Our incredibly musical two weeks that began with Herbie Hancock concluded with King Crimson’s return to the Fox Theater in Oakland. We at CatSynth saw their last visit in 2017 and were excited to hear what the brought this time around.
It was a pleasure to see King Crimson back in action again, albeit with another lineup change. This time around, Bill Reiflin was not with the group, and so there was no full-time keyboardist. His duties were taken over by drummer Jeremy Stacey, and, at times, winds player Mel Collins. Of course, Robert Fripp was there, holding court seated stage left next to his tower of gear, as were longtime members Tony Levin on bass and Chapman stickand Jakko Jakszyk on lead vocals and guitar. Rounding out the trio of drummers were Gavin Harrison and Pat Mastelotto.
The group once again made a great overview of their 50-year history. I was particularly pleased to hear “Cat Food” from the 1970 album In the Wake of Poseidon played. “Cat Food Cat Food…again!” The music is malleable and adaptable to the current band’s instrumentation and abilities. Choruses are reharmonized, as was the case with “Cat Food”; vocal numbers are re-arranged into extended instrumental pieces, as in “The Construction of Light”; new melodies were added, as in “Indiscipline”; and so on. There were also new lyrics to the chorus of “Easy Money”. The combination of the three drumsets was even tighter than the previous tour, and more nuanced as well with each playing entirely different parts in a three-voice counterpoint that occasionally coalesced into a massive syncopated thunder. It should also be noted that the drums were a bit lighter because of Stacey’s keyboard duties.
The sound in the first set was a bit challenging at times; the winds and vocals in particular suffered. Thankfully, this was all corrected going into the second set. And just when it seemed they were going to get through the entire night without playing “21st Century Schizoid Man”, they returned with the tune as their encore, with extended abstract solos and instrumental sections.
As always, King Crimson is very strict about photography during their concerts, but at the very end, they ritualistically share a moment taking pictures of the audience while we picture them. This time both Tony Levin and Robert Fripp snapped pictures of the audience as we returned the favor.
Here is a photo of the audience from Tony Levin’s blog. We are somewhere in the lower left of the orchestra.
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.
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!
We recently joined our friend Serena Toxicatfor a visit to Cat Town in Oakland. Our visit was featured in a recent episode of CatSynth TV.
Cat Town is an organization that helps foster and adopt out cats in the East Bay, with a particular emphasis on cats with special needs or those who otherwise have a hard time in a traditional shelter setting. From their official website
Cat Town Adoption Center and RAWR Cafe are dedicated to helping cats in Oakland and the surrounding areas find both foster and forever homes. They are particularly focused on cats with special needs or who otherwise don’t do as well in a standard shelter setting.
The way it works is that you come to the cafe, order coffee and other treats, and then move into the cat area during a reserved appointment time. One initially comes into the bright and spacious open play area, adorned with murals and unique cat furniture depicting Oakland landmarks and local color.
But the cats are the real stars.
Many of the cats have the “clipped ear” suggesting they were fixed as part of TNR programs for outdoor cats.
The cats are well cared for, and are doing well in this environment where they receive a lot of individualized attention. In addition to the play area, there are quiet spaces for rest and alone time, as well as a newer second adoption space with rooms for the cats. This space, too, is adorned with interesting feline-and-local-themed murals.
Cat Town works closely with local animal services, as well as Adam Myatt — aka the Cat Man of West Oakland who co-founded the space. We have encountered and supported work documenting the street cats of his neighborhood over the years.
If you are in Oakland or the surrounding areas, we do recommend a visit to Cat Town. Bookings and purchases at the cafe support the cats, and you might end up with a new companion. For more information please visit cattownoakland.org.
He’s definitely enjoying indoor-outdoor life as a pet cat. Most, though, just wants to chill out. And, he loves his food.
With the dreary weather of late, we certainly can’t blame him for spending time indoors, and we are glad that he has a place where he is safe and loved. But he does like to go outside when there is a break in the weather, patrol the neighborhood, and find his friend Hissy.
