right away (including visitors), things were a bit more difficult with Sam Sam. She was not happy with this newcomer to her home and tried her best to avoid him for quite a while. Over time, however, her confidence returned and the two grew more comfortable with each other’s presence. They may not be the best of friends, but they do at least accept one another and share space.

Please join us in wishing Big Merp a very happy second Gotcha Day!

Farewell to 2020, a year like no other

How does one summarize a year like this? Words like “unprecedented” seem trite, and we learned from our experience with 2016 that even a difficult year has its beautiful moments. 2020 started out normal enough, with our annual pilgrimage to NAMM but quickly veered into surreal territory, and that was before the first COVID-19 lockdown was announced…on my birthday. Everything that has happened since has happened in the shadow of the pandemic. Perhaps the lowest moment was losing our dear friend Serena Toxicat. But the year has also brought unique experiences and opportunities, such as making music with musicians I admire together on opposite sides of the country. Indeed, as I was grieving the sudden loss of Serena, I received a call from my then-new collaborator G Calvin Weston offering comfort and support, and we have developed a closer friendship along with our musical collaboration. That moment perhaps summarizes the complexity of 2020 as much as any.

It has also been a banner year for CatSynth TV with rapid growth in viewership and subscriptions, but also the craft of making the videos in a variety of structures: synth reviews, interviews, documentaries, and art pieces. Of course, a few things remain active on the blog, our cat-and-music pics, Wordless Wednesday, and the occasional article. But for the most part, the transition from blog to video is complete.

The year ends on a note of optimism for 2021. The vaccines are arriving (we just need to make sure people take them); things are a bit more hopeful politically in the country, and we can start to repair the damage of the past five years. The album I have been working on – a musical statement – is coming together and will be released in the first part of the new year. Our little household at CatSynth HQ is safe and healthy and closer than ever – even Sam Sam and Big Merp seem to be getting along better now. And of course, we’re going to continue to share more videos, images, and ideas.

2020 has reminded us that we cannot know what is in store, and that improbable things can have a tremendous impact on our lives. We will face what comes as best we can, and focus on what is most important. And thank you for continuing to be a part of this journey with us.

Big Merp with Yamaha RX5 Drum Machine

Big Merp the cat sitting on a Yamaha RX5 drum machine

Big Merp has taken to our recently acquired Yamaha RX5 drum machine. I think he will be ready to lay down some rhythm tracks soon. He also has his rear paw on another recent acquisition: the Buchla Red Panel 158 oscillator. Look for these two instruments featured in upcoming episodes of CatSynth TV!

Back in the late 1980s when I was getting into synthesizers, Yamaha’s DX series dominated the landscape (along with Roland’s D series). I got Yamaha’s “After Touch” magazine which featured new releases including the RX5, which became the flagship of their drum-machine line. It was beyond my reach then, but I now I have one and looking forward to seeing what I can do with it in our eclectic studio at CatSynth HQ.

CatSynth Pic: Big Merp, Sensel Morph, Arturia MicroFreak, and Modular

Our very own Big Merp is our featured cat as he sits in the middle of our demo rig featuring a Sensel Morph (with Buchla Thunder overlay), Arturia MicroFreak, and our modular synth setup.

If you haven’t already done so, please check out our recent video with Big Merp’s performance and our demo connecting the Sensel Morph to the modular via Max/MSP.

Wordless Wednesday with Big Merp

Merp is ready to share a glass of wine with his human friends.

With wine, cats, good music, and intellectual and artistic curiosity, we will get through this.

CatSynth Pic: Big Merp, MicroFreak, and Modular

Today’s CatSynth pic features our very own Big Merp! He likes to bed down on the synthesizer desk when I’m working on the studio, and on this occasion, he seemed particularly blissed out.

One of the few bright spots amidst all the pandemic craziness is that mandatory work-from-home affords me more time to spend with my cats and my music.

