Synthesize Your Life: A wrap-up of Mini MoogFest 2017


Mini MoogFest 2017

MoogFest visitor jams on a Korg tinyPiano in an impromptu duet with Earth, Wind & Fire's Larry Dunn on the big screen. Photo by Christopher Porter.

If we Ann Arbor District Library staffers were excited synthesizers, we'd be whooping with pitch-bent, major-key oscillations from the joy Mini MoogFest 2017 brought us. Our third annual iteration of this event greatly expanded upon our two previous offerings, and we had a fully packed house at the Downtown Library on Saturday, Nov. 18.

Librarians on the scene estimated that over 350 people -- including around 75 kids -- made their way through Mini MoogFest, where they built synths using littleBits, played around with AADL's Music Tools, and enjoyed live performances from area electronica artists.

Below is a roundup of photos, videos, and social media posts covering Mini MoogFest 2017.

Mini MoogFest 2017: Sound Science


Mini MoogFest 2017

Mini MoogFest will give you a hands-on chance to dabble in bleeps and bloops, play with music gear, and see artists perform on vintage and home-built synthesizers.

Robert Moog had no musical talent. But his talents changed music.

At the age of 15, Moog built his first Theremin, the ghostly, no-touch instrument created by Leon Theremin in the 1920s that used the amplitude and voltage of radio waves to manipulate two oscillators controlling pitch and volume. Moog continued to use his engineering skills to fine-tune these instruments, and by age 19 he was selling Theremin kits to help fund his college studies.

In 1964, the year before he earned his Ph.D. in engineering physics from Cornell University, Moog created his first synthesizer. By 1968, everyone from Stevie Wonder to The Beatles had used Moog synths on recordings, and in 1969 Wendy Carlos -- a frequent advisor to Moog -- had a chart-topping hit with Switched-On Bach, an LP featuring all-electronic versions of classical masterpieces.

By the early 1970s, the Minimoog Model D -- the world's first portable synthesizer -- became a staple in popular music and set the groundwork for all electronic music that followed, from the ambient bliss of Brian Eno and film soundtracks of Vangelis to the robotic beats of Kraftwerk and the entire genre of Detroit techno.

It's with Moog in mind that we created the Ann Arbor District Library's Mini MoogFest (Sat. Nov. 18, 12-4 pm, downtown branch). But it's a really a celebration of all the things that whoosh, squiggle, chirp, beep, bleep, and gurgle, from Don Buchla's equally important modular-synth inventions in the 1960s right up to today's home-brew makers who bust out the soldering irons and circuit boards to create their own custom sound modules.

At Mini MoogFest you'll be able to test out a variety of effects pedals, music-making software, and electronic instruments, including Moog modular units and Thereminis, the Arp Odyssey, and many more. Many of the pieces are available to borrow from AADL's Music Tools collection, too. Think of it as a music store where you won't get yelled at for playing around with the gear.

We'll also have three performances in the multipurpose room by artists who will talk about how they create their sounds, from the basics of synthesis to the specific gear in their stage setups. The lineup is:

➥ 1 pm: Sean Curtis Patrick (➲ PULP INTERVIEW), Kendal Babl, and Chuck Sipperley
➥ 2 pm: Mike Dykehouse (➲ PULP INTERVIEW)
➥ 3 pm: North Coast Modular Collective (➲ PULP INTERVIEW)

Producer, audio engineer, and artist Alex Taam -- who records under the name Mogi Grumbles -- will also be on hand to allow folks to play with his various Moogs and modulars as well as assist people in exploring the gear that will be spread around in the Secret Lab. (➲ PULP INTERVIEW)

This is a family-friendly event, too, so bring the kids and let them make outer-space sounds, video-game soundtracks, and noise jams. There will also be giveaways featuring T-shirts, winter hats, patch cables, screwdrivers, buttons, and other swag from gear companies and dealers such as Make Noise, Line 6, Boss, Roland, Korg, Electro-Fautus, Control, Perfect Circuit Audio, Reverb, and Sweetwater.

If you've ever been interested in how to make electronic music, Mini MoogFest is the perfect opportunity to dabble, experiment, and invent. As with Robert Moog, no musical talent is necessary.

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

Mini MoogFest is Saturday, Nov. 18, 12-4 pm in the multipurpose room and Secret Lab of the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch, 343 S. 5th Ave. Facebook event page. Check out interviews with Mini MoogFest performers Sean Curtis Patrick, Alex Taam, North Coast Modular Collective, and Mike Dykehouse.