We hope you are all having a good weekend, and staying warm and dry.
It’s been a little while since we last checked in with Big Merp. He had been splitting his time indoors and outdoors in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, but as the cold and rain started pounding the region this winter, he has gladly made the transition to being a mostly indoor cat.
He is definitely loving the posh and comfy life in his new home.
He does like to go outside now and then, to patrol the neighborhood, and to check in on his lady friend Hissy. But most of the time he is content to stay inside. Sometimes, we open the door for him to go outside, and he just stands there, thinks and goes “nah” and heads back in. As someone who hates the cold, I think this is a wise choice.
Yesterday, we got him a catnip toy from our visit to Cat Town cafe and adoption center, and he has taken to it with aplomb.
We hope you are all enjoying a happy and fulfilling Sunday, whatever you are up to.
This weekend we check in on our feline pal in Oakland, Marlon. We have dubbed him “Big Merp” for his large size and vocalizations that sound like “merp“.
This the face of a cat who has lived life hard, and just wants to chill out in his older years. Fortunately, he is getting that opportunity as he has been spending more and more time indoors. This included getting to stay indoors during the worst of the smoke from the wildfires to our north last month.
As we have mentioned before, it is clear he was a pet cat at one point in his life. He enjoys the comforts of indoors, attention from humans, and food. Lots of food. His friend Hissy is not so sure about the indoor life and is still wary of humans, but she does come around for food and to hang out with Big Merp.
The two of them clearly share a connection, even though they don’t always have the same outlook on life. We hope Hissy does learn to trust people a bit more in the future.
We close with a reminder to readers to be kind to the cats – and other animals – that share our neighborhoods and spaces with us.
Today we visit with our feline friends in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland. First up is Marlon, formerly known as “Fluffy.”
Despite living outdoors, he is healthy and well-fed, and clearly has a past that includes life as a pet cat. He loves people and didn’t need much convincing to spend time indoors. Indeed, he is living it up with his indoor time, getting food and scritches and soft blankets to relax on.
He is a big fellow but has a tiny voice that sounds more like “merp” than “meow”. I don’t yet have any video of his vocals, but you can see him thoroughly enjoying himself in this Instagram video with the music of John Schott playing in the background.
You can hear more of John Schott and his Actual Trio in this CatSynth TV video. In the meantime, let’s check in with Sophia, formerly known as “Hissy.”
As one can see in this photo, she is a beautiful cat, with Siamese-like markings and a graceful bearing. We think she might have once been a pet as well, but she is still extremely skittish around people. I mostly just get a glimpse of her from a distance and she runs off at any attempts to get closer. But she usually remains hidden nearby when Marlon is around. The two of them seem to have a special bond, despite their divergent attitudes towards humans.
We hope all our human and feline friends have a lovely weekend.
We introduce two new kitty pals today: Fluffy and Hissy. They are outdoor kitties who live in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, California.
This is Fluffy. He is a big fellow, and quite friendly. As far as we know, he lives outdoors full time, but he is very comfortable around humans, especially when they provide food.
By contrast, Hissy is much more skittish around people, and it is quite difficult to photograph her.
Usually, Hissy backs away, but if one does get close, she lives up to her name.
Both Fluffy and Hissy seem to be healthy and well fed in comparison to some of the street cats I have encountered in the neighborhood, so they probably have a network of food and safety options, beyond our “satellite office” in the neighborhood.
We hope to get some better photographs of them soon.
A few years ago, I traveled California’s Highway 41 on my 41st birthday. I had hoped to make this a regular tradition, but various circumstances have kept me from following through, until this year, when I drove the southern half of CaliforniaHighway 45. It wasn’t exactly on my birthday, and I didn’t complete the route, but was still a fun and eccentric way to celebrate the conclusion of my 45th year of life. It was also a good excuse to try out the new travel-mapping feature in our Highway☆ mobile app.