Farewell to 2019: Tipping Point

Our year-end collage is a long-standing tradition at CatSynth. And we had a lot of fun making this year’s edition, so many wonderful images to choose from. One of my best solo performances to date took place at the Compton’s Cafeteria series at the Center for New Music. Big Merp came to live with has at CatSynth HQ. And our adventures took us from the halls of NAMM to the bottom of Death Valley to the subways of New York.

As we mentioned at the end of last year, most of the energy has moved to CatSynth TV and our social media platforms (especially our Facebook page). The blog is mostly our core cat-and-synth pics these days, although I do enjoy sharing long-form articles now and then. And In 2020, I do plan to revive the “primary highways” series from eight years ago.

On the video side, things have been going very well. Here are the top videos for 2019:

  1. Rick and Morty Pocket Operator, Part 2
  2. Introduction to the KOMA Field Kit [Episode 106]
  3. Ginger Baker, In Memoriam
  4. EXCLUSIVE! Arturia Pigments 1.2 First Look
  5. Folsom Street Fair 2019
  6. NAMM 2019: Rossum Electro-Music Trident [Episode 116]
  7. Rick and Morty Pocket Operator Unboxing [Episode 166]
  8. Mutable Instruments Plaits [Episode 102]
  9. Strymon Magneto Loop & Sample Modes [Episode 125]
  10. NAMM 2019: Interview with Dave Smith of Sequential

By early autumn, I was also thinking about this year as a “tipping point.” The transition from the blog to the video channel is the most obvious, but it also applies also on the personal side. The arrival of Big Merp was one of the big stories, and it’s been a tough integration getting both cats to coexist, but things have been trending well in the past few months, with Sam Sam regaining her confidence and HQ becoming a more harmonious place again. Musically, I have moved in a direction that is perhaps closer to my roots in jazz, fusion, funk while maintaining the experimental electronic aspects. I have also moved to a point where studio work is how I spend most of my musical time, between the videos and other projects. Finally, I am getting older, as we all are, and that adds both perspective and a need to focus on health and wellbeing. In 2020, I may “do fewer things” than in the past, but I hope the things I choose to do make an impact both personally and beyond.

There is a lot to look forward to in the coming days: NAMM 2020 is around the corner, I have a full queue of demos to share, and I am laying the foundations for some major musical projects. And of course, we will continue to post cats and synths.

CatSynth Pics: #NationalCatDay with Sam Sam and Big Merp

Sam Sam with Yamaha TX802 and cassette deck

Of course, every day is National Cat Day (or International Cat Day) here at CatSynth. But we are marking the occasion by letting Sam Sam and Big Merp share their own pics. Above, we see Sam Sam in one of her favorite spots in the studio, in front of the Yamaha TX802 and cassette deck. Sam Sam would also like to share her recent studio video.

And lest Big Merp is left out of the fun, here is a pic of him hanging out behind the main modular synth.

Big Merp with the modular

Merp Monday: Novation LaunchPad Pro and Arturia MicroFreak

Yesterday afternoon I was practicing for tonight’s solo electronic concert at the Make-Out Room in San Francisco; Merp decided that two of the main instruments, the Arturia MicroFreak and Novation LaunchpadPro, would make a great napping spot. Adorable as it is, it certainly made it more challenging to use them.

Merp’s rear paws occasionally kicked off beats on Ableton Live! while I was trying to do some playing on the Nord Stage EX (off-screen). Fortunately, he did eventually get up and I was able to continue with my preparations.

If you are in San Francisco this evening, please stop by the Make-Out Room to hear me perform several pieces on solo electronics. No cover charge, and close to public transportation. Details can be found here.

CatSynth Pic: Merp, Modular, Mother-32

Big Merp enjoys hanging on the synth side of the studio among the cat tchotchkes. He blends in quite well behind the main modular system, next to a Moog Mother-32 and our Roland VP-03 vocoder.