Mini MoogFest 2017: North Coast Modular Collective


The North Coast Modular Collective is like a modular synthesizer: made up of many parts to create a sonic whole. The group is a loose collection of Washtenaw County-area musicians and creators who teamed up earlier this year and pooled their talents to share gear, create new instruments, and trade ideas.

The trio of Joe Bauer, Dan Blades, and Bill Van Loo will represent the collective at Mini MoogFest, and we asked them their about plans for the event, the gear they'll be using, and their favorite synth-leaning recordings. (Also, here's a primer on Eurorack synths, which the collective mentions several times.)

Q: What's your plan for MoogFest?
NCMC: Three of us from North Coast Modular Collective will be there. In short, we’re a group of artists, academics, and makers who aim to spread curiosity, enable exploration, and foster community. Then each of us will spend 15 minutes doing some combination of talking and performing.
Bauer: I’ll be playing about 10 minutes of semi-improvised electro-glitch music (similar to this or this) and then I’ll spend about five minutes explaining and demonstrating a few of the basic concepts and techniques I used. If you’re curious about how I get ready for a show you can follow me on Instagram or YouTube to see some behind the scenes clips as I get prepared.
Blades: I’ll spend a couple of minutes talking about my latest modular build. I’ll then be using it as an audio source and running the audio through some Eurorack effects. The set will be completely improvisational.
Van Loo: I will be performing a rolling 10-minute exploration of deep dub techno chords and sounds, and then spend about 5 minutes explaining what I used and how I used it. Check out the chromedecay Instagram account for behind-the-scenes takes on how this has been developing, via grainy 60-second square videos.

Q: What's your gear setup?
Van Loo: Since we’re focusing on the modular aspect for this performance, I’ll be using a single row Eurorack system, with a mix of prototype North Coast Modular Collective modules, modules from other manufacturers, and DIY pieces. Most of the main sounds will come from this single set of modules, but I’ll add some drum sounds -- some created with a virtual modular synthesizer called VCV Rack -- sequenced on the Novation Circuit. Delay and reverb will allow me to create the atmosphere I want for my set.
Bauer: I’ll be using a 9U, 104hp self-built Eurorack case with 32 modules from 18 different manufacturers. Fourteen modules were self-built. Of those, four are North Coast Modular Collective designs. English translation: I have a wood box with a bunch of electronics in it -- some of them I built, a few I helped design -- and wires and knobs hanging out of it.

This is what it looks like without any of the wires plugged in:

North Coast Modular Collective gear

Joe Bauer's rig for North Coast Modular Collective's Mini MoogFest performance.

Blades: My main setup is mostly Eurorack. It’s my vessel to explore sound design. It’s constantly changing and evolving. Lately, I’ve favored modules that work well in live situations, modules that can sample audio, and modules that produce random voltages. I want my setup to surprise me and anyone who wants to listen.

This is my latest completed project that I will be using for my performance:

North Coast Modular Collective gear

Dan Blades builds much of his own gear and also sells it through his Ambit Studios. Modules on the top row from left to right: Nonlinear circuits 2XLFO, Nonlinear Circuits 4SEQ, Synthrotek Astro Noise, Barton Musical Instruments Random Resonator, Barton Simple AR, GMSN! Pure VCA, Synthrotek Dirt Filter, Nonlinear Circuits Mixer. Bottom wood panel: Barton Buffer, Barton Panel Keyboard.

The idea behind this project was to build a flexible, self-contained, portable synth that had the capability of being used as a “traditional” monosynth but could also be an experimental sound platform. The synth is made up of 10 Eurorack modules, built from available manufactured PCB boards, installed into a repurposed vintage suitcase.

NCMC: North Coast Modular Collective tries to spread curiosity, enable exploration, and foster community. To that end, we held a three-day camp over summer where we designed and built our own set of modular synthesizer cases. During that time we also built and programmed a few modules from a popular module designer who goes by the name of mxmxmx.

Our design process often includes cardboard mockups of early concepts to make sure the design concept basics work in physical form. From there we commonly break up circuits into isolated building blocks and use several iterations of design/build/test for each design block before integrating them together into a single module.

North Coast Modular Collective gear

Bill Van Loo working on NCMC-designed synthesizer cases during summer camp.

North Coast Modular Collective gear

Four of the five Terminal Tedium mxmxmx modules NCMC built during summer camp. These are based on the Raspberry Pi.

