Manul Override at the Garden of Memory 2019

I have attended the Garden of Memory at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland many a summer solstice since moving to San Francisco – and written multiple reviews on these pages and even presented a CatSynth TV showcase last hear. But 2019 is the first time I have performed at this annual event as a named artist. It’s a very different experience from the inside looking out. This article describes the adventure.

My friend and sometime collaborator Serena Toxicat and I were excited to be accepted into this years program for our project Manul Override. We joined forces once again with Melne Murphy on guitar and also invited Thea Farhadian to sit in with us on violin.

I had a rather elaborate setup, anchored as usual by my trusty Nord Stage EX. The Sequential Prophet 12 has also become a mainstay of my smaller collaborations, providing rich ambient sounds. The Arturia MiniBrute 2, Moog Theremini, and a collection of Eurorack modules rounded out the rig.

Getting everything into place in the catacombs-like building – a renowned landmark designed by Julia Morgan – was a challenge in itself. Fortunately, I found parking nearby and was able to load everything onto carts or wheeled cases, and had plenty of help getting things downstairs where we were playing.

The acoustics of the space are also quite challenging. It is a set of oddly shaped stone chambers, some large, some small, so echoes abound from both the crowds and other performers. Figuring out how to balance our sound is not easy, and I don’t pretend to have gotten it right on the first try, but it’s a learning experience. But we did get ourselves sorted out and ready to play.

Photo by Annabelle Port

The set unfolded with an invocation, a drone in D mixolydian mode set to Serena’s text Mau Bast, read first in French and then in English. It seemed a perfect piece for the occasion. We then switched things up with a more humorous piece (Let’s Hear it for) Kitties, which was a crowd favorite. You can hear a bit of it in this video from the event.

I have learned how to best follow Serena’s style of speaking and singing, with a more open quality; and Melne and I know how to work together well both in terms of timing and timbre. Thea’s violin added an interesting counterpoint to the voice and electronics. Her sound was sometimes masked by the other instruments and the acoustics but when it came through it added a distinct character and texture. The remaining two pieces were more improvised. One was a free improvisation against one of Serena’s books Consciousness is a Catfish, and another was based on a graphical score with 16 symbols that I first created in 2010 but have revised and reused over the use. The newest version included a cartoon pigeon in honor of my bird-loving co-conspirator Melne.

The performance was well received. Crowds came and went throughout the evening, but many people stayed for extended periods of time to watch us, and others came back a few times. We played two hour-long sets, and in between I had a small amount of time to check out some of the other performs. In particular, I enjoyed hearing Kevin Robinson’s trio, with whom we shared our section of the space.

His spare group and arrangements with saxophone, upright bass, and drum, provided a distinct contrast to our thick sound. The moved between long drawn-out tones and fast runs with short notes that reverberated around the space in between. Robinson’s music often has a meditative quality, even when it is more energetic, so it fit well.

Around the corner from us was the Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLOrk). They had a quiet set featuring performs seated on meditation cushions with laptops as well as various percussive objects as sound sources.

I was particularly inspired by Anne Hege and her Tape Machine, an instrument with a free-moving magnetic tape and several heads, pickups and tiny speakers. She sang into it at various points and moved the tape, created an instrumental piece that was part DIY-punk, part futuristic, and somehow quite traditional at the same time.

Her performance gave me ideas of a future installation, perhaps even to bring to the Garden of Memory in years to come…

Thea pulled double duty during the evening, also performing as part of a duo with Dean Santomieri, sharing a space with Pamela Z. Our friends Gino Robair and Tom Djll brought the duo Unpopular Electronics to one of the darker columbariums, and IMA (Nava Dunkelman and Amma Arteria) performed on the lower level. In retrospect, our group might have been better placed sharing a space with them, as we are both electronic groups (all women) with large dynamic range.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience, and with the opportunity to play as well as listen it’s my favorite to date. Thank you Sarah Cahill, Lucy Mattingly, and the rest of the crew at New Music Bay Area as well as the Chapel of the Chimes staff for letting us be a part of this event!

Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam and Big Merp

Getting the two cats to coexist at CatSynth HQ has a long and sometimes bumpy road. Sam Sam in particular has a tough time of it. But things are starting progress to the point were we at least of tolerance and respect. Sam Sam mostly stays on the mezzanine level of HQ, splitting her time between the bedroom and the studio, but she is starting to come out more and reassert herself as the sassy queen of the house.

Big Merp has the run of the downstairs level and enjoying both the relaxing and fun of living here.

He does sometimes come upstairs. In this photo, he jumped up on the main studio console that houses the Nord Stage, Prophet 12 and Pro Tools workstation, and has found a nice hiding place behind the monitor.

From his perch, he supervised part of the postproduction for our latest CatSynth TV, which you can now see here.

Sam Sam also hangs out in the studio a lot. In this video she gives as a little mew as a greeting.

