RIP The Bear (1995-2016)

2016 has claimed another hero. The Bear was the grand old man of multiple books and blogs by self-described “cat man” Tom Cox. We had read his book Under the Paw in one of its earliest editions back in 2008 – you can read our brief review here. In the book, The Bear immediately came to the forefront even in a household with many cats. He was already an old cat whose body had a scars of one who lived life hard but survived to tell it. And those sad, sorrowful eyes spoke volumes. These traits have earned The Bear a loyal following on his Twitter feed @MYSADCAT. Posts often pictured a picture of The Bear with his sad eyes and snarky quotes about music or current events. As The Bear survived year after year passing the milestone of 20 in 2015, he seemed indestructible.

But this is 2016, the year that felled Fidel Castro, along with a great many of our musical heroes and feline friends. We read the sad news on Tom Cox’s blog, where he pays tribute to his kind friend of so many years. With the recent loss of our beloved Luna, we at CatSynth can sympathize. We send our heartfelt condolences to Tom Cox and to the rest of his human and feline family.

X Libris, Root Division

X Libris opened this past Saturday at Root Division in San Francisco, and I had the opportunity to attend. X Libris is “an exhibition exploring the book as a mode of communication in flux.” More and more of our media is migrating from print to digital form, and even the venerable book isn’t immune from this. But the book as an object still retains value for many of us, even if we do much of our reading via digital media such as e-books. We display books, arrange them carefully in rows on shelves or gracefully positioned on tables. Some of the pieces directly lament the loss of books as a central element in our lives, while others explore the printed page as an artistic medium separate from its traditional function.

One corner of the gallery was taken up with a large “architectural installation” made entirely of books. One could walk in between the undulating walls and look at the titles. Although most of the books were closed, every so often there would be an open one. I encountered at least one or two mathematical texts.

One of the most eerie pieces was Alexis Arnold’s “Flood”, which featured distressed and disheveled encyclopedias encrusted in borax crystals. It could have been a scene from a major natural disaster such as Hurricane Sandy or Katrina, with floodwaters causing first one form of damage as they rise, and then another as they recede leaving behind salt deposits. The knowledge contained in the books is just out of reach behind the translucent crystals. Another piece that treated books destructively, but more humorously was Michael Kerbow’s installation of pages as autumn leaves to be raked.

Pantea Karimi created ink drawings with repeated motifs on heavy paper, arranged in unfolding structures on shelves. The result is a colorful and meticulous tribute to the bookshelves that many people proudly display in their homes, but also a lamentation that such displays are gradually becoming rarer.

If books as source of textual information (or escape into fantasy) is waning, what of the physical form of the book as an artistic medium unto itself? Several pieces presented books that were physically books with pages that one could flip and look at, but intended as objects of abstract or conceptual art rather than something to “read.” These examples by Laura Chenault have color and texture but no text.

Still others were more distance from our expectations of the standard book form. Lauren Bartone’s complementary pieces “Letter Trash” and “Leftovers” presented a jumble of letters pasted onto a background and piled on a shelf, respectively. Steven Vasquez Lopez did away with letters and symbols altogether, using only intersecting straight lines on paper, as in this piece entitled “Jooked”:

One might ask what such a piece has to with books, but for me it did bring to mind the whole genre of “abstract comics”, a topic for another time.

X Libris will be on display at Root Division through December 1. You can visit the exhibition page for more info.


I am reporting on Portland after Astoria, even though we visted and played a day earlier. That’s just how things sometimes work.

We did have some time to spend in the Rose City before our show at Rotture:

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We experienced Portland’s famously variable weather. Fortunately, many of the city’s attractions are indoors. This includes Powell’s Books. I could have spent the whole day in the Pearl Room, which contained the art and architecture offerings, as well as their extensive rare book collection.

Portland also has abundant public art. Across from Powell’s is this “brush,” a noted landmark:

And this “recursive elephant” was quite intriguing:

This sculpture includes other animals besides the elephants. I think I see a cat on the trunk:

It always comes back to cats, doesn’t it.

The show that evening was at Rotture, a club on the waterfront, conveniently located next to a construction zone. Although our audience was small, the show went well; and I did like the space, a converted early-20th century industrial brick building.

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They also had an interesting mural in the main audience area, and a nice large stage. We shared the bill with Emily Hay, who also does improvisation with flute and voice (although with a very contrasting sound and style from Polly); as well as Tim DuRoche and Resolution 51 (free jazz improvisation). So it was definitely worth sticking around after our performance to hear everyone else – although the entire evening was probably branded as “experimental night” or “improvisation night”, there was a great variety among the three groups, and I think the ordering worked well with us first, both musically and energy-wise.

More on Portland, our show at Rotture, and the trip up from the Bay Area can be found here.

New features for CatSynth

We've been busy working on new features for CatSynth, making it not just a blog but a full featured site. And two of those new features are being rolled out this week:

CatSynth has a rather eclectic readership, cat bloggers, musicians, photographers, and more. There is already a community forming through regular readers and their comments, and the next step is to bring this community to the new CatSynth Forum. We have space to discuss our core topics of “cats, synthesizers, music, art, opinion” and other frequent themes, such as highway and travel. We encourage all our readers and commenters to join.

We are also opening up the new CatSynth Store, which features not only our CD and downloadable music, but also the music, film, books featured on CatSynth, and we'll soon have a “gear” site from CafePress.

There will be more features and integration coming to CatSynth and my other sites. Please let us know what you think, either leave a comment here or on the forums!