North Coast Modular Collective gear

Some early prototype PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards) by NCMC.

North Coast Modular Collective gear

An NCMC-designed prototype module in mid-construction.

North Coast Modular Collective gear

NCMC uses cardboard-based proofs of concept for testing the layout of parts.

Q: Name some synth-related records that you'd recommend to newbies.
Bauer: It’s not a record, but I highly recommend watching:
I Dream of Wires (AADL link). It’s a great introduction to the history of synthesis and does a nice job of putting some context around Bob Moog and Don Buchla and how their work still impacts music today.
Blades: One of my favorite artists:
➥ Venetian Snares, Traditional Synthesizer Music: A full album of live modular music created by Aaron Funk. Here is a video of Aaron with his modular performing a track from the album:

Van Loo: Here are a few records that have inspired me and are well worth digging into:
➥ Kraftwerk, Computer World: A perfect combination of pop sensibility with the most pure electronic sounds. Utterly classic.
➥ Monolake, Hong Kong: A deep slice of Berlin-based dub techno, using found sounds, synthesis, and echoes to set an amazing atmosphere. The duo went on to found Ableton, the company that makes Ableton Live, perhaps the most important piece of music software in the past 15 years.
➥ Telefon Tel Aviv, Fahrenheit Fair Enough: Impeccable sound design and programming. Still an inspiration 15 years after its release.
➥ Psyche/BFC, Elements 1989-90: Classic Detroit techno from one of my favorite Carl Craig aliases. “How the West Was Won” from this record may be one of the loveliest and most gently melancholic pieces of electronic music that exists.
➥ Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians: Not truly electronic at all, but so deeply influential to how I approach electronic music as to be essential, and Reich’s early tape and electronics work predates much of the current interest in things like Euclidean rhythm, field recording, and phasing.

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

Mini MoogFest is Saturday, Nov. 18, 12-4 pm in the multipurpose room and Secret Lab of the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch, 343 S. 5th Ave. Facebook event page. Read our introduction to MoogFest here. Check out interviews with Mini MoogFest performers Mike Dykehouse, Sean Curtis Patrick, and Alex Taam.

Mini MoogFest 2017: Sean Curtis Patrick


Sean Curtis Patrick gear, Mini Moog Fest 2017

Sean Curtis Patrick will work with the two setups shown here: one is a more playable unit and the other is more for texture.

Sean Curtis Patrick is a visual artist who also makes music, so it's not unreasonable to expect when he and fellow visual artisan Kendall Babl team up with Chuck Sipperley -- expert DJ and super-synther in Hydropark and Utica -- the trio will paint electronic aural sculptures in your mind, MAAAAAAAAAN.

We asked Patrick what the group's plans are for the festival, the gear he'll be using, and received recommendations for his favorite synth-leaning recordings.

Q: What's your plan for MoogFest?
A: I’ll be playing with Kendall Babl and Chuck Sipperley, and I will be using my modular synth system.

I have two separate rolling tables, which will both be independent of one another. One will be more “playable” with a series of small pressure-sensitive pads to trigger a group of notes. The other system will be more textural.

A modular system is a really interesting way to create and modify sounds. To sum it up, it’s a series of building blocks, decided by the performer, that one can connect in different ways to create both simple and complex sounds using patch cables. It’s the closest thing to being able to make “sound science.” It looks scientific, that’s for sure. I would say that’s what the uninitiated say more than anything else: “Looks like a science experiment!” They aren’t wrong, it kind of is!

For this show, I’ll mainly be listening to what the other two will be doing to supplement their melodies with textures and the occasional measure of melody or some counterpoint. We are going to be fairly improvisational, too. I’m really excited to see what the other performers get up to and am thrilled to be able to attend and perform! Thanks for having us!

Q: What's your gear setup?
A: I am generally more known as a visual artist before a musician, and making visual art has allowed me to work with many wonderful musicians. I have made a lot of music videos and have done a fair share of art and design for albums. One particular person I have worked with for quite a long time now is my friend Alessandro Cortini. He is an incredible solo musician, lovely human being, fellow cat owner, and has been in the band Nine Inch Nails for the last decade or so. He asked me to work on a record of his that was going to come out on Make Noise Records, a component of Make Noise, a modular synth company.