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Mew ūüėĽ #catsofinstagram

A post shared by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on

They can actually be in their own spots in the studio at the simultaneously now; and that is indeed progress.

CatSynth Pic: Chancer Von Chonkerfloof (with Moog and Nord)

This is Chancer Von Chonkerfloof, a rather handsome fellow if we say so. This studio portrait comes to us from skinfitz via Instagram. And he is posing with synthesizers from Moog and Nord, two brands dear to our hearts at CatSynth.

CatSynth Pic: Cat, Moog Voyager, and Nord

Cat playing a Nord keyboard and checking out the current patch on a Moog Voyager. From Zoltan Pinkola via our Facebook page.

CatSynth TV Episode 99!

It’s the 99th Episode of CatSynth TV, and we have a special treat for all our readers and videos. It combines many of our interests: synthesizers, cats, experimental music and film, and highways.

Video shot along Highway 99 in California from Manteca through Stockton and heading towards Sacramento. Additional video and photography at CatSynth HQ in San Francisco.

Guest appearances by Sam Sam and Big Merp.

Original experimental synthesizer music by Amanda Chaudhary, based on melodies from “99 is not 100” by Moe! Staiano.

Synthesizers used:

  • Minimoog
  • Arturia MiniBrute 2S
  • Big Fish Audio John Cage Prepared Piano Sample Library (Kontakt)
  • Nord Stage EX
  • Mutable Instruments Plaits
  • Metasonix R-54 and R-53 2hp Cat module
  • 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator
  • Make Noise Echophon

CatSynth Pic: Black Cat, Nord, and Moog

This adorable black cat has found a nice spot to rest on a Nord Modular, which happens to sit above a Moog synthesizer.  From Pete Crane via Facebook.

Good thing our little synthcat doesn’t shed too much¬†
:3¬†ūüéĻ

And from resting to performing…

CatSynth Pic: Studio Cat (Nord, Roland, Akai MPC)

Cat sitting on an Akai MPC 1000 in a studio featuring various Roland instruments and a Nord lead.  From Xeper Kalypso via the Facebook group Synthesizer Freaks.

 My cat hates photos being taken of him, since he decided to do everything he could to not let me finish the work I needed to do in the studio, I took a photo

CatSynth Pic: Dahlia and Nord Drum 2

Our friend Dahlia returns, this time atop a Nord Drum 2.  We also see sundry electronic percussion, keyboards and more.

From Rob Robinson on Facebook.

 

Outsound New Music Summit: CDP and Dire Wolves

While I thoroughly enjoyed every night of this year’s Outsound New Music Summit, last Friday was special because I was on stage with my own band¬†CDP.¬† We shared the bill with¬†Dire Wolves for a night of contrasting retro styles within the context of new and experimental music.

I often get asked what “CDP” stands for.¬† And while it does stand on its own as a name, it does come from the initials of the original three members: Chaudhary, Djll, Pino.¬† That’s me on keyboard and vocoder,¬†Tom Djll¬†(synthesizers), and¬†Mark Pino¬†(drums).¬†¬†Joshua Marshall joined the band in 2017, bringing his technical chops and versatility on tenor and soprano saxophone.¬† As a road-and-map geek, it also stands for “Census Designated Place”.

CDP at the Outsound New Music Summit

We had five tunes for this concert.¬† Three of them were from the series I call “the jingles”, including¬†White Wine,¬†North Berkeley BART, and our newest song,¬†Rambutan (it’s a fruit from Southeast Asia).¬†¬†Marlon Brando¬†and¬†Konflict Mensch rounded out the set.¬† Each featured a melodic and harmonic head followed by open improvisation – no fixed solos, even listens to one another and comes in and out.¬† Our style is a blend of funk, fusion and experimental music reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s¬†Mwandishi and Head Hunters bands or Soft Machine 5 & 6, with a bit of 1970s Frank Zappa / George Duke mixed in.¬† The music is a joy to play and I’m so glad to be able to be on a stage playing it.

Amanda Chaudhary and Joshua Marshall, CDPWe got off to a somewhat shaky start with White Wine, but we settled down quickly as we headed into the improvisation section.  From that point on, things only got better with Marlon Brando and North Berkeley BART (which is always a local crowd pleaser).  Rambutan was a lot of fun, including the funky 7/4 jam and the call-and-response chant with the audience.  Mark held up the metric foundation, working with both me and Tom who took turns on the bass roll.  Tom also got some great sounds in his solos, as did Josh who moved easily between growls and mellifluous melodic runs.

Tom Djll's synth

The vocoder, a Roland VP-03, held up pretty well Рin some ways, I felt the scatting went even better than the lyrics Рthough there is still work to do keeping the voice intelligible in the context of the full band.   I was exhausted and satisfied after the set, and look forward to doing more with our band.

You can read Mark Pino’s perspective on the set on his blog.

For the second set, Dire Wolves brought a completely different energy to the stage.  Where CDP was exuberant and even frenetic at times, Dire Wolves welcomed the audience with a mellow and inviting psychedelic sound.