Highway 45 begins in the small town of Knight’s Landing in Yolo County, so I first had to schlep up there via Interstate 80 and then turn north on Highway 113 near U.C. Davis. 113 is a major freeway at this point, but a bit further north it narrows to a two-lane country road before reaching the junction with 45.
Knight’s Landing was actually a very small but cute town along the Sacramento River. Before embarking on the formal part of the trip, I stopped along the levee at Front Street to view the continuation of Highway 113 across the river. Front Street was rather beaten up compared to the rest of the town center, perhaps due to the nature of the levee or to discourage unnecessary driving, but it made for a nice little walk.
I then returned to the car and finally turned onto Highway 45, heading northwest out of town.
The highway zig-zagged on a grid between fields on the western side of the Sacramento River, but far enough for the river to mostly remain out of sight. But there were some lovely wide-open farmland vistas, made more dramatic by the bands of clouds in the sky marking what was a lovely day after a week of dreary weather.
It is when the landscape opened up that I was able to fully relax into the trip. There is always a point along the journey during which stresses, mundane or otherwise, start to melt away and the road, landscape, and solitude take over the mind. As Highway 45 is remarkably well signed, there was no ambiguity or uncertainty. The result is a sense of flow and well being that allows one to both think about other ideas, like music, while remaining fully engaged in the moment. It is something I have experienced many walking the streets of San Francisco, but not lately. I certainly hope it isn’t gone – as much as I enjoy these long excursions to other regions, I would love to return to the sense of external flow in my own community as well. Perhaps it is the familiarity or the many stresses and dramas, but I hope to regain it.
The highway turned due north in Colusa County, providing great views of the Sutter Buttes, considered to be one of the worlds smallest mountain rangers.
The Buttes are a small circle of volcanic lava domes that rise suddenly from the rather flat Sacramento Valley. The contrast is fascinating, and I would love to come back and explore the geology at a warmer time of year. Unfortunately, public access to the Buttes remains limited as far I can tell. (If any readers have any advice or new information about public access to the Sutter Buttes, please share in the comments.)
At this point, Highway 45 comes closer to the river, and between Grand Island and Grimes, comes right up against levees, before turning north again. It is not surprising to see such high levees, as the entire region seems like a giant flood waiting to happen.
Further north, we join with California Highway 20, a major east-west highway in this rural part of the state connecting to Yuba City to the east and to Lake County far to the west. The road became wider, smoother, and significantly busier as we continued on the duplex into the town of Colusa.
Colusa is a picturesque town on the river, with a small but nice town center and a quiet park along the levee and riverbank. It had warmed up considerably since I last got out in Knight’s Landing, so stopped for a bit to enjoy the sight and sound of the river. You can see a bit in this Instagram video.
Nearby I found The Tap Room, a small pub that had a large selection of beers including some local brews. I don’t think they had Sutter Butte Brewing, but they did have some selections from Berryessa brewing including this IPA.
In the enjoyment of the trip, I had completely forgotten that it was St. Patrick’s Day. But I was quickly reminded by the bartender who was decked in bright green regalia and informed me of the holiday pub crawl that would be happening that evening. This was the talk of the local patrons who started trickling in as the afternoon wore on. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, but a night of drinking was not going to be compatible with my plan to get back to the city safely at a reasonable hour. So I bid farewell and headed out on Highway 20 back to I-5 and I-505 to return to the Bay Area.
Tired but accomplished, I crossed the Bay Bridge back into San Francisco and home later that evening. That would usually be the end of the story, but after resting, we made the last-minute decision to go out again that night. So I found myself getting dressed up and heading back over the bridge for the third time to Oakland to see Chrome withHelios Creed. We met up with quite a few friends at the show and had a great time. You can see a bit of Chrome’s performance in this CatSynth TV.
It was a great day of diverse geography and experiences, albeit a long one. Not every day can or should be like this, but hope there are more to come this year…
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