I became pals with the Make Noise folks over the course of making that record and came to a great agreement with them that’s stands to this day: I make them art and I get paid in gear. I owe this new instrumental exploration totally to Kelly Kebel and Tony Rolando, and also to Make Noise pals Peter Speer and Walker Farrell. I can’t thank them enough -- 19 out of my 30 modules are Make Noise. I think they are the best modular synth company out there and I contend that Tony Rolando is my generation's Don Buchla, one of the pioneers of synthesis. I’d love to see how his brain works.

Anyway, my one larger black case is made my Make Noise and is called the Shared System, which is a full plug-and-play thing you can buy from them. The other case is a beautifully made black poplar case I commissioned from some guitar makers in Italy. It looks like the back of an acoustic guitar, with varnished bookmatched wood. They did a wonderful job and are total sweethearts. That case is filled with a number of manufacturers modules that complement the other system quite well.

I designed the tables that the synths sit on. The caster sets are Ray and Charles Eames-designed from the 1960s. I cut two plywood boards to size and installed cable management and power into the bottom. I wish I could go back in time to that kid (me) in a college dorm, programming computers to make rubbish-sounding drum machines and show them the setup he’d have one day. I feel very, very lucky to work with such lovely and talented people and the fact that I am able to use any of this still blows me away.

Q: Name some synth-related records that you'd recommend to newbies.
A: Some albums and some artists:
➥ Isso Tomita, Snowflakes Are Dancing: The record that hooked me on synths. I had to record this record on to a cassette at the university library. I still have it.
➥ Morton Subotnik, Silver Apples of the Moon: The record that allowed me to look at music through a different lens; music doesn’t have to be 3-minute jangly pop music. It can be serious, artful, and a bit challenging.
Boards of Canada, anything: The best driving music ever-ever.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, anything: Wonderfully melodic chanty/Buchla Music Easel arpeggios. If people ever discounted electronic music having soul, play them her music.
Burial, anything: A musician more than any other that has shown me you can make an amazing record with just a laptop and some dodgy Christina Agulera samples slowed down.
➥ Alessandro Cortini, Avanti: My pal Alessandro did it again. This record made me cry. I also did the art and tour visuals for it, all based on 8mm family films from his grandfather. My favorite album of the year, even if I hadn’t had anything to do with it.
➥ Supersilent, Supersilent 7: Improv jazz and synths? Tell me more. Play loud or, better yet, watch the accompanying concert DVD in a dark room. Max volume.
➥ Suzanne Ciani, Buchla Concerts 1975: One incredible mind, one amazing machine, two selected concerts recorded onto tape in New York lofts in 1975. If you were wondering what just one of these boxes could do, listen here.
➥ Various artists, Electronic Music Winners: Best known as the record that inspired Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead to write the track “Idioteque” but a lot of other amazing moments on this record.

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

Mini MoogFest is Saturday, Nov. 18, 12-4 pm in the multipurpose room and Secret Lab of the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch, 343 S. 5th Ave. Facebook event page. Read our introduction to MoogFest here. Check out interviews with Mini MoogFest performers Mike Dykehouse, Alex Taam, and North Coast Modular Collective.

Mini MoogFest 2017: Alex Taam


Alex Taam, Mogi Grumbles

Alex Taam performing as Mogi Grumbles in AADL's Secret Lab on Febraury 28, 2017. See the two performances here.

Alex Taam is a recording-studio engineer, composer, and all around gearhead. His mastery of synths is one of the reasons why we asked him to write and record two songs using instruments from AADL's Music Tools collection, which he did in February. Taam's knowledge about all things electronica is also the reason why we asked him to help us host Mini MoogFest. He'll be on hand to demonstrate some instruments, including a modular synth, and guide you through many of the other instruments we'll have on display for hands-on play.

We talked to Taam about his Mini MoogFest plans, the gear he's bringing, and asked him to name his favorite synth-related recordings.

Mini MoogFest 2017: Mike Dykehouse


#modularsynth #eurorack #computer #rock #riot #manic #electromagneticpulse #mantra #speakingintongues #haunted #medical #equipment

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In addition to being a remarkable painter, Mike Dykehouse is an immensely creative musician. But after his Dynamic Obsolescence (2001) album on the influential British electronica Planet Mu and another on Ghostly International with the shoegaze-y Midrange (2004), Dykehouse mostly went underground.

Or rather, to Instagram.

Dykehouse's daily video clips of new synth jams -- ranging from straight-up techno and boogie-bass electro to hip-hop boom-bap and exploratory noise -- are often highlights of his followers' days. (Am I projecting?)