Dire Wolves

[Photo by Michael Zelner]

There was a sparseness to the music, with¬†Jeffrey Alexander¬†(guitar + winds),¬†Sheila Bosco¬†(drums),¬†Brian Lucas¬†(bass) and¬†Arjun Mendiratta¬†(violin) each staking claim to a distinct orchestral space within the soundscape.¬† Alexander and Mendiratta had lines that melted seamlessly from one to the next; Brian Lucas’ bass was sometimes melodic.¬† Bosco’s drums provided a solid foundation, but she also contributed voice and other sounds to the mix.

Jeffrey Alexander Sheila Bosco

[Photos by Michael Zelner]

My mind was still processing the set we had just played, but the trance-like qualities of Dire Wolves provided a space for a soft landing and to return to a bit of balance.¬† Sadly, it seems this was the band’s last performance for a while, at least with the current lineup.¬† But I look forward to hearing more from each of these musicians in their other projects.

Both groups played to a decently sized and very appreciative audience – not the capacity crowds of the previous or following nights, but respectable.¬† And I got quite a bit of positive feedback from audience members after our set.¬† We still have one more night of the summit to cover, and then it’s onward to future events.

Voltage and Verse: Ruth Weiss/Doug Lynner/Hal Davis, Pitta of the Mind, Ramon Sender at Adobe Books

It’s been a busy season for Pitta of the Mind!¬† We had three shows in the span of two months, beginning with¬†our blue set at Pro Arts¬†and culminating with ¬°Voltage and Verse! at¬†Adobe Books in San Francisco.¬† You can get a taste for the show in our CatSynth TV video.

It was an honor to once again share a bill with ruth weiss.  A Holocaust survivor and founding member of the San Francisco beat poet scene in the 1950s, she is still going strong, performing and supporting local institutions and artists.

Maw Shein Win, ruth weiss, Amanda Chaudhary

We were glad to see that she is continuing her collaboration with our friend and synthesizer virtuoso¬†Doug Lynner.¬† Together with log percussionist¬†Hal Davis, they performed a set of poetry and music that simultaneously evoked earlier eras and the latest electronic experiments.¬† Davis’ log drum provided an expressive metronome, undulating between a trot and a gallop.¬† Lynner’s synthesizer lines filled in the spaces, sometimes with rhythmic appeggios and at other moments with long eerie drones.¬† The synthesizer timbres and phrases complemented the words in multiple ways, sometimes underpinning the narrative in the manner of a good film score, at other times emphasizing the rhythm of the words and making them into a musical whole.

ruth weiss and Doug Lynner

Our Pitta of the Mind set was part of a month-long celebration for the release of¬†Maw Shein Win’s¬†new book of poetry¬†Invisible Gifts.¬† The book is divided into four sections based on different colors.¬† This works perfectly for our use of color themes in our performances.¬† For this night, we chose silver and performed selections from the silver section of the book.¬† There were some familiar poems that we have performed before, and some that were new to me.¬† There were a variety of styles and subjects in the words that inspired different musical backings, from jazzy electric piano (my favorite) to abstract synthesizer explorations.¬† I was able to reuse some of the modular patches I had developed for my recent show in Portland and make them work with the rhythm of the texts.

Pitta of the Mind

Maw and I have performed together so many times now that it has become almost second nature to realize a new set; our three shows this season went off (nearly) flawlessly, and have been among the best we have done in our nearly seven years of collaboration!  We have developed a toolset and pallete of instruments (including the Nord Stage and Prophet 12) and sounds that we can quickly turn to with each new text, which makes the process of learning new pieces both simple and fun.  I certainly hope we can keep up the momentum in the remainder of the year, even as I turn my own attention to other musical projects.

In between our set and weiss/Lynner/Davis, we were treated to a presentation by¬†Ramon Sender.¬† Sender was a co-founder (along Morton Subotnick and Pauline Oliveros) of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the early 1960s, but on this evening he regaled us with stories of his time at the Morning Star and Wheeler ranches in Sonoma County in the late 1960s and early 1970s.¬† Morningstar, founded by Lou¬†Gottlieb, was a radical experiment in communal living, populated by an interesting cast of characters along with folks who “commuted” between San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and the ranch west of Sebastopol.¬† It only existed in its communal form for a short period of time before being shut down by Sonoma County. Sender and others then moved to the nearby property of¬†artist Bill Wheeler, who followed Gottlieb’s lead and opened his ranch as a commune open to all.¬† I found myself fascinated by Sender’s stories, and would love to learn more about the history of the area and these communal experiments.

It was a fun night of music and words that lived up to its billing, and I certainly hope to have a chance to perform with everyone again.  And thanks to Benjamin Tinker and Adobe Books for hosting the event!  Please support your local bookstores and performance spaces.

[Photos not marked “catsynth.com” in this article courtesy of Maw Shein Win.]