Matzoh Man and Thoughts on Passover

Passover is, perhaps, the most “visible” Jewish holiday for me. After all, we have featured the Matzoh Man in many photos and short video clips here on CatSynth, and now twice in a row for CatSynth TV.

For this year’s episode, we took audio output from our mechanical friend via a contact mic and sent it into the KOMA Field Kit. We then split the signal into audio, which was run through our modular synthesizer – specifically, the Rossum Electro-music Morpheus – and the Field Kit’s own envelope follow and actuator section, ultimately driving the solenoid. It was a fun little demo both to make and to watch.

Matzoh Man joins the synthesizers in a ritual of devotion and irreverence.

I also included a little demo of the ritual diet, with matzoh, prepared horseradish, and Kedem grape juice. But beyond that, anything is fair game for me during Passover as long as there are no piggies or shellfish, or leavened bread. No beer allowed, but non-kosher wine and spirits are fine. It becomes a bit of a game to see if for eight days I can follow these simple rules. To someone more Orthodox, or even the least bit devout, this simple approach could be transgressive, or even blasphemous. But from my point of view, not only is it plenty but I also sometimes wonder why I both at all. It’s not like I believe in the literal truth of the Biblical story, or have any fear of or respect for any religious authorities.

Somehow, though, I still feel compelled to participate. And not just participate, flaunt it, reminding friends that I can’t share pastries or bread products over the week because I’m Jewish. That feels important to remind people of. And it sometimes makes its way into my music, through titles like Kislev and Donershtik (Yiddish for Thursday) or organizing structures in stories. It’s fun. It’s “cool”. But also it feels more urgent, as the world around us seems more anti-Semitic now than it did during my youth. I’m deeply bothered by the attacks that seem to be increasing against Jews, both verbal and violent. But I’m also concerned with an increasing religiosity and sense of obedience among many who identify as Jewish. If being Jewish is just about being religious, or being obedient to a text or patriarchal authorities, then it does truly become time to ask “why bother?”. But for now, we do our best to both persevere and enjoy.

Chag Pesach Semeach.

CatSynth Pic: Cat, Modular, Field Kit, and Music Easel

This cat knows how to frame his poses purrfectly 😸

Most of the modular is obscured by this cutie, but we do espy a pair of KOMA Field Kits, as well as a Buchla Music Easel.

From catsofmodular on Instagram.

NAMM 2017: KOMA Elektronik Field Kit

Being immersed in music technology does not mean one forgets the joy and beauty of acoustic sounds, whether a finely crafted violin or the incidental collisions of everyday objects. Our friends at KOMA Elektronik introduce the Field Kit, which brings these worlds together in a single box.

The Field Kit fits quite a bit in a small space. There is a four channel mixer at the heart of the unit, which accepts input from contact microphones or other audio sources, with gain, mix level and tone controls. A radio section generates audio and CV from AM, FM and short wave signals. A DC section can be used to control outboard electronics such as motors, solenoids and LEDs. A signal generator section allows all of these tools to be used to generate more conventional signals for modular synths and other gear. It also includes utilities such as an LFO generator and envelope follower.

What makes this unit intriguing to us at CatSynth is the ability to use it an interface to physical objects, as shown in the photo above, with springs, marbles and other items used as input and output. It can be hard to wrap ones head around how that works in practice. This video from KOMA Elektronik’s Kickstarter page makes it more accessible.

We at CatSynth would love to get our hands on one of these, even for a couple of upcoming shows in February. It would be great to combine the visual and physical nature of the devices musical possibilities with video. Unfortunately, it isn’t shipping to the general public until May. We look forward to then.

More information available at koma-elektronic.com.

Booth 5000 (Modular Synths) at NAMM, Part 1

Our friends in the modular-synth world are moving up at NAMM, with a collective booth at the front of the show right near giants like Moog and Dave Smith Instruments.  It’s a bit much to take in all at once, as modules and module-makers continue to proliferate.  This will be the first of a few articles covering just this booth.

One new set of modules, and perhaps the oddest, comes from BASTL Instruments.

BASTL Instruments

In addition to the wood texture, there are modules that can control motors, solenoids and other outboard electronic elements.  It does bring to mind some ideas for sound installations and live performances.  You can hear a bit of these modules in this video.

Soulby presented Eurorack modular versions of 8-bit processing modules more messing with voice and other input signals.

Soulby

Delays and looping seem to be a thing this year. 4ms had a new looper and delay module whose novel feature is audio rate control of the functions for unusual flange delays and other continuous effects.

4ms

While the 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator is not new for this year, it is still one I am excited about.

QuBit Electronix has a new sequencer module with a circular pattern; and a new polyphonic oscillator with individual controls and VCAs. You can see and hear both of them in this short video.

@qubitelectronix polyphonic oscillator in action! #namm

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

Synthrotek is focusing on full systems, including a MIDI-CV converter that supports bi-directional clocks. One can use heavily modulated CV clocks to control time-based elements on MIDI synthesizers with this feature.

Synthrotek

And KOMA Elektronik returned with their massive sequencer, looking more refined. And it has a lot of lights!

KOMA Electronik Sequencer

More from this both and beyond in coming articles.

NAMM: KOMA Eletronik, QuBit, 4ms

Today we continue with the panoply of synth module manufactures that we say at this year’s NAMM show.

One instrument that garnered quite a bit of attention (and deservedly) so was the new Komplex Sequencer from our friends at KOMA Eletronik.

KOMA Komplex Sequencer

First of all, it is sleek and beautiful. But it is also quite powerful. It features four independent 16-step sequencers supporting both MIDI and CV/Gate. The sequencers can each be set to play in one of five modes (forward, backward, ping-pong, ping-pong reversed, random); and CV can be quantized to various Western scales (for those who need such things in their music). The size of control and combined support for MIDI and CV would be a lot in itself. I am definitely looking forward to seeing this ship in the near future.