In a rare live appearance, Dykehouse will demonstrate the latest version of his ever-changing modular synth setup at Mini MoogFest, giving listeners a front-row seat to his daily sonic rituals.

We talked to Dykehouse about his Mini MoogFest plans, the gear he's bringing, and asked him to name his favorite synth-related recordings. But to evoke the immortal Joe Perry Project, Dykehouse mostly lets the music do the talking.

Fifth Avenue Press launches nine titles with a book release party


Fifth Avenue Press logo

Fifth Avenue Press launches on Nov. 5 with a book-release party from 1-3 pm at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library.

"Publishing is a business," writes mega-selling author Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook) in the "Advice for Writers" section of his website. "Writing may be art, but publishing, when all is said and done, comes down to dollars."

Except with Fifth Avenue Press, the new publishing imprint of the Ann Arbor District Library.

Fifth Avenue helps local authors produce a print-ready book at no cost -- from copyediting to cover design -- and the writers retain all rights. In return, the library gets to distribute ebooks to its patrons without paying royalties, but authors can sell their books -- print, digital, or audio -- however they choose and keep all the proceeds.

Fifth Avenue launches on Sunday, Nov. 5, with a reception from 1-3 pm on the 3rd floor of AADL's downtown branch, featuring author readings from the imprint's first nine titles:

Timothy Monger's first music video conjures serenity, septic-tank legend


"It’s more personal than anything I’ve ever done," said singer-songwriter Timothy Monger about his latest album, Amber Lantern, in a February 2017 interview with Pulp.

It's also Monger's loveliest album, which includes two records with his former band, Great Lakes Myth Society, and two solo LPs, 2011's The New Britton Sound and 2004's Summer Cherry Ghosts.

Though Amber Lantern came out 10 months ago, Monger recently teamed up with director Brian Lillie to produce a video for "Hayward," one of the LP's most beautiful songs. "A video is something I've thought about doing for many years, but somehow never made a priority until this year," Monger wrote on his website.

We asked Monger about the making of "Hayward," the singing septic-tank man who loaned him a canoe, and what's behind the "Surf & Turf" show he's playing on Sunday, Nov. 5, with fellow Washtenaw County singer-songwriter Dave Boutette at Old Town Tavern.

Tools Crew Live: Stef Chura


MP3 for "Slow Motion"
720p video

Tools Crew Live is an ongoing video series where we invite artists to perform with gear borrowed from the Ann Arbor District Library's Music Tools collection:

When not on tour, indie-rocker Stef Chura runs several karaoke nights in Detroit, the city where she lives. It's common for karaoke hosts to sing a few songs to set the stage and encourage the crowd, and Chura told in a January 2017 interview that The Cranberries are one of her go-to bands to croon.

Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan comes up a lot in articles about Chura. Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks comes up, too. So does Liz Phair and The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde. Bettie Serveert's Carol van Dijk has also been mentioned, and so have Destroyer's Dan Bejar and Television's Tom Verlaine. There are hints of Billie Holiday, too.

Tools Crew Live: Mark Kirschenmann & Adam Shead


MP3 for "Behind the Sky"
720p video

Tools Crew Live is an ongoing video series where we invite artists to perform with gear borrowed from the Ann Arbor District Library's Music Tools collection:

The most common use for effects pedals in AADL's collection is to change the sound of electric instruments, such as guitars and keyboards -- not acoustic gear, such as trumpets and drums. But there's nothing common about the music of Mark Kirschenmann, PhD. He's been experimenting with changing the tone of his trumpet through electronics since the '70s after he heard Miles Davis' electro-jazz-funk classic On the Corner.

Kirschenmann is a U-M lecturer of jazz and contemporary improvisation, and he also leads the music school's Creative Arts Orchestra, which includes drummer Adam Shead, a grad student at U-M studying "cultural memory, tradition, and narrative in improvised music communities." Shead augments his standard drum setup with electronics and straight-up knick-knacks, such as a dishtowel or his wallet, so he can explore different tonalities on his kit.

Together, Kirschenmann and Shead combine their extended techniques -- such as playing the trumpet without a mouthpiece or putting a leg on the snare drum -- to create an improvised universe of sound.

We talked to the duo about why they began applying electronic effects to their acoustic instruments, Kirschenmann's use of AADL music tools in his classes, and the stories behind the two songs they recorded for us in the library's Secret Lab on April 20, 2017.