QuBit

Qu-bit Electronix presented some modules that are also going to be our “want” list. The Nubulae may not be new for 2015, but it seems extremely useful compositionally. It reads and renders audio files from a flash drive, but with CV-based control for speed, pitch, and granular synthesis. The NanoRand is a tiny module that packs four different randomization functions along with a bright multi-color LED (it’s that big purple light in the photo above). Switching among the four functions via a sequencer creates some very intriguing musical patterns.

Finally, we at CatSynth were quite interested in the new Spectral Filter from 4ms. It is a spectral multi band resonant filter that can sculpt and amplify sections of a signal to create harmonic (or inharmonic) structures.

4ms

A unique feature was the circular control that allows one to “rotate” around the spectrum. I found myself comparing this to the newly released additive synthesis module from Make Noise (you can read about it here. They are both spectral manipulators and can some similar in particular moments, though they approach and instrument architecture is quite different.

New analog modular improvisation, May 9

Here is another improvisation, or perhaps a meditation, on the analog modular synth. Enjoy!

This one used most of the modules in the system, including the Metasonix R53, both Make Noise modules, the Morphing Terrarium from Synthesis Technology, the Koma Electronic SVF-201 filter, the Polyvoks filter, and the Noisering from Malekko Heavy Technology, all mixed together via Pittsburgh Modular’s Mixer and Out. The Noisering was in many ways the foundational element for this meditation.

Please share your thoughts either in the comment section here or on SoundCloud.

Pitta of the Mind and Mezzacappa-Phillips Duo, Luggage Store Gallery

Today we look back at my latest performance with Pitta of the Mind at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco, a show that also featured a set by the Mezzacappa-Phillips duo.

Pitta of the Mind is my music-and-poetry duo with poet Maw Shein Win. It was our fourth performance as a duo, and probably our most polished to date. As with our previous performance at last year’s Skronkathon, we selected a color as the overarching theme for the set. That time it was silver, this time it was blue, which was reflected in our costumes, props (including a little blue tree), and the content of some of the poems. The selections were a bit darker and melancholy than at the Skronkathon, and overall the set had a more serious feel. There were, however, humorous moments in both words and interpretive dance moves from Maw. For the music behind the poems, I used a variety of iPad apps including Sunrizer, Animoog and Bebot. The challenge was to provide sound that fit with the poems without overpowering them.


[Maw Shein Win. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

After the main course of our poetry-and-music set, I played a solo improvisation on the analog modular system as dessert.


[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

A subpatch with the E350 Morphing Terrarium from Synthesis Technology, the Make Noise Maths, and the KOMA Eletronik SVF-201 filter formed the foundation, with other modules patched in and out during the course of the performance. I was aiming for noisy rhythmic patterns, and sometimes succeed, while at other times allowed the sound to move in the direction of longer drones or unstable chaos.


[Click to enlarge.]

The set was well received by the small but appreciated audience, and we got quite a few positive comments for both words, music and our coordinated blue outfits.

Lisa Mezzacappa and Noah Phillips opened with with a set of improvised music for upright base and guitar, respectively. Both are virtuosic improvisers, and I expected good things from their set. They explored a wide variety of extended techniques, some percussive and some more drone-like, and moving freely between more structured and free-form rhythms. Overall, the timbres, harmonies and textures were quite beautiful and visually evocative.


[Noah Phillips and Lisa Mezzacappa. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Interestingly, this was not the first time we shared the bill with the Mezzacappa-Phillips duo. We were all together at a show in Oakland in 2011. I’m glad we had the change to perform together again.

NAMM: Analogue Haven

The visit the Analogue Haven booth is another of the annual pilgrimages at the NAMM show. The highlight of my visit this year was a performance by Richard Devine on a system consisting exclusively of Make Noise modules.

This virtuosic performance showed what these modules are truly capable of with practice. The music moved between rhythmic staccato textures and longer resonant tones in multiple layers. It was also a showcase for the DPO, Make Noise’s oscillator, which was the only tone generator in this system. I have a Make Noise Maths and an Ecophon, and the performance inspired me to practice these along with the other modules to get more complex musical results.

Analog video is looking like a potential area of creative expansion, and LZX Industries was prominently demonstrating their video modules. Here we see our mascot being processed live.

One thing I would like to see more in video synthesis is interaction between analog audio, video and control signals.

On the opposite end from the modules was the massive Schmidt Eightvoice Polyphonic Synthesizer. A beautiful looking instrument with an interesting set of filters inspired be Moog and Oberheim:

This synthesizer is truly a labor of love by its creator Stefan Schmidt, who spent many years on this project. It remains to be seen if it will sell.

Other quick views from around the Analogue Haven booth included this demo of modules from Snazzy FX:

Percussion modules and a novel sequencer from Delptronics:

And the distinctive orange controls of the Harvestman modules.

There were three new releases from Harvestman, including a new Hertz Donut.

And the distinctive clean white design of Koma Elektronik, including the SVF-201 Vactrol Filter module and their infrared controller.

It is great to see the popularity of the analog instruments and new designs coming each year. If there are any drawbacks, it is that the field of available modules and effects boxes has become quite bewildering, and that the Analogue Haven booth is always quite crowded.

Analog modular improvisation

Here is a little track I created last night improvising with a few of the modules in my Eurorack system. Enjoy!

This analog modular improvisation featured the Wiard Anti-Oscillator and Noisering from Malekko Heavy Industry, Make Noise Maths, and KOMA SVF-201.

CatSynth pic: Miez and KOMA Elektronik

Submitted by KOMA Elektronik via our Facebook page.

“Miez together with the KOMA Elektronik pedals!”